Ms. Linda MacDonald:
We are nurses from Nova Scotia. We have 21 years of grassroots experience. We're human rights defenders. We're also members of the Canadian Federation of University Women, which is an NGO of approximately 8,000 women across Canada, and they support us in what we're speaking about today.
We'd like to say that Bill C-36 is historic/“herstoric”. It's transformative in that it's socially, legally, and relationally a new way of looking at prostituted persons in that they are persons, not a nuisance, and that the demand is criminalized.
Our goal here today is to expose a population of women we have been working with and supporting for 21 years who are invisible to this country. They are women who have endured grave brutality. They are involved in forced prostitution, which means no choice. They were forced into human trafficking. And what we're focusing mainly on today is the non-state torture that they endured.
Non-state torture is an Amnesty International term. The UN definition of non-state torture is severe pain and suffering; it's purposeful, it's discriminatory—in this case, gender discrimination—and it's intentional. The intentionality, indeed, shatters the relationship with the self of the prostituted and tortured woman.
Who are the torturers, in our work? We found them to be parents, family, guardians, spouses, pimps, traffickers, and johns.
Where is this torture occurring? It's primarily in-house. It's definitely organized crime.
You're wondering about the type of torture. What we're going to do, as a way of explaining it, is read the story of a tortured woman. Her story was published in the work we do in the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture.
Her name is Lynn. She is now dead. She said:
||I was called bitch, slut, whore and ‘piece of meat’. Stripped naked and raped—‘broken in’—by three goons who, along with my husband, held me captive in a windowless room handcuffed to a radiator. Their laughter humiliated me as they tied me down spreadeagled for the men they sold my body to. Raped and tortured, their penises and semen suffocated me; I was choked or almost drowned when they held me underwater, threatening to electrocute me in the tub. Pliers were used to twist my nipples, I was whipped with the looped wires of clothes hangers, ropes, and electric cords; I was drugged, pulled around by my hair and forced to cut myself with razor blades for men’s sadistic pleasure. Guns threatened my life as they played Russian roulette with me. Starved, beaten with a baseball bat, kicked, and left cold and dirty, I suffered five pregnancies and violent beatings-forced abortions. They beat the soles of my feet and when I tried to rub the pain away they beat me more. My husband enjoyed sodomizing me with a Hermit 827 wine bottle, causing me to hemorrhage, and I saw my blood everywhere when I was ganged raped with a knife. Every time his torturing created terror in my eyes, he’d say, ‘Look at me bitch; I like to see the terror in your eyes’. I never stopped fearing I was going to die. I escaped or maybe they let me escape, thinking I’d die a Jane Doe on that cold November night.
That was Lynn's story.
In Bill C-36, there's an expansion of weapons in what can be used as restraint. Lynn's example shows that handcuffs could be used as a restraint in her case.
The other way we can expand on what torture is, what the ordeals are of the women we have worked with, is in our brief as well. It's a questionnaire that we developed and that we send to women who are interested in filling it out. Bridget Perrier was one of these, and she was willing to have me disclose that today.
This is another woman in Canada. We have identified 48 different forms of torture: forced impregnation; smeared with urine, feces, or blood; placed in a freezer.... All these are listed. This one Canadian woman endured 47 of the 48 that we have listed.
She summed up her statement by saying that she was sold to hundreds of perpetrators for sex and stating that “the goal of torture is to control and or break the human spirit through any heinous means possible.”
I would like to say to you that from what you've heard and in my opinion, I cannot call torture “work”.
Ms. Jeanne Sarson (As an Individual):
I will continue.
I will now expand on the continuum of the persons who are forcibly trafficked, prostituted, and tortured. What and who are the johns buying, renting, or procuring?
Our answer has come to be that some prefer to rent children, including infants, for their pleasure of inflicting sadistic, sexualized, non-state torture. They are demanding, buying, and renting the so-called “sexual services” of underage prostituted girls who were groomed to normalize and sexualize torture and be rented out by parental pimps. You have to remember that children are where the money is.
I now share Sara's story of her drawing on page 7 of the brief. You can see her sitting on the counter of her father's store with an endless line of johns waiting to buy and rent her, and her father saying, “Bring her back when you're done”. That's a statement of her commodification and objectification. She was two.
To illustrate her continuous harm from forced prostitution and trafficking, I move to when she was 12 years old. A john rented her; drove her to his boat; took her to sea; and raped, beat, and water tortured her by repeatedly caging her and dropping her in the cage into the sea. During the continuous harm of forced prostitution and trafficking we estimate Sara suffered at least 24,000 torture vaginal, anal, and oral rapes. This does not account for the bestiality and the object and weapon rapes. She escaped in her late-twenties. For Lynn, in the story that Linda just told, we estimated that maybe she suffered 8,000 torture rapes.
We recommend to the committee that it ask that section 269.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada, on torture, be amended so that everyone, including pimps and johns, is held to account if they commit acts of torture and that torture be listed in Bill C-36, under paragraph 753.1(2)(a), to go along with the sexual assault.
We also support Bill C-36 to make sure that it does not criminalize prostituted women and children. As for the $20 million in funding, it will be inadequate. Many people have said that.
I would like to close on a cheap and preventive strategy that promotes the social paradigm shifts that we're talking about and promotes the human rights of women and girls. This is an example of me teaching grade 7 classes on human rights and the fact that the teachers came because of their concern about the misogynistic jokes from the boys about prostitution and human trafficking.
I use the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Canada very proudly spent much time promoting in New York after the war. It says that everyone should be equal. If you opened it, which I do in class—and all the children get a copy, you will see that in your brief—the children ask about torture porn and about snuff. The girls talk about prostitution, so I have to tell them the stories that Linda and I have known for 21 years.
If you look at the universal declaration—and we're talking about women's and girls' equality—article 5 says that no one should be subjected to torture. The children are shocked when I have to say that only some people have the right not to be subjected to torture. The only people that have that right are those who are tortured by state actors. That means representatives of the government, which means MPs, police, and military. If it's a john or a pimp, and you're a private citizen who is tortured by a john or a pimp, you cannot take them to court and claim that you were tortured. For the whole concept of human rights equality, totally for women and girls, I ask that you ensure that section 269.1 of the Criminal Code is amended and included in your bill.
Ms. Trisha Baptie (Community Engagement Coordinator, Exploited Voices Now Educating):
Sorry, it's a little overwhelming in here.
The Chair: Take your time, take your time.
Ms. Trisha Baptie: My name is Trisha Baptie, and I want to thank you for inviting me to be a part of this process. I would also like to acknowledge the Algonquin peoples, who are the traditional caretakers of the land on which we stand.
I am here today as a representative of an organization called EVE, former Exploited Voices Now Educating. We are a volunteer, non-governmental, non-profit organization comprising former sex industry women. Our mandate is to have prostitution recognized as a form of violence against women, driven by the demand for paid sex. We seek the abolition of paid sexual access to women's and children's bodies, and participate in political action, advocacy, and public education campaigning in order to pursue this goal.
EVE operates under a feminist model, acknowledging that prostitution is born out of sexism, classism, racism, poverty, and other forms of systemic oppression. Since EVE was established in 2008, members have worked alongside of a wide cross-section of groups—feminists, grassroots, academics, aboriginals, faith-based/community-based groups, and government officials—to advocate for the criminalization of the demand for paid sex, and the decriminalization of persons selling sex.
I am not only here because of my group's vested interest in this topic, but also because I have a 15-year history in prostitution. I was prostituted from the age of 13 to the age of 28. The last 10 of those years were in Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside, the Downtown Eastside where I made many of my dearest friends, some of whom I would lose to Robert Pickton.
I entered prostitution when I was in my first group home after I was signed over to government care. I didn't call it prostitution at the time. I had no cognition that what I was experiencing was prostitution. I knew it was some form of inequality, as I was forced into the situation by a lack of alternatives. But no one stood up for me, no one told me that what was being done to me was not okay, and especially no one stood up to the men and said to them that they were breaking the law.
I had no idea at 13 years old I would be trapped in that world for the next 15 years, working indoors and outdoors, working licensed and unlicensed, preferring the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to working for someone else and giving my money away. At no point in time did I consent to the abuse I suffered. Consent was not freely given. It was bypassed because johns had the money I needed to keep myself and my family alive. Like so many other women and girls who find themselves in that circumstance, the choice of prostitute was one made under severe constraint. It was a choice between whether my kids would go hungry, or not. To me at that time there was no choice at all.
Money does not equal consent. It temporarily alleviates a dire need, the need to feed children, the need to feed addictions, the need to pay rent. Whatever the reasons, we had to be out there. Men took advantage of that desperation for their own sexual gratification, and used money to appease their guilt.
When Bill C-36 was released, I was encouraged when I read the first section of the summary that dealt with this exact behaviour. As a former prostitute, I'm aware that not every man is violent, but the threat of violence was ubiquitous in the sex industry, as it was impossible to discern which johns would attempt to cause physical harm, and when they might choose to do so. I feel justified in using gender language in this when I discuss my experiences because in 15 years of prostitution I was never bought by a woman.
We were particularly encouraged that the preamble of the bill contained statements like concerns about the exploitation that is inherent in prostitution, and the risk of violence, as well as recognizing the social harm caused by the objectification of the human body and the commodification of sexual activity. These statements are consistent with our experiences in prostitution. These words acknowledge that prostitution is a system based on inequality.
I want to make it very clear that it was never the laws that beat and raped and killed me and my friends, it was men. It was never the location we were in that was unsafe, it was the men we were in that location with who made it unsafe. We are glad to see that this behaviour will no longer be tolerated.
Some people want to make prostitution safer, but I know, we know, that you can't tell whether someone is a violent john until he deals out the first blow. This is true of unfamiliar johns as well as regulars. The claim that a prolonged screening time with potential buyers will protect women from physical harm allows society to wash its hands of the responsibility to take care of the most vulnerable and marginalized. What we demand is not safer, but safe.
The ban on the purchase of sexual services is an integral part of a movement towards real safety for women in Canadian communities. This is how we truly keep prostitute women safe. We do not allow men to buy them.
This policy sets a new tone for Canadians in how men treat and regard women. Canada, in passing this legislation, will be setting a standard for how men treat women. It will create a new social fabric for our young people to stand on, one that clearly says women and our girls are not for sale.
If we stand in agreement with prostitution we reinforce male privilege. We would effectively be saying that we will always have a demographic of women who will be offered up for sale. That notion contradicts the statements in the preamble of this bill that correctly note that prostitution disproportionately impacts women and children, particularly women and children of colour.
We do have concerns about this bill. We believe that section 213, the communicating provision, is redundant, as the culpable party—the sex buyers—would already receive criminal sanction. If, in fact, the government wants to encourage those who engage in prostitution to report incidents of violence and to leave prostitution, as stated in the preamble, the sellers of sex should face no fear of criminalization at all. A criminal record is a barrier to exiting from prostitution as it limits the ability for people in the sex industry to gain employment elsewhere.
We also fear this provision could cause prostituted women to be unduly targeted by their community, reducing them again to the category of public nuisance rather than human being.
In regard to the $20 million, we recognize this is a great start towards combatting prostitution, but we are very aware of how much this is just a drop in the bucket. We need funds dedicated to helping women exit prostitution, help support women until they feel they are able to make the transition to leave, as well retraining of the police about how to implement the new prostitution laws. We also need funds to do public education so the public can understand the changes made to the laws and explain how Canada is on a new trajectory for ending this form of abuse.
We resist the notion that men should be allowed to have sex exclusively on their terms at all times. We need to uphold the idea that mutual desire, comfort, and safety are a requisite component of sexual encounters. Anything short of this reinforces rape culture. For when men pay for sex, it is all about them, and has nothing to do with the person inside the body they are abusing.
We anticipate this law will have a normative function. Rather than give men free rein to ask women if they are for sale, rebrand pimps as businessmen, and attract organized crime, we will send a message that we value the women in our country and will not tolerate this gender violence.
If we want to build strong, safe, happy, and vibrant communities, we must put an end to this form of abuse and injustice. We rally to change male behaviour rather than accept women's subjugation. This subjugation causes physical, emotional, and mental harm for individual women and women collectively. A safe community for one and all is one that does not have prostitution.
Ms. Heather Dukes (Co-founder, Northern Women's Connection):
First of all, we would like to say that it's an honour to be here today in front of all of you. Thank you for granting us the opportunity to communicate on the importance of Bill C-36, being passed as the Canadian model.
The Northern Women's Connection believes that Bill C-36 is an excellent piece of legislation. It provides protection to women who are manipulated, coerced, and threatened into the sex trade. It will allow women to finally have the opportunity to learn that there may be a chance to exit this vicious cycle of violent sexual abuse.
When women learn that predators are criminalized, they will gain personal power and the ability to direct that power toward the very people who are profiting from their sexual services, financially, sexually, or for other unmentioned illegal returns.
Many women, including me, have worked hard to never have to use sex in order to survive and meet basic daily needs again. This is often difficult for women who are plagued with barriers in our society, such as housing, child care, precarious employment, and low accessibility to service due to being located in northern Ontario.
At six years of age, I was placed in the care of a 16-year-old male, who had the free will to treat me like his sexual object. I was also raped of my entire childhood, and my perceptions of life were damaged. I came to believe that it was the norm for young girls to engage in sexual behaviour.
This personal and systematic belief system, which is common among sexually exploited women, creates a structure that forces women to engage in precarious sexual activity in order to meet basic needs. After 20 years of addictions, and caressed with faces of death several times, I knew I had hit a place of complete demoralization. I came to a place where I had to surrender to finally receive professional help. I had to change my entire life.
Fortunately, I live in a country that has provided me with services for rehabilitation. The services I personally used, which are vital services for women who have experienced trauma, are mental health wards in local hospitals, withdrawal management centres, detox, treatment centres, and addiction counselling. I participated weekly in sexual assault counselling. However, I was not offered any tailored services in order to restore a healthy sexual life. I suffered daily about my past sexual behaviour.
The $20 million that has been offered through Bill C-36 will help create services that will specifically support the diverse needs of sexually exploited women. It was not until after I began attending Algoma University and was receiving an education for a degree in social work, that I finally realized that this was a common issue and that I was not alone.
The Northern Women's Connection is asking all members of Parliament to pass Bill C-36, so women can finally start receiving the help they need to change their entire lives, without ever believing that they are alone. In northern Ontario, we're going to need funds for education and reintegration.
Ms. Larissa Crack (Co-founder, Northern Women's Connection):
As a survivor of sex trafficking and the co-founder of the Northern Women's Connection, which is a new grassroots agency that directly works with women who have experienced oppression, marginalization, and trauma as a direct result of the sex trade, I am in full support of Bill C-36.
The protection of communities and exploited persons act, Bill C-36, works to offer solutions to women and at the same time targets johns, pimps, and any other party who would benefit from the exploitation of vulnerable women, children, or boys and men.
The day that Bill C-36 was announced was a momentous day for women's rights and equality within Canada. For the first time, Canada has offered legislation that acknowledges the gender inequality and inherent violence that is aimed towards women within prostitution. Bill C-36 is Canada taking a stand and demanding that women are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve, instead of being looked at as a nuisance. With slight amendments, such as fully removing the criminalization of women—this is expanded on in our brief—we are confident that Bill C-36 will be a solid platform for Canada.
As a survivor of child sexual exploitation, I was somewhat privileged in the fact that I was able to access the minimally available services and supports that women over the age of 19 are not allowed to access, or there are no services present in order to help them. I was 17 years old when I exited the sex trade. As a minor who had been involved, I was looked upon as a victim and a child incapable of having made the choice of entering the sex trade. If a few more years had passed, I would have turned from a victim to a willing participant. A few more years in the violent and forceful means that started and kept me in the sex trade would have been completely ignored in lieu of my new-found ability as an adult to make informed choices.
With the average age of entry into the sex trade, as stated by the John Howard Society, being between the ages of 14 and 16, how does a girl go from being a victim of exploitation to a woman capable of making decisions about her situation within the matter of a year? Bill C-36 recognizes that all women are exploited on one level or another, and therefore should all be able to access resources and services to aid them in exiting their situation.
Despite the pro-legalization lobby's attempt at discrediting Bill C-36 by making false claims and erroneous assertions—these include, but are not limited to, a man's right for paid sex, disabled men's need for paid sex, and a woman's right to sell sex—legalization and decriminalization would only create further harms for women.
The first two claims place a man's sexual desires as being more important than the inherent harm and distress caused to the woman in the same transaction. No person's sexual desires should be allowed to come before the protection and safety of another human being, including those who have disabilities or other factors that minimize their opportunities to have partnered sex.
The third claim, that a woman has the right to do what she wants with her body, to an extent is very true. But there comes a point where the able and willing must put their wants and desires to the side—when the majority of those involved in the sex trade are there completely through exploitative means. The small percentage of women, as stated by a study completed in 2014, who truly fit into this privileged category is no more than 10% of the population. This small subgroup of women within the sex trade should not override the needs that the other 90% of the population has, which is to be protected and free from criminalization.
Bill C-36 finally recognizes that the role of legislation is to protect those who are vulnerable, not to further the harms by advocating for the privileged minority through the fallacy of legalization. Despite the pro-legalization lobby's attempt at stopping Bill C-36, sexual transactions and the ability to perform sexual fantasies have never been, and will never be, either a mandatory part of sexual expression or a human right.
The Northern Women's Connection believes a shift in the thinking paradigm of Canadians in regard to the sex trade is very possible if educational services are put into place that would recognize prostitution as an oppression that relies on such structural barriers and inequalities as poverty, colonialism, racism, addiction, and lack of resources for women.
Violence has been, and always will be, associated with prostitution. This holds true for a large proportion of women involved in the sex trade who admit to experiencing abuse and violence as a direct result of the sex trade. It doesn't matter if women are given 2 seconds or 20 minutes to assess and screen the men looking to buy sex. When women are required to identify violent offenders, their immediate safety will be put at risk. Predators can be manipulative, charismatic, and smooth talkers; all of which would make it easy for them to move past any so-called safety practices put in place by sexually exploited women, and we cannot put this onto the backs of women who are placed in this position.
As a 17-year old first exiting the sex trade, I spent years healing from the trauma and abuses that occurred during my involvement. Early in my recovery, I was diagnosed with PTSD to the same extent as war veterans, due to a combination of prostitution itself and the violence that becomes a normal part of the overall experience.
I have been held at gunpoint and watched my friend get murdered in front of my eyes. I was tied down for days at a time and injected with numbing drugs while men paid to rape me. I was drugged. I've been beaten and thrown out of the vehicles of men who didn't want to pay for the service they had received and suffered multiple injuries from the pimps who wouldn't accept anything under a predetermined amount of revenue.
After all of these abuses that I have endured, the worst part is now living with and hearing others talk about the sex trade as if it were a choice, a form of employment that could become normalized if Bill C-36 is not passed, and constantly hearing that what I went through could have been prevented by having a bodyguard or by having the privilege of working inside.
I had a bodyguard, who made sure that I was always making an income, who enforced the rules that I was expected to live by, which often included ensuring I serviced violent and abusive men. I also often worked inside, which prevented social workers and police from even knowing that I was there and which gave a quiet, undisturbed place for me to get violated, abused, and raped without anyone ever knowing that it was happening.
Hearing these lies and knowing the truth about the inherent violence involved in the sex trade is a form of exclusion that continues to victimize and marginalize the hundreds of women I have known and worked with over the past 10 years who have stories similar to mine.
Pro-legalization lobbies have put forth a large amount of energy and resources in the hopes of swaying the general public. These extreme measures are not surprising, considering the large amount of profit that the sex industry stands to lose if Bill C-36 becomes a reality.
Supporters of Bill C-36 stand firm in their position due to understanding the need to support and protect women while criminalizing those who are at the heart of the problem, while the pro-legalization lobby stands firmly behind profit margins without considering the human cost associated with it.
Mr. Josh Paterson (Executive Director, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to thank all the previous witnesses for their very moving stories and recognize the courage that it takes to join this difficult discussion even when we may have different policy perspectives.
The BC Civil Liberties Association is an autonomous non-partisan charitable society established in 1962. Our mandate is to defend, maintain, and extend civil liberties and human rights in Canada. We intervened in Bedford v. Canada and we have publicly opposed the criminalization of sex work and related activities since 1978. We believe the decriminalization and regulation of sex work will afford those involved in sex work the dignity, safety, and autonomy that they deserve.
As the court remarked in Bedford, some people do make the free choice to engage in sex work, and their choices should not be criminalized. Other people, the court observed based on the findings of the trial court, do not have meaningful choices other than sex work because of financial desperation, drug addiction, or compulsion. The criminal law in our view is not the tool that should be used to extricate people who do not want to be in sex work from their circumstances. In either situation criminalizing these people, their clients, and their associated activities puts sex workers' health and safety in danger and pushes them underground into the same precarious situations that have grounded the decision in Bedford. We think that it would replace the unconstitutional criminal provisions recently invalidated by the Supreme Court with new criminal provisions that would be similarly unconstitutional.
We do think that the significant harms that can be associated with sex work, many of which we have heard very movingly about just in the past few minutes, including terrible abuse, violence, and exploitation, can be and should be properly dealt with using existing criminal provisions.
I'd like to use my limited time to focus on a few discreet issues, but I would like to say at the outset that we take the position that the new provisions taken together are likely to violate the sphere of personal autonomy protected under section 7 of the charter and the freedom of expression guarantee in section 2(b). Further, we do not believe they will be found to be justified under section 1 of the charter. We adopt Pivot's position from yesterday in these respects.
Contrary to what's been suggested in the media often, and I think in discussions here, the Supreme Court did not place on Parliament an obligation to legislate. The declaration of invalidity was suspended for a year in order for Parliament to consider what the court called a complex and delicate matter and because of the public concern that would result if suddenly the provisions were washed away without any public debate or consideration. We think it is clear from the court that there is absolutely no legal requirement to replace the struck-down criminal provisions with other criminal provisions. We would also say there is no policy requirement either.
That is not to say of course that Parliament can't place certain limits on sex work including time and place, and there may be very good reasons for which to do that.
In the rest of my remarks I'm going to focus a little bit on some of the pieces that we think are unconstitutionally vague about this bill.
At the outset the Supreme Court has made clear that a vague provision is one that doesn't sufficiently set out the area of risk to people who are conducting themselves under the law and neither does it give sufficient instruction to officials and sufficient grounds to courts to limit enforcement discretion. There are so many pieces in this bill that are unclear and I'm going to zero in on just a few.
In terms of the prohibition on communications, as the committee will know proposed subsection 213(1.1) states that it's an offence for anyone, including sex workers, to communicate in a public place or in any place open to public view that is or is next to a place where persons under the age of 18 can reasonably be expected to be present. What does that mean? Is that any building next to a public road? What counts as being present? Passing by in a car? Walking past? This is a huge area of discretion that is being left to the police, the Crown, and the courts.
Justice Canada says that even social networking sites could count if children might be reasonably able to view them.
The Department of Justice put out a technical note a few days ago saying that existing criminal law provides guidance on language like this. But if you look at the provisions that they mention the situations there are very different. Those provisions relate to prohibition orders on sexual offenders and conditions on sureties to release suspected sexual offenders. Critically the Criminal Code in those sections—and you can look at them, it's section 161(1) and section 810(1)— is substantially more precise. It specifies public parks, swimming areas, daycare centres, school grounds, playgrounds or community centres where persons under the age of 16 years are present or can reasonably be expected to be present.
There was a whole Supreme Court case on this, which found that the original language that Parliament had passed was too broad and unconstitutional. It's that precision that makes a huge difference.
Here, because this communications provision specifically targets sex workers, sex workers effectively will remain criminalized in their activities in what is potentially most of any city, downtown or suburb. The claim that this bill will not criminalize sex workers is simply not sustainable. Making matters worse, the minister has stated that this provision could even be used to criminalize underage sex workers who work in pairs because someone else who's under the age of 18 would be present. Justice lawyers, on the other hand, have said the opposite. Now, this disagreement alone confirms the confusion around this provision. The BCCLA naturally doesn't condone underage sex work, but we don't think vulnerable minors should be liable to criminal prosecution, either. In the result, we think that this provision will be constitutionally overbroad.
Turning to the material benefits provisions, I understand that there was some discussion in the committee over the last few days about what counts as a “commercial enterprise”. Proposed subsection 286.2(4) creates some exceptions from the material benefit prohibition, but proposed subsection 286.2(5) creates an exception to the exception, one that is confusing, vague, and problematic. What it says is that, essentially, if you're receiving a financial or material benefit knowing that it's from sex work, you are exempt, if you're a family member, a roommate, a spouse, in what's called a “legitimate living arrangement”. But you can be liable if you receive that benefit in the context of a commercial enterprise. There's no clarity as to what that means in the bill.
Justice Canada's technical paper says that not just brothels and strip clubs are considered commercial enterprises. It could include all kinds of associations, including informal ones. So informal groups of sex workers working for themselves but working together, sharing certain services, sharing space in common, could very well be counted as commercial. Justice's paper says that, well, they don't think that individuals and cooperatives would be included, but on the language in the test set out by the courts for defining commercial enterprises, I can see no reason why sex workers might not be targeted by this, potentially, if they come together in some sort of cooperative or organization. For this reason, the bill continues to render it nearly impossible for sex workers to improve their health, safety, and working conditions by working together cooperatively, because it appears that anyone who derives a benefit through such an arrangement could be caught by the exception to the exception and that they may be criminalized for receiving material benefits.
This is an instance, we think, where it's not acceptable to just rely on the assurances of the crown or police discretion to say, well, we don't mean to do that; we're not going to enforce it in that way. The Supreme Court has made it clear, in a case called Taylor, that rights and freedoms guaranteed by the charter cannot be left to the administrative discretion of those employed by or retained by the state. The law has to stand on its own. We can't rely on police discretion to render it constitutional.
Ordinarily I might say this could be clarified in an amendment, but there are so many problems with this bill that we think the only proper approach is to withdraw it, not to have piecemeal amendments.
Finally, I'll move to advertising. Under proposed section 286.4, the bill makes it an offence to knowingly advertise an offer to provide sexual services, but it provides an exemption for advertising one's own sexual services. It's pretty clear, we think, on the face of this bill, that this criminalizes any publication or website owner that carries such advertising. Newspapers, websites, TV, Internet service providers, or anyone else who carries ads will be prohibited from doing so. The implication here is that it will be effectively impossible to work indoors because it will be effectively impossible to let anyone know about your service. The Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that working inside was the safest way for sex workers to conduct their work.
We also think it could make criminals out of any sex workers who work collectively and advertise collectively, because they would then be participating in advertising someone else's services, not just their own. Of course the provisions around seizing newspapers and shutting down websites we think will be potentially quite challengeable under the freedom of expression provisions of the charter.
To conclude, the BCCLA recognizes the myriad social problems surrounding the sex trade today, but we continue to maintain that the criminalization of sex work is not the solution to these problems.
By advocating that Parliament not use criminal law to address sex work generally, the association does not condone coercive or violent activities related to sex work. We don't condone trafficking or juvenile prostitution. But rather than attempting to legislate moral standards, we believe that a regulatory system should aim to reduce harm against all citizens equally. Removing the sex trade from the ambit of the criminal law would properly recognize marginalized sex workers' rights and allow them to reclaim the dignity, autonomy, and safety that every citizen deserves.
Thank you very much.
Ms. Laura Dilley:
Thank you for inviting our organization to come before the committee today. The Providing Alternatives Counselling and Education Society, by, with, and for sex workers, provides peer-driven violence prevention and support services for sex workers in Vancouver, British Columbia. We're located in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood and have been providing services for the past 20 years. We operate under a non-judgmental, asset-based, and harm reduction model that recognizes the human rights of sex workers—female, trans, and male. This approach is based on self-identified needs.
Our sex worker-driven approach reflects an international movement that includes groups, such as Maggie's, in Toronto; Stella, in Montreal; POWER, in Ottawa; and the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform. This movement emerged in response to the discrimination, violence, and persecution that sex workers experience due to stigmatization, and laws criminalizing sex work and sex workers.
Since the beginning, this movement has sought to address the inequalities that sex workers experience under the law. Our organization was an intervenor in Bedford v. Canada. Our violence prevention coordinator, Sheri Kiselbach, who I will have the pleasure of introducing to you shortly, along with Pivot Legal Society and sex workers united against violence, had previously launched a parallel constitutional challenge of Canada's sex work laws.
While we met the Bedford decision with great joy, knowing, in the words of Valerie Scott, that sex workers have for the first time been recognized as persons under the law, we are steadfast in our opposition to Bill C-36. As the committee has heard from our sister sex worker organizations, legal advocacy groups, and researchers, Bill C-36 will recreate the devastating harms that sex workers have experienced under the laws that were struck down in the Bedford decision. In pushing sex workers into unsafe settings and undermining their ability to screen clients, Bill C-36 will create the conditions that will lead to more murdered and missing women.
We're not recommending any amendments to Bill C-36 because, in short, we believe that the legislation is fatally flawed. Echoing previous testimony by Pivot Legal, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and others, it would not withstand a constitutional challenge. As we know from past experience, constitutional challenges take years to wind their way through the courts. Let me be clear. It is absolutely unacceptable that sex workers in our community and across Canada be subjected to untold violence due to laws that are unconstitutional.
We call upon the committee and the government to reject this bill in its entirety until the current laws expire in December. However, we acknowledge that the government is unlikely to do so. We, therefore, call upon the government to immediately refer Bill C-36 to the Supreme Court and publicly release all legal opinions that the government has solicited on the bill.
Given that the minister has publicly acknowledged that Bill C-36 will face a future constitutional challenge, the government should recognize the critical importance of expediting this legal process. After all, I cannot stress this enough. The government is obligated to pass laws that comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If instead the government continues to pursue legislation that recreates conditions that perpetuate violence, then they will be inflicting structural violence on sex workers in Canada.
Now it's my pleasure to introduce Sheri Kiselbach, PACE's violence prevention coordinator. For more than 40 years, Ms. Kiselbach has been involved in the sex industry, first as a sex worker, and now as an advocate and educator. Ms. Kiselbach is a national expert in violence prevention among sex workers and has worked tirelessly to promote sex worker rights in Canada. Ms. Kiselbach's experiential knowledge, wisdom, and expertise are precisely what should have informed the legislative process, had the government been committed to advancing a bill that respects the human rights and dignity of sex workers.
Ms. Sheri Kiselbach (Coordinator, Violence Prevention, PACE Society):
Thank you, Laura.
I was involved in sex work for 30 years in many venues of the industry. I was not sexually abused as a child. I was not exploited. I was an adult who chose to enter the industry. The laws did not protect me when I reported numerous violent crimes, including attempted murder. Instead, I was treated with contempt, ridiculed, discounted, and dismissed. I was treated as a criminal, as though I deserved to be treated this way.
Regrettably nothing much has changed in protecting sex workers or upholding their criminal justice rights. In fact this shocking new bill stuns and horrifies me. It lacks insight, totally disregards evidence-based research, and is a deliberate, unrealistic attempt to abolish prostitution in this country.
I believe the root of this decision is how the government views prostitution. These discriminatory views, moral values, and judgments discredit sex workers. It marks us as other, as being in some very significant way not like us. It assumes we are involved in the industry because of a history of mental illness or abuse, that we need to be rescued or fixed somehow. It views us as helpless victims, that sex work is so degrading no one would ever choose to do it, that we are objectified and reduced to a commodity bought and sold on the market.
A sex worker certainly isn't the only one who is made into a commodity. All of us are objectified under capitalism into commodities for sale on the market that sells us. A person has the right to sell their sexual services just as much as they have the right to sell their brains to a law firm when they work as a lawyer, or to sell their creative work to a museum when they work as an artist, or to sell their image to a photographer when they work as a model.
It assumes we are amoral without common decency, that we are social nuisances, that we are damaged or dirty, that we are home wreckers, that we are coerced and exploited, that we are too dim-witted to know what is good for us, that we are unqualified or uneducated and not capable of doing any other work, that no decent Canadian would engage in such work, and that only a desperate person would stoop to sex work, that it is shameful and degrading work.
This bill reinforces this hophobia, this systemic marginalization, and the idea that prostitution is a social ill and a form of men's violence against women. It will prevent us from accessing important health, social, or police services for fear of judgment or punishment if our occupation is discovered. This narrow preconception discriminates against and creates naive, insulting stereotypes of those who do sex work. This is hypocrisy at its finest.
Under the guise of protecting women and children in this country, this new bill is irrational and undermines our constitutional rights. It will create a multitude of harms. The broad statement that all prostitution is always and by definition abusive and exploitive is not based in reality. You are ignoring the experiences of thousands of human beings.
The fact is, sex work is work, an activity that generates income. Sex work is not just about sex. Stigma for all sex workers must be recognized as a major contributing factor, not only the negative emotional impacts and accessibility issues, but also as a destructive factor that comes down to life and death.
If you are so afraid of being outed and do not seek police involvement as an option when your life is in danger, then it is stigma—not sex work—that kills. There is also an assumption that all clients who frequent sex workers are bad and should be penalized, that they are perverted consumers of a degrading practice. This view is disjointed and disconnected beyond belief and is fundamentally inaccurate.
Men who frequent sex workers are ordinary men who come from all walks of life. A john, or a client, is different from a predator and there needs to be a distinction here. A predator looks at people's vulnerabilities and ruthlessly exploits others. They may present themselves as clients, but their intention is to inflict harm, not to purchase a service. They may seek out sex workers specifically, as the criminalization of sex work reflects and reinforces that laws do not protect us.
This bill prevents sex workers from having a relationship with a pimp, without knowing what a particular relationship entails or if the relationship is agreeable to both parties. Usually a pimp is portrayed by the media as an evil person or a slick fellow who cons young girls and grown women into selling their bodies and giving them all their money, and that society must protect the poor, mentally defective sex worker from any relationship in which the other person benefits financially from commercial sexual activities. This concept is so outrageous it is offensive, but, unfortunately, it is the prevailing view of most of society, of some feminists, and other individuals who wish to rescue sex workers from the clutches of pimps.
Would anyone ever consider interfering in the relationships of the many actresses who get involved with totally unsuitable partners? How should society prevent women from selecting potentially abusive husbands? Should there be some sort of governmental agency to sort out who, for its female citizens, would be suitable as boyfriends, husbands, and significant others, to prevent unsuitable and potentially dangerous relationships?
Clearly, that goes well beyond what a government ought to do regarding the private and personal relationships of its citizens. Why, then, does this government feel it is its duty to stop a sex worker from having a relationship with someone simply because it finds the concept of a pimp to be morally repugnant? Many sex workers freely make a decision for themselves and do rely on their pimp to protect them from harm.
The problem here—
Ms. Sheri Kiselbach:
Okay, can you bear with me for about three short paragraphs?
I'm not going to summarize Bill C-36. That's already been talked about quite a bit.
It's long been recognized that criminalization is not an effective deterrent to prostitution. Laws trying to stop true slavery or trafficking are getting mis-applied to sex workers, clients, and others involved in the sex industry. This exposes us to an increased risk of violence and denies us any protection against assault or access to medical, legal, and educational services. It denies us our human rights.
All laws should fit the actual needs, capacities, and circumstances of sex workers. Canada's continuing failure to decriminalize sex work means the federal government sanctions violence against sex workers and all facets of the industry.
We are strongly opposed to sex workers having to endure yet another failed experiment. Increased safety and dignity for Canadian sex workers must be at the centre of new legislation.
Sex work is work, and it should be treated as such. We will never truly gain equality, freedom, and dignity until the illegal status of our work is reversed. We deserve not only the right to choose how we make a living but also the right to be free from fear, mistreatment, and at the root of it all, free from the misconceptions that have long plagued the industry.
A quick note: my recommendation is decriminalization, as it views prostitution as a legitimate and necessary business. It allows sex workers control over their work and their work environment.
I had a few more things, but—
Ms. Françoise Boivin:
My goodness, I don't know if it's the time, the fact that it's been three days into the hearing.…
First of all, I want to thank you all for your testimony, your experiences that you shared with the members of the committee. At the same time, I feel like I could pull my hair out.
I feel like we're hearing diametrically opposed views from groups on both sides I consider to be very feminist. There is agreement on a number of other issues.
That said, it's not that easy for us, the committee members, either, to sort all this out in our heads. On the one hand, we have one person telling us this is their occupation, and on the other, we have people telling us prostitution is a form of exploitation and goes hand in hand with violence. For every person who asks us to deregulate prostitution, another asks us to criminalize it, either wholly or partially.
As you can imagine, it's not straightforward. Perhaps the answer is crystal clear for some of you, but my 54 years on earth have taught me that very little in life is black and white.
I grew up with two solitudes. I used to think it was English and French. Now I'm convinced that it is prostitution, in a lot of aspects, because I don't know how we'll be able to end up reconciling all of these views. The bottom line is that we are trying to find the best solution.
What I was aiming at is that, for me, actions speak louder than words. We can talk until we die about equality and about the fact of respect. We can write it in the best charter we want but if, at the end of the day, the action does not follow then there is a big problem.
I will say to your panel, as I've said to other panels, that I find there is a lack of credibility with the law when I don't see what should be attached to it being attached to it. I see some of your groups saying to me—and pretty much everybody agrees that there are a couple of issues within the prostitution file where we seem to have an almost perfect agreement, except for the Conservatives—that the amount is definitely not sufficient. Pretty much everybody agrees with that. Thank God for that.
The fact that we should not criminalize sex workers—victims for some, workers for others—but that we should criminalize; we can find you all agreeing with that.
If we can't decriminalize completely, and remove those sections from the bill, my worry is that we have solved nothing.
My other worry is that if we don't attach what you so eloquently explained, Trisha, about your life and what happened and the life of your friends and what you've seen.... But when you said that you have to feed your kids or be in prostitution, my only question at the end of this week is: If Bill C-36 is passed, what will the person who has to answer that question do? It won't miraculously stop overnight, definitely not with $20 million, so what do you answer to that?
For your ladies who talked about torture, I so—
You have my heartfelt solidarity.
But are you telling us that the Criminal Code doesn't already cover it and that people who inflict torture can't be charged for it?
As I see it, torture is already covered by the Criminal Code. Torture in any form is not accepted in Canada. So there's a problem somewhere.
I was glad, Mr. Paterson, that you made the point that the Supreme Court of Canada did not say that we had to do something by December. It said that these three sections in the Criminal Code were invalid, but they are giving us a year before it comes into effect. If we want to do something then, do it, but we'd better do it in a way that doesn't put the lives of people in danger.
Maybe it's a lot of rambling, but we've heard a lot. I feel for you and I feel as if people are trying to push us on one side versus the other. There is no one side or the other. There is one side; it's called equality. If we believe in it we have to change a lot of things in Canada and it's not Bill C-36 that will change anything.
I don't know if anybody wants to.... I see Heather nodding. Maybe you can comment with the few minutes I left you. I'm so sorry.
Mrs. Joy Smith (Kildonan—St. Paul, CPC):
Thank you, Mr. Wallace.
First of all, I want to put the focus on all of you. That's what's important.
Jeanne and Linda, it's so good to meet you; we've dialogued for so long. It's amazing what you've done over so many years.
Trisha, you're my hero. You always have been. You've been through so much and you've helped so many people. You're a very brave woman.
Larissa and Heather, I say the same to you. I don't know how you got the money to get here today. I have to find out, because you were so worried that you didn't have the money to get here. I have to thank you for what you're doing.
Honestly, for the first time we have a bill in Canada that actually criminalizes the buying of sex. That is the first thing that's ever happened in Canada. The second thing is what Heather referred to, the changing of the paradigm. When I came to Parliament in 2004, they were telling me that there was no human trafficking, that there was no such thing, and that, hey, there were no underage people.
The ICE unit has been listening to this today. My son was in the ICE unit. They kept saying to keep talking about the kids, because the torturers get the most money with the kids.
The whole world is listening today. In Parliament, the whole world saw the NDP and the Liberals vote against Bill C-36, so they really believe what they're saying. What we're trying to do, though, is start a new paradigm in Canada where your voices are heard, where something is done. I'd like you to comment.
Perhaps I'll start with you, Larissa, because I've had a lot of dialogue with you and Heather. Can you tell me, in terms of criminalizing johns and the buying of sex, will that help in the safety of women, first of all?
Mr. Josh Paterson:
Thank you for the question, sir.
Anytime there is a reverse-onus provision, we're put in potentially more difficult constitutional waters. I'm just pulling it up here on my computer. Of course, there is a presumption in that section that you are guilty of a criminal offence under certain conditions, and the courts tend to frown on those kinds of presumptions. We have as a tradition in our law, the presumption of innocence rather than the presumption of guilt, is generally what the law favours. It's certainly what we favour as an association, and so we certainly have a concern about that piece as well.
I might add that there were other pieces too in there that we have some significant concerns about. The whole piece around providing services proportionate to their value, this kind of thing, as one of the exceptions to criminality for deriving a benefit—we think that is a very difficult exercise for police, for the crown, for the courts to engage in some sort of economic analysis of whether the service, say the secretarial, or the security, or whatever service of an individual, is hitting the mark in terms of fair market value.
To talk about the negative of that, which is if relationships are clearly exploitative and otherwise criminal, might be a better way of putting it.
The more you read this act, the more things come out where there could be wildly different interpretations, which I think make it very difficult for people engaged in sex work, and make it very difficult for the police to really understand what it is they are being asked to follow.
Ms. Ève Péclet:
I agree with you wholeheartedly.
I'm 25 years old. I was elected when I was 22. I'd stake my life on the fact that none of my friends, male or female, consider violence against women as acceptable, or that men have the right to torture or exploit women as you described for us today.
As the president of the Young New Democrat Federal Caucus, I often get to speak to young people about how important it is to condemn violence against women. It's a shame that today's society and government accept the fact that a woman has to resort to selling her body simply to feed her family. That shouldn't be allowed; it's unacceptable.
That brings me to another point.
We could pass all the legislation in the world, but it wouldn't change the fact that inequality, at its root, is a financial and societal issue. In the bill's preamble, the government merely mentions the inequality between Canadian men and women, an issue the committee has heard a lot about. But the government doesn't talk about wage inequity for women or their lack of equal access to jobs in companies.
The government's $20-million investment over 5 years amounts to $4 million a year, and roughly $200,000 per province per year. That's the case for Manitoba, for instance.
Does the government really have your full support on this matter? Whoever wants to answer can go ahead.
Mr. Bob Dechert:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thanks to each of our guests for your very important testimony and answers to our questions today.
I'm going to return to the words of Chief Justice McLachlin. I think they really are important and special. They're unusual and not something that the Supreme Court normally says. She said:
||The regulation of prostitution is a complex and delicate matter. It will be for Parliament, should it choose to do so, to devise a new approach....
They could have just left the provisions that they had struck down last December. Presumably, if those provisions were making the lives of sex workers more dangerous last December, they are still making those lives dangerous today, six months later. They left them in force. They said:
||Considering all the interests at stake, the declaration of invalidity should be suspended for one year.
That's not what they typically do. She gave it back to parliamentarians to actually do something.
I was sent here by the people of my constituency of Mississauga—Erindale to do something, to make choices, and to make better choices. I think all of us, as members of Parliament, are sent here by Canadians across the country to actually do something and not to do nothing.
Ms. Scott and Ms. Lebovitch, who were two of the litigants in the Bedford decision, said earlier today that we should do nothing; let the suspension end, let the laws fall, and let legalization roll.
Let the good times roll.
Some people we've heard from on this panel, such as Ms. Dilley, and Mr. Paterson from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, say pretty much the same thing: let the decision take its effect and don't do anything.
I want to ask each of you: Do you think that we, as parliamentarians—you're talking to 10 members of Parliament here today and I guarantee you there are many more watching right now—should choose to do something, or should we choose to do nothing?
Can I start with you, Ms. Dukes?
Ms. Sheri Kiselbach:
I think one of the very important things is to be able to communicate with customers what you will and will not do, and negotiate your terms—where you want to be taken, where you don't want to be taken—in a way that you can do it thoughtfully and you don't have to be rushed, and you can use your senses—your eyes, your intuition—to really take your time to consider if this is safe or not.
When a person is forced to jump into a car, then you are almost trapped in that car and you have no options, and then it can turn into a dangerous situation.
When you're not able to communicate exactly what is going to transpire, that's when the dangerous situations occur. But the client may have thought, because I'm talking vaguely, because of the law.... If I can't say exactly what I'm going to do, they may think I'm going to do something else and I'm not willing to. There have to be very clear negotiations to help keep you safe.
That, for me, is the number one safety thing about the communication law.
Also, to be able to work indoors with others is another safety mechanism that sex workers should be able to have at the forefront. We can help each other in many ways in creating our own safety. When you're indoors you have control over your own environment. I need control of my environment, so that will help keep us safe.
I think there is a great distinction we need to make: the difference between predators and a client. A predator is no longer a john or a client. He is just that—a predator. Predators have a plan. They've done this before. They know what they're doing.
Looking back on my experience, I had very violent episodes happen to me many times. I didn't see cues to assault because the predator had a plan. This was all planned out.
So people can learn these kinds of things and we can learn about our safety, too. I wish I could educate more sex workers about their safety before, during, and after sex work, and what they can do to help negotiate terms and to be safe and to be able to defend themselves.