December 6 is the day that Bill C-36, Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act comes into force. On that day, new Criminal Code sections aimed at combating prostitution in Canada come into effect. The new laws were passed in Parliament earlier this year. They were passed in response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in the Canada (Attorney General) vs. Bedford case. In Bedford, the court held that ” it is not a crime in Canada to sell sex for money”. The court went on to strike down those parts of the prostitution laws that infringed the Charter rights of prostitutes to not work in conditions that are excessivly unsafe or risky. The Conservative government said it would pass new laws that would be complient with the Charter. In short, the new law does not criminalize the selling of sex, except in a place near where children may be present. But, the new law is radically different than the old law in that it clearly makes it illegal for prostitutes to advertise their services. Even more radical is that the new law clearly makes the buying of sex illegal.
The new prostitution sections of the Criminal Code can be summarized:
s.213 (1.1): it is an offence for either seller or buyer to communicate in a public place, or any place open to public view, that is or is next to a school ground, playground or daycare centre;
s.286.1: It is an offence in any place to obtainsexual services for consideration, or to communicate with anyone for the purpose of obtaining sexual services for consideration;
s.286.2: It is an offence to receive a financial or other material benefit knowing it is obtained by or derived indirectly from the obtaining of sexual services for consideration;
s. 286.4: It is an offence to knowingly adverise an offer to provide sexual services for consideration.
Needless to say, it will be very interesting to see whether the new laws will withstand the scrutiny of the Charter challenges that will undoubtably be made. Those who opposed the making of these new laws have suggested that the Supreme Court will find it unconstitutional to deny prostitutes the right to advertise as such a ban will push prostitution further into the unsafe “back lanes”. Likewise, it will be most interesting to see how these new laws will be interpreted by the courts. What, for example, is a “sexual service”? Will it include strip clubs? Sexual therapists? The making of commercial pornography?
One thing is for sure. The Conservative government is truly conservative. These laws are designed to eliminate prostitution in all its forms. The Tories want to end the “world’s oldest profession”. We truly doubt this is what the majority of the Canadian public wants; or what the Supreme Court of Canada had in mind when it wrote the Bedford decision.