Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Decriminalization of sex trade unlikely

PM studiously avoids social hot buttons

  • Print

OTTAWA -- Call it the world's oldest legislative headache.

A Conservative government that hoped to restore its fortunes in 2014 by talking about pipelines, international trade and victims of crime now will have to deal with the world's oldest profession.

The Supreme Court of Canada effectively gutted Canada's prostitution laws last week by finding legislation against street soliciting, living on the avails and keeping a brothel were unconstitutional.

The court gave Parliament one year to come up with a new legislative scheme before the old laws are unenforceable.

While sex workers cheered at the Supreme Court in the hopes the unanimous court judgment ultimately leads to the decriminalization of prostitution, there seems little prospect of that under a government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"We view prostitution as bad for society and we view its effects as particularly harmful for our communities and women, and particularly for vulnerable women, and we will continue to oppose prostitution in Canada," Harper said in March 2012 after the Ontario Court of Appeal set in motion Friday's decision by striking down parts of the federal law.

The prime minister has steered clear of social-conservative lightning rods during his eight years in power, allowing a free parliamentary vote that affirmed same-sex marriage in 2006 and firmly opposing any re-opening of the abortion debate, despite repeated efforts from within his own Conservative caucus.

It's worth noting that for same-sex marriage and abortion, the courts -- not politicians -- led the way to the current status quo in Canada.

However, allowing federal prostitution laws simply to lapse does not appear to be an option.

Just last month, the Conservative party policy convention in Calgary adopted a resolution stating it "shall develop a Canada-specific plan to target the purchasers of sex and human-trafficking markets through criminalizing the purchase of sex as well as any third party attempting to profit from the purchase of sex."

Justice Minister Peter MacKay issued a statement Friday saying the government would be "exploring all possible options to ensure the criminal law continues to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution... "

Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, a former Winnipeg cop, said she has dealt with sex workers and that "on a personal note, I worry about them and I look forward to our government providing some options to continue to protect them."

"Our objective would be to ensure Canada avoids a situation where vulnerable women are easily exploited and that's our concern," chimed in Social Development Minister Jason Kenney.

All the talk of protecting sex workers came after the court ruled the current laws are unconstitutional because they actively endanger people in the trade.

Both the judgment itself and MacKay's statement in response referred to the complexity of the issue.

If, indeed, the government is starting from scratch, widespread public consultations and the drafting of new laws are a big challenge for the next 12 months.

Mike Wallace, the Conservative chairman of the House of Commons justice committee, said the only matter currently on the committee agenda for the new year is clause-by-clause examination of a contraband tobacco bill.

A promised victim's bill of rights is in the pipeline but has not yet been scheduled into the committee agenda.

"I wouldn't be surprised if sometime in the spring there would be some sort of legislation in the House, go through second reading, and get to us (at committee) either late spring or early summer," Wallace told The Canadian Press. "It's a possibility, if we move on it."

Under that scenario, legislation could get to the Senate and receive royal assent next fall.

Don Hutchinson, vice-president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, confirmed his group has already made proposals to the government.

"And yes, there have been conversations with the Justice Department and with others in the government of Canada," Hutchinson said Friday.

The evangelical group is looking at what is called the Nordic model, in which the heaviest criminal sanctions are aimed at pimps and johns, not sex workers. The group shares that perspective with Kim Pate of the Elizabeth Fry Society, among others.

It's not the hidden agenda Harper's harshest critiques have long claimed he harbours, but it's also not an issue that's been at the top of any Conservative election platform.

Finding common ground between tough-on-crime Conservative supporters and longtime government policy critics such as Pate may be the unexpected silver lining in the Supreme Court ruling.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2013 A3

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jets fans take Anaheim by storm

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A goose flys defensively to protect their young Wednesday near Kenaston Blvd and Waverley -See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge- Day 16 - May 23, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google