Manitoba's senior federal minister says decriminalizing prostitution will make it more difficult for police to assist exploited women and children.
Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, who took a leave from the Winnipeg Police Service to enter politics, said Friday existing laws provide police with the tools to infiltrate prostitution rings and direct victims to services that can free them from addictions and abuse.
'I've seen the plight women face being victimized, being abused and mistreated. And I saw it when I was undercover, working to unravel abusive and exploitive prostitution rings'
As a police officer, she said she saw "first-hand the devastating effects that prostitution and human trafficking" can have.
"I've seen the plight women face being victimized, being abused and mistreated. And I saw it when I was undercover, working to unravel abusive and exploitive prostitution rings," the St. Boniface MP said.
Glover made the comments in response to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling on Friday. The court struck down all three prostitution-related prohibitions -- against keeping a brothel, living on the avails of prostitution and street soliciting -- as violations of the constitutional guarantee to life, liberty and security of the person.
The landmark ruling gives Parliament a one-year window to produce new legislation, which means prostitution-related offences will remain in the Criminal Code until Dec. 19, 2014.
"We remain a government that believes that decriminalizing prostitution is not in the interests in our families and not in the interest of protecting these vulnerable persons," Glover told a Winnipeg news conference on Friday.
She said the government will review the court decision and draft new measures "to ensure that the criminal law continues to fight against harm in our communities because of prostitution."
Asked whether she had concerns about how strictly the existing law would be enforced in the coming year, she directed journalists to ask police chiefs, front-line officers and police unions that question.
In an earlier interview, however, she expressed concern about what might happen. "For the next year, your guess is as good as mine as to how this is going to affect what happens on the streets of Winnipeg," she said.
Manitoba Justice Minister Andrew Swan was unavailable for comment Friday.
The Winnipeg Police Service issued a brief statement saying it is reviewing the court decision and will consult with the provincial Justice Department before making any changes to its policies and procedures.
"The counter-exploitation unit will continue to investigate incidents involving underage prostitution, sexual exploitation, human trafficking and/or other forms of violence committed against sex-trade workers," the WPS said. "The unit will continue to liaise with community stakeholders in addressing their concerns relative to the visible sex trade."
Winnipeg Conservative MP Joy Smith, a tireless crusader against human trafficking, said legalizing prostitution will harm women.
"I am convinced that the most effective route to tackling prostitution and sex trafficking is to address the demand for commercial sex by targeting the buyers of sex," she said in a statement Friday. "Countries that have legalized and regulated (prostitution) have seen sexual exploitation, human trafficking and violence toward women and girls increase drastically."
She advocated an approach that explicitly criminalizes the purchase of sexual services, promotes awareness to educate the public that the purchase of sexual services is harmful to women and provides strong support programs for those who seek to exit prostitution.