National News

Prostitution law to 'protect vulnerable'

By Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - The Conservative government's forthcoming prostitution bill will be aimed at "protecting vulnerable individuals," says Justice Minister Peter MacKay, suggesting the legislation will try to shield sex workers from exploitation.

MacKay said Monday the government's "measured response" to a landmark Supreme Court ruling will be tabled in coming days, branding it the "Canadian model" for dealing with the sale of sexual services.

The minister's comments came as his department officially released the results Monday of an online consultation that will help underpin the legislation.

A slight majority of those who responded to the Justice Department's month-long consultation earlier this year felt that purchasing sexual services should be a criminal offence.

However, two-thirds of the more than 31,000 respondents said selling sex should not be an offence.

MacKay had no trouble reconciling the seemingly contradictory notions of buying sex being against the law, but selling it being legal.

"They are squared in what I will describe as a Canadian model, that will be included in comprehensive legislation that will be put before the House of Commons in coming days," he said before entering the House of Commons for question period.

"We believe that this legislation is the proper response, it's the measured response after having consulted broadly. And we feel that this will go to the heart of protecting vulnerable individuals."

MacKay said he could not provide more details until the legislation is presented.

The Supreme Court of Canada struck down key elements of Canada's prostitution laws in December, giving Parliament one year to come up with new measures.

Under existing laws, prostitution itself is legal but almost all related activities — including communicating in a public place for the purposes of prostitution, pimping and running a brothel — are criminal offences.

About six in every 10 participants in the consultation said benefiting economically from the prostitution of an adult should be illegal.

The department received comments from 117 organizations but — citing confidentiality — did not reveal their names. They included groups that provide education, support and services, as well as faith-based organizations, police forces, municipalities and those who offer sexual services.

Those who actually work in the sex trade were not consulted in meaningful ways, said Vanessa D'Allesio, a sex worker and member of the board of directors of Maggie's — Toronto Sex Workers' Action Project.

The organization says decriminalization is the only system that will protect sex workers, by ensuring access to labour, legal and human rights.

The group questioned the legitimacy of the Justice Department's online consultation, saying people could have completed the form multiple times, skewing the results.

A discussion paper published as part of the consultation noted countries have generally taken one of three approaches:

— Decriminalization or legalization (places such as Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia);

— Prohibition of both the purchase and sale of sexual services (all U.S. states, with the exception of Nevada);

— Abolition, or the Nordic model, which criminalizes clients and third parties but not prostitutes, accompanied by social programs aimed at helping sex workers (Sweden, Norway and Iceland).

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair urged the government to put forward ideas for experts to analyze.

"Unfortunately, the Conservatives are probably going to do the same thing that they always do," Mulcair said.

"If they see a touchy dossier like this one, they're going to look for the best way to try to profit from it politically, to try to divide people rather than finding a solution as ordered by the Supreme Court."

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