The Conservative government’s prostitution bill — Bill C-36 — passed in the House of Commons Monday night by a 156-124 vote.
In 2007, a case challenging Canada’s prostitution laws as unconstitutional resulted in the Supreme Court of Canada throwing out the laws criminalizing pimping, communicating for the purposes of prostitution, and running a brothel. The federal government was therefore tasked with coming up with new laws.
The new legislation, brought forth in June by Justice Minister Peter McKay, explicitly names pimps and johns as exploiters, criminalizing the purchase of sex while decriminalizing prostituted women.
The bill states that the Parliament of Canada “has grave concerns about the exploitation that is inherent in prostitution and the risks of violence posed to those who engage in it” and “recognizes the social harm caused by the objectification of the human body and the commodification of sexual activity.”
The intention behind this kind of legislation is to work towards an eventual end to prostitution and follows in the footsteps of countries like Sweden, Norway, and Iceland. The EU passed a resolution last year encouraging member states to “reevaluate their policies on sex work,” with the Nordic model as a framework.
That this legislation was considered and then adopted by the Canadian government in its current form is thanks, in large part, to feminists across the country who worked tirelessly on the issue, ensuring a feminist analysis was central to the legislation and bringing forth research, studies, analysis, evidence from the front line, and testimonies of their own experiences working in the sex industry.
The bill must now pass the Senate before being proclaimed into law. The stay in the Bedford decision expires December 20.
The legislation represents a new approach to prostitution that says men do not have the right to access women’s bodies, women deserve more than prostitution, prostitution does not promote gender equality, and that we can do better for women in Canada.
Congratulations, brothers and sisters. Onwards to the Senate.