On Tuesday, November 4, 2014, Bill C-36 passed the Senate. Today the bill received Royal Assent, which means that in 30 days The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act will become law.
In a press release, Hilla Kerner, spokesperson for Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, states:
“Having a new law is a very important step but now we need to make sure it’s implemented. We need to monitor the criminal justice system and ensure the new law is used to protect women in prostitution and to stop the men who exploit them. In addition to the law, we want the Provincial and the Canadian government to provide a comprehensive response to women’s needs to prevent them from resorting to prostitution to begin with and to enable women to exit prostitution.”
This law constitutes an enormous step in working towards gender equality in Canada. By criminalizing the pimps and johns, the new legislation directly targets male power and male violence against women. In doing this, Canada has shown incredible initiative in the face of an increasingly aggressive and ever-expanding porn culture, a general acceptance among many leftists, liberals, and even some feminists of the sex industry as, not only inevitable, but a source of liberation for women — an empowered “choice.” The neoliberal status quo tells us that individual women have the “right” to prostitute themselves, but those who seek true equality know that freedom lies in real choices — choices that extend beyond having to sell our bodies to those who have the means to pay. By criminalizing the exploiters and perpetrators of violence, and by decriminalizing those who must resort to selling sex (which continues to be primarily women), we challenge men’s sense of entitlement to female bodies and an institutionalized misogyny that turns women and girls into commodities.
The law follows in the footsteps of the most progressive and feminist countries in the world — countries like Sweden, Norway, Finland* and Iceland, which continue to hold the top rankings in the Global Gender Gap Report.
The bill was supported by a number of Canadian feminist, human rights, women’s, and prostitution survivor organizations, including Asian Women’s Coalition Ending Prostitution (AWCEP), Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN), Sex Trade 101, Person’s Against Non-State Torture, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle (LaCLES), Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI), EVE: Formerly Exploited Voices Now Educating, the London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC), and The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres (CASAC).
*Finland’s legislation criminalizes specifically the purchase of sex from minors and from trafficked women, as well as the purchase of sex in public places. The law is problematic as it’s extremely difficult to prove that a john knew a woman was trafficked when he paid for her.