Prostitution Made Legal in Canada – Aboriginal Women’s Groups Clash

A divisive debate is currently underway among women’s advocate groups after an Ontario court recently struck down some of the laws restricting prostitution in Canada. Even Aboriginal women’s groups are clashing on the matter.

On Sept. 28, in Bedford v. Canada, Justice Himel of the Ontario Superior Court declared three sections of the Canadian Criminal Code pertaining to prostitution as unconstitutional. Here’s the (146 page!) decision. Bedford v. Canada (Attorney General)

Technically, prostitution was never illegal in Canada, in and of itself. Rather, the three sections of the Criminal Code which were struck down, indirectly made it so. They were:
(1) communication for the purposes of prostitution – Section 213(1)(c)
(2) living off of the sex trade – Section 212(1)(j)
(3) the keeping of a “common bawdy house.” – Section 201

In a joint statement by the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN) together with Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution and South Asian Women Against Male Violence, the authors claimed that the Ontario Court “abandons Aboriginal women and women of colour to pimps.”

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, the President of NWAC (Native Women’s Association of Canada) said:
“The decision itself acknowledges systemic injustice but nowhere mentions the overrepresentation of Aboriginal women in the sex industry. This decision glosses over the fact that Aboriginal women, women in low income situations, those suffering from mental health and addictions issues are working in prostitution because of systemic racism and classism, as well as a fundamental power imbalance and issues of inequality, which is at the root of prostitution.”

However, the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) has voiced its opinion in favor of Justice Himel’s decision. In a press release, NYSHN has said that while it agrees with NWAC that Justice Himel’s decision fails to address inequality and racism facing Aboriginal women, the ruling still “has the potential to actually mean less violence” for those women:
If sex workers are able to live off of the money they earn, they may be able to afford shelter, better provide for their families, or be able to hire someone else, such as a driver, as protection. If they are able to openly communicate about sex work, they may be able to negotiate safer working conditions (such as condom use) with a client or report violence without fear of being arrested. If keeping a bawdy-house is no longer illegal, then sex workers may have access to indoor working conditions, decreasing the chances of street-based violence. If police are given less opportunity to arrest people on the basis of these laws, it means less Indigenous people that are incarcerated because of sex work.

Whichever side of the fence you may sit on the issue of legalized prostitution, it’s almost assured that the Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada will weigh in with their opinions in short order.

5 thoughts on “Prostitution Made Legal in Canada – Aboriginal Women’s Groups Clash

  1. AWAN October 13, 2010 / 7:52 pm

    Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN)
    October 5, 2010

    “Striking down the Prostitution Laws – Striking down our Voices”

    Currently, AWAN is focusing on the complex issue of prostitution and its profound impact on the lives of Aboriginal women and girls. Specifically, we are examining how and to what extent it is interrelated with issues of poverty, inadequate housing, child apprehension, male violence, and the history of colonization, which continue to
    undermine the well-being of Aboriginal women and girls and hinder our full participation in the social, economic, and political dimensions of life in Canada.

    The ruling by Justice Susan Himel to strike down the prostitution laws is another example of the disregard of the impacts of colonization on the lives of Aboriginal women and children: we name, racism, sexism, poverty and violence.

    “Violence also takes the form of victimization at the hands of the judicial system.”
    Canadian laws have not always worked for Aboriginal women and have been painfully slow to respond to our needs for life, liberty and dignity. Unfortunately, Canadian laws are the laws that Aboriginal women have been forced to deal with. The ruling by Justice Himel takes away what little protection women had from johns, pimps, and brothel owners and instead allows these very men the legal right to abuse women and benefit
    from women’s inequality. The decision to strike down the prostitution laws eliminates laws that could have been revised and advanced for women’s protection by decriminalizing the selling of sex and criminalizing the buying of sex.
    The ruling fails to recognize that most women are young girls when they enter the so called sex trade and there is no consent to work in such an industry when you are as young as 11 and are starting to be sexually exploited and this is the age when a lot of Aboriginal girls are abused in this so-called profession. They are leaving foster homes,
    being sexually and/or physically abused where they are in survival prostitution and this is not by choice as it is for the small majority of the pro-prostitution camp who are of the age of consent.
    The law will only benefit pimps, so called co-op brothels will be few and far between and how will the law protect women who still engage in street prostitution? They won’t and some women who are under the control of a pimp will not be in a any type of brothel and the law will be limited due to its’ vagueness and will only allow exploitation from those it was meant to protect from (pimps).
    The Pickton killings were also the result of police negligence and lack of action in our view and this is also part of the equation, the law needs to target Johns and John school does not cut it.
    The law surrounding prostitution laws is too vague and allows a wide open interpretation which can only benefit pimps and do little to protect the women from them and will allow
    further exploitation and organized crime to move in, and this has happened all over, for example in Nevada and Amsterdam where the world’s most notorious red-light district had to deal with the drugs and organized crime that came along with it being legal, this will also happen here.
    The ruling leaves the impression that prostitution is okay as a profession to enter into and
    wherever there is a brothel there will be predators hanging around the area and propositioning young girls who may not even be associated with the sex industry making them subject to sexual harassment and exploitation and not by choice, and the law as it is now as a result of the ruling will not protect them, being the most vulnerable, in this equation.
    As stated, the majority of provinces in Canada do not support the law being struck down, Calgary has already stated nothing has changed for them and they will continue to enforce the law. This decision came down in a Province where there is a pro prostitution rape centre and academic institutions with courses having a pro-prostitution bias. 97 % of the women in the so called consensual trade want to leave it and we should echo the call for an appeal in this matter and that our voices should be there on behalf of the women
    who are most affected by this ruling, the ones who are going to be sexually exploited and pimped out as result of it and not be able to be protected by a law which is meant to protect them as a result of this ruling.
    We have been outraged that the suffering of our sisters in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver has been appropriated and used as a tactic by pro-decriminalization advocates for their pro-“sex industry” agenda. As Aboriginal women, we are
    disheartened to see the “horrific and shocking” conditions many of our Aboriginal sisters face on a daily basis. We are also disheartened to see that once again, our historic and current experiences, and our knowledge, dignity, and safety have been ignored to benefit the interests of predatory men. Of course we want women to be safer; but let’s
    work toward securing life conditions and work that is safe.
    The living conditions and status of Aboriginal women must be elevated to the same level
    as our Canadian counterparts, people who are not burdened with the additional layers of the sexist and racist discrimination of the Indian Act. This legislation limits our freedom to live and thrive and takes away any real choices we may have. Most prostituted women want out (close to 90% in various studies) and do not want this experience for their daughters. Prostitution is inherently unsafe and instead of moving towards the normalization of paid rape we should work toward abolishing it altogether.
    We want safe, not “safer”. We want harm elimination, not harm reduction. These things
    are possible, and the Nordic model of prostitution law serves as an example of a move in the right direction. By decriminalizing the selling of sex and criminalizing the buying of sex, this model values and respects women. As Aboriginal women, we see the introduction of the Nordic model as a step toward the restoration of our rightful traditional places of respect.

  2. Bella October 15, 2010 / 9:45 am

    First we have to address that the current laws on the books are unconstitutional and PUT SEX WORKERS IN HARMS way, and that the PUBLIC STIGMA that it is ok for HATE CRIMES AGAINST SEX WORKERS will no longer be tolerated.
    These women do not deserve to go to jail, be given criminal records so they will never be able to get a real job again, an be run our of the own communties by Law Enforcement and we HAVE TAKEN AWAY THEIR RIGHT FOR SANCTION & PROTECTION under the law.
    What gives pimps and predators their power over these women and children is the hiding, the shaming, tricking these women into thinking they need protection and the pimps claims he will provide it. Also any other adult with knowledge tha a minor was used in a brothel will not report this if they fear prosection themselves.
    Rather than fight what is a basic constitutional right why don’t we adopt some laws that makes sense.
    1) no premises can be used with more than 3 sex workers, working from the same location.
    2) or no brothel owner is permitted to collect a % of the womens earning, he may simple rent her a room.
    3) Public prositituion would still be a PUBLIC NUSIANCE
    4) anyone who has sex with someone under 18 years of age or pimps a minor will go to jail for 25 years without passing go, no expections
    5) any HATE CRIME AGAINST a sex worker will be dealt with a swiftly as any other hate crime
    6) law enforcment will be required to answer distress calls from sex workers and will investagate their claims.
    7) we will start providing services, housing and employment training for women wanting to exit the industry
    8) sex workers will be given some sort of tax id number and can pay taxes on their money, get heath care and set up programs for their retirement
    9) any client that uses an adult sex worker that was under control of a pimp will pay a 10,000 fine that will go to fund exit services for sex workers wanting to leave the industry.
    As long as we have laws that criminalize the TRUE VICTIM< the sex worker, Human Trafficking and pimping out our teenagers will only get worse. Decriminalize consenting adults in private, makes the pimps and predators more VISIBLE, it makes it harder for them to hide the victims and the JOHNS will report minors if they do not fear .
    Why do you think that it is ok for these women to become HOMELESS and be sujected to street violence while we Spend another decade figuring out how to get these women the services they need.
    When we fight Craiglist in the media we lose. The US harassed them into shutting down and Craiglist was cooperating with Law Enforcment and giving the IP addresses of the pimps to be tracked down. they also caught the Crailist Killer because of the Ip address and the killer went to Rhode Island were Indoor prostitution was still legal and robbed a women and she dialed 911 and report it. RI never had a problem with human trafficking or indoor prositution between 1979 til Nov 2009 when they closed the loophole as they were told this new law was needed in order to investigate human trafficking.
    In the US we use the SWAT team to kick in the door of middle aged women, and then give these women a SUMMONS to appear, LE then contacts her employer and landlord and they BRAG to the media that they will run these women from their communties.
    We have taken all rights from the sex worker, we treat sex workers worst than we did native americans or african americans when slavery still exsited. Why SOCIETY has CHOOSEN to show these women NO COMPASSION and PLAIN HATE is the biggest problem these women face.

  3. AWAN October 15, 2010 / 7:17 pm

    Monday, March 16, 2009

    As Aboriginal Women on unceded Coast Salish Territories, we are taking collective action in time to avert the worst possible situation for women and children and most rewarding climate for johns, pimps and traffickers of sexually exploited and prostituted women, by opposing the total decriminalization of prostitution and a proposed brothel with amnesty.

    Pro-brothel and pro-decriminalization lobbyists have an agenda–and we fear it is a pimp agenda.
    We have heard that there is a common goal in our work, that “we all want what is best and safest for those who are exploited.” If this were indeed true, then there would be many more people who are invested in calling for the end of poverty, homelessness, racism, child sexual assault, pornography and prostitution. If we truly were allied in the same fight, then we would have many more on our side demanding an end to the punitive criminalization of women and children. The focus would immediately shift to the unsafe, degrading or even brutal behaviour of men who violate the bodies and spirits of the most marginalized, without any real type of punishment or accountability for their actions-which seems to create a legal exploitation. The attitudes, beliefs and criminal actions of sexual predators, and make no mistake, johns are sexual predators, must be corrected, by a revised law which reflects a society which views prostitution as violence against women and children.

    Some pro-brothel lobbyists claim they have consulted with Aboriginal women. This goes to the heart of the issue of Aboriginal world views in contrast to the dominant society. The western world, our historical colonizers who were responsible for institutionalizing prostitution, tends to focus on the individual, whereas most Aboriginal world views are collective by their very nature. So the pro-brothel and pro-decriminalization lobbyists may have spoken to a handful of individuals (this lack of consultation is a tactic to advance their political agenda ); but have they spoken with the families and their communities where these prostituted women come from? When we think of the ‘missing’ and murdered Aboriginal women, whether it’s the annual Memorial March, or the events surrounding the ‘Highway of Tears’, Aboriginal women often underscore the fact that these missing and murdered women come from families and communities that loved them. By extension, when AWAN women see our sisters on the streets, their homes and so-called legitimate escort agencies (brothels), being violated, abused, maimed and killed, we assert our right to speak on the side of prostituted Aboriginal women.

    So if pro-brothel and pro-decriminalization lobbyists can claim to legitimately represent prostituted Aboriginal women, then they must recognize and respect our world views, especially the “collective” or “communal” aspect of our connectedness. AWAN women are friends and family of women who are missing from the downtown eastside of Vancouver, the Highway of Tears and other parts of Canada. AWAN women work closely with the organizers, Gladys Radek and Bernie Williams, of the the walk4justice2008. On June 21st, 2008, National Aboriginal Day, people began walking across Canada to Ottawa, and they walked for all the missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls, and their grieving families. We urged all to visit the website, there were many different ways to be involved or support the walk.

    We, at AWAN, have a very strong analysis of what colonization has done to our women, and how this connects to present-day prostitution. Historically, during Canada’s first 100 years, European women were not allowed to emigrate. The European male, operating under the biological of imperative of “having his way” sexually, stole and trafficked First Nations into brothels surrounding military forts and trading companies.

    Sound familiar?

    This historical trafficking of First Nations women is no different from brothels surrounding military posts globally today where overwhelming numbers of indigenous women are trafficked. Powerful, interlocking forces, such as the church, military, market, and the state created First Nations women’s subjugation. This devaluation has continued to present-day, and because of its longevity, it has been normalized and accepted. We, at AWAN, understand that trafficking is forced migration, that women on reserves are forced off reserves because of poor living conditions and violence. These conditions render First Nations women extremely vulnerable to being coerced into prostitution. AWAN knows that these conditions in Canada are also the same conditions for indigenous women globally. Trafficking is globalized prostitution. Women leave reserves because of extreme poverty and violence, both sexual and physical. Whether a woman is trafficked from reserve to city inside her own country, or internationally, it is still sexual exploitation.

    The prostitution of Aboriginal women today is a form of colonization: it is our bodies that are now colonized. We were Canada’s first prostituted and brotheled women. We have been colonized and comodified long enough. If pro-prostitution and pro-decriminalization lobbyists win, it will be “open season” sexually for johns, astronomical profits for pimps, and the institutions which sanction their existence. What this means for Aboriginal women is that the violence that is prostitution will not only continue unabated, but it will actually increase. It leaves no hope for women who are trapped and who want out–and women do want out; burgeoning evidence points to this fact. In countries, such as Australia, which has legalized prostitution, evidence also shows that there are no programs or resources for women to exit. If prostitution is considered a “job”, considered “fair trade”, how can women be helped to leave?

    In a 2003 study conducted by Farley/Lynne in which 100 prostituted women were interviewed, over half the women were of First Nations ancestry! This is a significant overrepresentation, compared to their representation in Vancouver generally (1.7-7%). This over – representation begs the question: Why? It’s answers are found, as previously mentioned, in how embedded prostitution is in historical colonization and subsequent subjugation of First Nations women.
    Some of this study’s findings are as follows: Overwhelmingly, almost without exception, women said they wanted to leave prostitution. 86% of these women were currently or previously homeless–they said they needed adequate and safe housing. A great majority said they needed alcohol and drug treatment beds. Prostitution is sexual harassment, rape, battering, verbal abuse, and domestic violence. It is a racist practice, and a violation of human rights, and it’s also childhood sexual abuse. Prostitution is a result of male domination of women and a means of maintaining male domination of women.”

    Any legalization of prostitution would set a dangerous precedent which would only encourage its normalization and expansion, developing both legal and illegal forms. As evident from examples around the world, where it has been legalized, it would especially promote an expansion of the latter and thereby serve only to increase the numbers of women at risk.
    Most most prostituted women have suffered a history of abuse, as cited in the Farley/Lynne statistics: 82% of the women reported a history of sexual abuse as children by an average of four perpetrators, and the fact that the majority of prostituted women globally have experienced such abuse, we need to address the factors that have contributed to their entry into prostitution at an average age of 14 in the first place.

    AWAN regards prostitution as Violence Against Women, it is not possible to make violence safer. It is merely an extension of the abuse experienced by these women from an early age. Only a different set of circumstances have made the difference why some women have escaped or avoided prostitution. It is disheartening to see the conditions in which many Aboriginal women “survive” the downtown eastside of Vancouver, which is considered Canada’s poorest community. Life spans are short–trick and pimp violence is an everyday occurrence. At a neighbourhood community centre , if you are live long enough to reach the age of 40, you are considered a senior citizen. This witnessing of the despair and the destruction of our women is made much more difficult because of how closely we identify with them. Of course women want to be safer; but let’s work toward helping them secure work that is safe. Prostitution is inherently unsafe and we should work toward abolishing it altogether.

    AWAN women have volunteered and worked as advocates, counsellors, peer counsellors, instructors and our lived experience as mothers, grandmothers, aunties, cousins and friends informs our analysis on prostitution of Native youth. We believe that Aboriginal youth will be further exploited in brothels, no matter how much people do not want this to happen. Evidence from other “legalized” countries bears this out. No matter how much pro-legalization and pro-brothel lobbyists insist this will not happen, it will.

    The youth in our families and in our communities tell us their stories of sexual exploitation and prostitution; their painful lives, (prostitution’s pre-cursors); and most importantly–their desire to escape their sexual exploitation. Society is horrified and disturbed by men who prey on young girls. Why, we ask, why is society not as horrified or disturbed when they become adults?

    And when asked: “What other things could the city, the province or the federal government do instead of decriminalizing prostitution or supporting an experimental brothel to help Native women in the sex trade industry?”
    AWAN responded: First, we use language that doesn’t obscure the danger and harms of prostitution. We do not use the term “sex trade” because it implies choice and a legitimate form of labour. Instead, we use the term “prostituted” woman to show that something is being done to her–it exposes, essentially the “non-choice” for women and reveals the harm that is intrinsic to prostitution. Prostituted First Nations women in Canada have echoed the needs of prostituted Indigenous women globally. Overwhelmingly, women want out. Federally, we need legislation to stop the sexual demand by men for women’s and children’s rented and bought bodies. Canada would do well to follow Sweden’s example. In 1999, Sweden enacted legislation which recognizes that prostitution is violence which is directed toward women and children, by men. Sweden views prostitution as entrenching women’s inequality. This progressive legislation is a re-dress to this inequality. Johns, pimps and “sexual entrepreneurs” are criminalized and punished–the prostituted women are not. Instead, they are helped to exit prostitution, offered counselling services, pre-employment training, medical attention, and safe places to live. With such a strong stance federally, Canada’s provinces and municipalities would, as the then Mayor Sam Sullivan had said, “have to honour the federal legislative framework” and fall in line with its resulting policies and programs to assist Aboriginal women exit out of prostitution, and to being on the journey of healing from the multiple harms it has caused our women.
    If we are to help the most vulnerable street prostituted women, of which a significant number are young aboriginal women struggling with problems with addictions, homelessness, and chronic, often life-threatening health problems, what we need are:
    1) more detox beds;
    2) recovery centres designed to: a) give women “cultural tools” to recover; b) educate women concerning the origins of violence in their lives; and
    c) consciousness-raise so women can fight to end prostitution–the “oldest oppression” in the world;
    3) comprehensive and compassionate medical services;
    4) guaranteed liveable income;
    5) job training; and
    6) adequate housing for women and their families.

  4. Brian Roodnick October 22, 2010 / 12:51 pm

    The Prostitution Law – please consider the Swedish Law of 1999.

    On September 28th, the Prostitution Law was struck down in an Ontario Court. I understand that the Government has decided to appeal this decision. Whilst the existing law is better than no regulation at all, I urge you to take advantage of the opportunity to put a better law in place.
    Canada is both a destination and conduit country for human trafficking and it would be naive to think that there are not victims of trafficking in many ‘adult entertainment’ businesses in every city in Canada. We need a law that reduces this harm. Canada should be a place where children are safe and not a place where children are being exploited in the sex trade. Since the Picton serial murders there has been a growing sentiment in Canada, that sex trade workers are victims and that the current law increases their danger and denies them easy recourse to legal protection. Since many of the women and children trapped in the sex trade are victims of addiction or socio-economic circumstances which reduces their options, it seems appropriate to regard them as victims and not criminals. We need a law that does protect people. The old law does not do this.
    According to UBC law professor Benjamin Perrin, in his book: Invisible Chains: Canada’s underground world of Human Traficking: “every country that has legalized prostitution has not only ‘failed miserably’ to curtail trafficking and violence but there is a clear connection between legalization and increased trafficking and violence. The harm done by these increases is significant. An addict who uses prostitution to support an addiction has a reduced ability to consent and a trafficked person has none. These people deserve help and I urge the Government to consider putting programs in place that enables people to escape this trap. Whilst there is growing sympathy for sex trade workers in Canada, there is little for the ‘John’s’, who use these women and children.
    There is only one legal model that has defied this pattern and that is the 1999 Swedish Prostitution law. This law decriminalizes the selling of sex but criminalizes the buying of sex. Studies of the effect of the Swedish law reinforce the fact that both Prostitution and Trafficking have been significantly reduced in Sweden since 1999. The Swedish law criminalizes the ‘Johns’.
    Since we have a minority government in Canada, we need a law that will command broad support. Defending the old law will not command this support and will give detractors an opportunity to paint the Government as dominated by a moral right wing, and unconcerned with helping the victims of the sex trade. A new law that criminalizes the ‘Johns’ will be much easier to defend and will command much broader public support.

  5. Tami Starlight July 7, 2011 / 5:43 pm

    Absolutely Bella!!
    Make the connection people!

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