The altering of sex industry laws with Bill C-36 gets mixed reviews

poster-sex-work-4---thumbnailAfter the Supreme Court struck down existing prostitution laws last December 2013, those laws were adjusted and presented in the form of Bill C-36.

Government documents explain that this Bill still allows the selling of sex, but in a much narrower scope, and makes buying it a criminal offense.

It is completely illegal to purchase sex anywhere at anytime, and those who do so are going to face greater penalties.

Bill C-36 was passed Oct. 6, receiving royal assent on Nov. 6 and then going into effect Dec. 6.

The focus is said to be solely on the consumer. However controversy is arising because some are wondering: won’t more harshly criminalizing the consumer also indirectly affect the individual offering their services?

Contrasting views

One of the voices challenging these new laws is Montreal group Stella. Stella is an organization that focuses mainly on promoting safety within the sex industry. They believe very strongly that the passing of this bill will place the workers in greater danger.

“There’s a lot of fear because third parties and managers are so much more heavily criminalized by these laws which means that there will be less options for sex workers to work with, because people don’t want to take those legal risks,” Robyn Maynard, an outreach worker at Stella said.

“So it’s creating a really negative, frightening environment for sex workers right now. It’s putting them into very precarious positions. “

Maynard said their phones have been ringing off the hook since the bill was passed in October, with sex-workers concerned about what this will mean for their income and how they are able to go forward with their work.

“The sex worker can advertise, but if the place where she’s putting her advertisements no longer advertises because they could be charged criminally then what is she supposed to do?” Maynard questioned.poster-sex-work-4-articleThis poster advertises the International day against violence against sex workers.

Poster courtesy of Stella. Artist: Jess Mac

“The bill says sex-workers can’t be criminally charged for working out of their own house but what are they supposed to do if they can’t advertise it, and can’t reach clients? Then they may have to work on the street and find other places to be able to get their income,” Maynard explained.

Calgary Staff Sargent Robert Rutledge disagrees with that view.

“Sex work is dangerous regardless if you’re working on the street or in a hotel. They are threatened and assaulted whether it’s by the consumer, or by their pimp,” said Rutledge.

“Will this drive them into the dark corners of Calgary? No. We have two strolls in Calgary that the frontline officers keep an eye on. We have a good idea of who’s out there working and I can’t see them being driven into darker industrial areas.”

He says they aren’t victimizing the workers, and that has never been the focus. The consumer has always been the target in his opinion, but now just more so.

“We’ve always focused on the consumer in trying to reduce demand for the sex trade,” Rutledge said. “We view street prostitutes as victims. They’re not generally there by choice. They’re there because they have economic issues, or mental health issues, or addiction issues. They’re victims and charging them drives them back into the court process and it becomes a vicious circle for them to try and pay off their fines.”

A different perspective

Frances Shaver is a sociology professor at Concordia University and has been doing research on the sex industry for 29 years. She presents the idea that perhaps the government’s focus on this issue is on the wrong faction of the industry. In her opinion, it isn’t suitable to lay out such general laws and expect them to diminish prostitution, saying that there will be other consequences for doing so.

“I think what the government should be doing is addressing the social and economic conditions underlying the sex industry,” Shaver said. “Conditions such as poverty, violence, and gender inequalities, and develop some appropriate social policies for those including an attitude change about people that are involved in the sex industry.”

“We need to find ourselves in a position where we’re not taking our own moral values and deciding hat that’s how the rest of the world needs to operate,” said Shaver .

Further victimization

Despite such heavy concerns of further victimization, Rutledge says the Calgary Police won’t let the sex trade be driven into these dark industrial areas as it has been the case in other cities. He has also heard the argument of the sex trade workers, that they felt the new bill was infringing on their freedom and security to work and screen their customer. He said he understands this argument, but still doesn’t think it will change the way the industry was before.

Maynard is quite certain that the opposite will be the case.

“If they’re more harshly policing the clients on the main strolls then that means that sex workers are pushed into darker more isolated areas,” she said.

“Technically some terms are still criminalizing those on the street. Even though the law isn’t saying that they’re going to create these harms, they just go in hand with what they’re criminalizing.”

Both Shaver, and Maynard present the idea that the government, along with society need to have a bigger picture view of the industry and gain a sense of compassion and care for those working within it. Such a standpoint may be uncomfortable, and certainly unconventional, but perhaps it would mean a safer environment for all of those involved. Why make the industry even more dangerous?

“If we want to care about people in our society, we don’t want to be creating systems that are going to keep people in marginalized positions and prevent people from having access to basic human rights,” Maynard concluded.

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