Ottawa-area escorts say the push to make it illegal to buy sex would make conditions worse for sex workers.
This week CBC News has been examining issues surrounding human trafficking and sex work in Ottawa and the country at large, as lawmakers work on Supreme Court-ordered changes to Canadian prostitution laws.
This week, Judy Trinh investigates Ottawa's human trafficking industry. Watch her stories on CBC TV at 6 and listen on CBC Radio One.
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Anti human trafficking groups want a new law that makes it illegal to buy sex; targeting johns instead of the sex workers in an effort to help women forced into the sex trade and made to stay in it.
However, women who choose sex work as an occupation said efforts to make their jobs safer would have the opposite effect.
On mobile? Click here to hear an Ottawa woman who chose to be a prostitute defend sex work.
Some voluntarily choose sex work
Caroline, who asked that her last name not be used, said she was working as a bartender in downtown Ottawa five years ago, trying to pay off student loans while keeping her marks up.
It was then she decided to quit and become an escort.
“I don’t think that I’m someone who simply doesn’t know any better. I'm quite intelligent, I'm quite calm, certain and self-aware,” the now 27-year-old said.
“I feel like I’m selling my time and I’m selling my labour at a rate of my choosing and choosing the people I want to spend time with,” she said.
Caroline, 27, said she charges $200 an hour and has clients as old as 72, including men, women, couples and people with disabilities.
She said she’s paying down her student debt as she pursues a Masters of Arts degree, seeing two to three clients a week.
“I honestly think this is the best way for me to make this kind of money while ensuring that I can do volunteer work, work on my studies and my arts degree,” she said.
'It's an oppression, not a profession'
One of the groups making the push to make buying sex illegal says all forms of sex work are violence against women.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) said they’re lobbying the federal government to put in a specific law against buying sex.
“It’s an oppression, it’s not a profession,” said EFC policy analyst Julia Beazley.
“The approach we're advocating for… targets the perpetrators and the sex buyers, the men who put women in prostitution and who keep them there, and the ultimate objective of this approach is actually to end prostitution.”
The group Prostitutes of Ottawa/Gatineau Work, Educate and Resist (POWER) said such a law wouldn’t stop human trafficking and would make conditions worse for women in the industry.
“You're actually creating a perfect breeding ground for exploitation by making an industry invisible,” said Frederique Chabot of POWER.
“It creates such unsafe conditions for all sex workers.”
Chabot said countries where johns are targeted, such as Sweden, end up charging sex workers who don’t testify against pimps and clients and can also force them to take on more potentially dangerous clients as demand dips.
Caroline said she’ll take up to an hour to screen potential clients, getting a verifiable first and last name, home address or reference from another escort.
“If clients and third parties are criminalized, my clients will be much less likely to provide me with that information and that’s information I really need to hold them accountable to me for my safety,” she said.
Canada’s Supreme Court gave the federal government until the end of the year to come up with new prostitution laws that comply with the Constitution, or decriminalize the industry.