MPs should distinguish between sex work and human trafficking as they consider bringing in a new prostitution law to replace the one struck down last year by the Supreme Court, an expert said Thursday.

After three days of often heart-wrenching testimony, the House justice committee is wrapping up the first phase of its work on the government's proposed prostitution law rewrite.

Many of the witnesses told horrifying tales of being trafficked and abused, while others spoke in favour of letting sex workers choose to sell their services.

Christa Big Canoe, legal advocacy director at Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, summarized the divide following 20 hours of hearings.

"[What] we're hearing a lot from a lot of the witnesses is the interconnectedness, but what we're not hearing is the distinct differences between trafficking and sex work," she said. 

Big Canoe suggested better enforcing Canada's existing human trafficking laws if MPs are worried about the problem.

'How is that going to change?'

Studies of human trafficking, she said, talk about how elusive the traffickers are.

"So the question I have to this committee is, how is that going to change by the provisions that you're now proposing, and what can be done to change that if it's not already occurring?"

The committee has heard from police officers that it's difficult to charge alleged human traffickers and that some law enforcement agencies use the threat of charges against prostitutes to extricate them and have them provide evidence against the traffickers.

Big Canoe pointed out that last year's Supreme Court ruling known as Bedford dealt specifically with Canada's prostitution laws.

"Bedford was about sex work. It wasn't about trafficking. We have laws in Canada about trafficking that aren't actually being used well. Maybe addressing those laws would be of assistance," she said.

Testimony resumed at 1 p.m. ET. is carrying the committee hearing live. 

On the witness list for the final round of hearings:

9:30-11:30 AM ET

  • Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution
  • Hope for the Sold
  • Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter
  • Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto
  • U-r home

1:00-3:00 PM ET

  • Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres
  • Peers Victoria Resources Society
  • Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation
  • Defend Dignity: The Christian and Missionary Alliance
  • Servants Anonymous Society of Calgary

3:30-5:30 PM ET

  • Foy Allison Law Group
  • Kyle Kirkup
  • Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
  • Ratanak International
  • Canadian Police Association

According to the posted schedule, committee members will reconvene next Tuesday to begin — and, presumably, finish — clause-by-clause review of the bill.

Mobile users - read the live blog here.