One of the architects of Sweden's anti-prostitution strategy — a model the Conservatives are trying to emulate — says the government's proposed new law is likely unconstitutional.
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A provision of the Tory bill which still criminalizes prostitutes in some circumstances is also a violation of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as international human rights obligations, lawyer Gunilla Ekberg said Wednesday.
Ekberg was one of the witnesses to testify on day 3 of hearings into the government's new prostitution bill by MPs on the Commons justice committee.
Ekberg is a Canadian citizen who was an adviser for the Swedish government in the 1990s when it crafted a law that makes it illegal to be a pimp or a john, but not a prostitute.
The Harper government has tabled a similar bill in response to last year's decision by the Supreme Court of Canada to strike down the law.
But a portion of it still makes prostitution illegal if it is carried out in a public place where children might be.
Ekberg and numerous other witnesses at this week's parliamentary hearings on the bill are urging the government to amend that provision in order to strengthen it.
Otherwise, another Charter challenge before the Supreme Court appears inevitable.
Earlier, this week, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said he fully expects another challenge to the law, but he wouldn't say where it might be vulnerable.
Still, witness after witness — including Ekberg, sex workers, Manitoba's attorney general and a coalition of more than 200 legal experts — has zeroed in on the provision that still allows the police to arrest a prostitute under certain circumstances for communicating for the purpose of selling sex.
Tories defend 'made-in-Canada law'
MacKay and Conservative MPs say they are proposing a made-in-Canada law that treats prostitutes as victims, and targets the demand for their services by making it illegal to pimp them out or purchase their services.
The approach draws from the apparent success in Sweden, or so-called "Nordic model," which many researchers — Ekberg among them — say has witnessed a decline in prostitution since it took that approach in the late 1990s.
However, as one of the people who helped Sweden craft that policy, Ekberg told MPs on the Justice committee that the Harper government's current policy direction comes up short against the Swedish model.
In fact, Ekberg said she finds the government's position "troubling" because there has been so much evidence to the contrary from academics, researchers, those being trafficked, and some provinces.
"Not only are they discriminatory but they are contrary to the human rights obligations that Canada has signed on to."
Ekberg also took aim at the long-term goal of the government with the bill: eliminating prostitution all together.
"In 16 years that we have been doing this (in Sweden), we will not be able to eliminate prostitution and trafficking completely."
Two other witnesses, sex worker Amy Lebovitch and former prostitute Valerie Scott, argued Wednesday that the bill ought to be scrapped in its entirety because prostitution should be completely legalized.
'Bad laws serve us up on a silver platter to sexual predators'
Along with retired dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford, the two women were the principals in the case that succeeded last December before the Supreme Court.
"Bad laws serve us up on a silver platter to sexual predators," said Scott.
Anti-gay laws in places such as Uganda, Nigeria and Russia have led to increased violence against homosexuals, so it stands to reason, Scott argued, that anything short of outright legalization of prostitution would bring harm to prostitutes as well.
The MPs also heard Wednesday from a York Region police officer that his force hasn't charged a prostitute in years, but tries to create a rapport with sex workers so they can get enough evidence to charge pimps and human traffickers.
The MPs also heard from the adult entertainment industry, representing exotic dance club owners, which said massage parlours cut into their business because the massage parlours offer services the exotic dancers cannot.
The full list of witnesses who testified on Wednesday:
- The Adult Entertainment Association of Canada
- Mothers Against Trafficking Humans
- Sex Professionals of Canada
- Glasgow law Prof. Gunilla S. Ekberg
- York Regional Police Chief Eric Jolliffe
- University of Victoria research associate Chris Atchison
- Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity (REED)
- Georgialee Lang
- Prostitutes Involved, Impowered, Cogent – Edmonton
- Exploited Voices Now Educating
- Northern Women's Connection
- British Columbia Civil Liberties Association
- PACE Society
The committee also went behind closed doors for a 30-minute in-camera discussion with York Regional Police vice and drugs Det. Thai Truong.