Buying sex is illegal, billboard campaign reminds Edmontonians

Billboards have been popping up around Edmonton as part of a national campaign reminding people of a federal law that makes it illegal to buy sex.

'I don't think Edmontonians, Canadians know this,' says local campaign director

This billboard, located in Edmonton's Ice District, is part of a national awareness campaign. (Susan Holtby)

Billboards have been popping up around Edmonton as part of a national campaign reminding people of a federal law that makes it illegal to buy sex.

"I don't think that Edmontonians, Canadians, know this," said Susan Holtby with Defend Dignity, an advocacy group working to end sexual exploitation.

In 2014, Canada enacted the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, declaring that the purchase or attempted purchase of sex is illegal wherever and whenever it occurs. 

Defend Dignity, an initiative of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, has banded together with similar groups in 11 major cities across the country for the campaign.

One billboard is at 101st Street and 105th Avenue in the downtown Ice District. Digital billboards are on Yellowhead Trail at 62nd Street and at Stony Plain Road and 124th Street.

In bold black block letters, they state that "buying sex is a crime," and include a phone number for Crime Stoppers.

'Pause to think'

"The purpose of the posters is for women that are being sexually exploited to call the Crime Stoppers number," Holtby said Wednesday.

"For men that are buying, it would give them pause to think and to stop their behaviour."

Some municipalities and levels of government have been slow to respond to this new federal law and its emphasis on the illegality of buying sex.

Holtby noted the City of Edmonton continues to license body rub parlours.

"Those are places that men can go to buy sex and that is illegal," she said.

Currently there are 34 licensed erotic massage parlours in Edmonton.

"I do believe that if we shut down the demand then there won't be the supply of women going into this," said Holtby. 

The billboards first went up in Edmonton on June 26 and will stay up until July 23.
Edmonton police are using this message in their efforts to educate people about sexual exploitation. (Edmonton Police Service)

The Edmonton Police Service has been running its own awareness campaign, placing digital billboards in six different locations in April and May of this year.

Right now, EPS has its print advertisements in VUE weekly, beside the classifieds, that also state 'buying sex is a crime'.

"I don't know if there's a way to measure if the ads are having a direct impact," said Staff Sgt. Dale Johnson with the human trafficking and exploitation unit.

Education is a large component of what police are trying to accomplish, he said Thursday.

"It's about educating those inclined to buy sex, how they are contributing to the victimization of women, " said Johnson. "Perhaps people looking at the ad will re-evaluate their behaviour."

The EPS advertisements will run until the end of the year, he said.

Crime Stoppers is an anonymous tip line and therefore can't provide information on how many people may have called through this campaign, said Glendyne Gerrard, with Defend Dignity's Ontario branch.

"Success for us is just awareness," she said.

The organization is also tracking traffic on its website. To date there have been 355 visits, which Gerrard considers a good number.