New Canadian law to make buying sex a crime

OTTAWA Wed Jun 4, 2014 5:50pm EDT

Canada's Justice Minister Peter MacKay speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 4, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Canada's Justice Minister Peter MacKay speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 4, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Chris Wattie

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prostitutes in Canada will generally be allowed to sell their services, but for the first time it will be a crime to buy sex from them under a government bill introduced on Wednesday to replace legislation the Supreme Court struck down in December.

The Supreme Court had suspended for a year the effect of its decision, which struck down a ban on brothels and street solicitation on the grounds that it compromised the safety of sex workers, to allow time for a new law to be enacted.

The bill introduced by Justice Minister Peter MacKay is loosely modeled on what has been called the Nordic model, which targets customers and pimps, but not the sex workers themselves.

The legislation goes after "the perpetrators, the perverts; those who are consumers of this degrading practice," MacKay told reporters.

It will not, however, be clear legal sailing for prostitutes. The new legislation would criminalize solicitation in public places where a child could be reasonably expected to be present. Advertising for the sale of others' sexual services would also be banned.

Until the Supreme Court decision, prostitution had technically been legal, but most related activities were not.

Some predicted a court challenge of the new bill would be inevitable.

The safety of sex workers took a high profile in Canada after the trial and conviction in 2007 of serial killer Robert Pickton, who preyed on prostitutes and other women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside neighborhood.

Katrina Pacey, who works in that neighborhood for the Pivot Legal Society - an intervener in the Supreme Court case - said the bill would further endanger prostitutes.

"This legislation is going to have an absolutely devastating impact on sex workers' safety across the country," she told CBC television.

But another Supreme Court intervener, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, said the law would teach future generations of boys that it is unacceptable to buy sex.

"The government has taken a big-picture view of the issue of prostitution and courageously challenged the belief that men are entitled to paid sexual access to women's bodies, or that any person's body can be considered a consumer good," said Julia Beazley, a policy analyst with the organization.

Sweden introduced a ban on buying sex in 1999, followed by Norway, and then partially mimicked by Finland in banning the buying of sex from a person who was trafficked or pimped. The Swedish move came after a campaign by women's rights advocates, but the jury is out on the efficacy of the Nordic laws.

The buying and selling of sex are illegal in the United States, with the exception of most of Nevada. Prostitution is legal in much of Europe and Latin America, and brothels are legal in numerous countries including the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland.

But questions have begun to be raised, partly because of human trafficking. France's lower house of parliament passed a bill in December which would impose stiff fines on clients but allow solicitation.

(Editing by G Crosse)

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