From the Toronto Star
By: Laura Armstrong Staff Reporter, Published on Sun Dec 07 2014
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has asked the province’s attorney general to investigate the constitutional validity of Canada’s recently enacted prostitution law amid “grave concern” that the new legislation will not protect sex workers.
“I am not an expert, and I am not a lawyer, but as premier of this province, I am concerned that this legislation (now the law of the land) will not make sex workers safer,” Wynne said in a release Sunday.
The new legislation, known as the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act or Bill C-36, took effect Saturday after months of hearings and public debate.
Saturday was also the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the shooting deaths of 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal at the hands of gunman Marc Lépine.
In her statement Sunday, Wynne said she has listened to the debate that has taken place since last December’s Supreme Court of Canada ruling that struck down as unconstitutional three prostitution-related laws.
She said she is concerned the new law will protect neither exploited persons nor communities, and she has also asked Ontario’s attorney general, Madeleine Meilleur, to advise her on the province’s options in the event that the legislation’s constitutionality is in question.
“As I have said before, my priority in this debate is to ensure that our laws and institutions enhance the safety of those who are vulnerable — in this case, sex workers: a class of (mostly) women, who are disproportionately the victims of sexual and physical violence,” Wynne said. “So I believe that there is merit in considering whether the Conservative government’s new legislation meets that test.”
The controversial federal bill targets clients and pimps as criminals, and casts individuals who sell sexual services as victims, along with communities and children who are exposed to prostitution.
Advocates see sex work as a dangerous, coercive and violent occupation, and its practitioners, mainly women, as victims forced into the trade as a result of poverty, addiction or mental health issues.
Its critics say Bill C-36 will make life harder for sex workers by scaring away good clients and rushing communication with sketchy ones, make the work riskier and giving them less motivation to go to the police.
An emailed statement from federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay’s office said the Conservative government recognizes that prostitution is driven by the buyers of sex, which is why the law targets johns and pimps.
“Recognizing the significant harms that flow from prostitution, this week our government also announced new funding of $20 million available over the next five years to support exit strategy programming for those involved in prostitution,” the statement said.
Police, communities and women’s groups have welcomed the approach, it added.
But on the national day dedicated to eradicating violence against women, the day the new prostitution legislation officially came into effect, more than 60 organizations signed a statement calling for non-enforcement of C-36 and support for the full decriminalization of sex work.
Jean McDonald, executive director of Maggie’s: Toronto Sex Workers’ Action Project, called on Wynne to help.
“Kathleen Wynne must demonstrate her commitment to ending violence against women. C-36 will wreak havoc on the lives of sex workers and I worry that without provincial and municipal policies of non-enforcement, we will see the continuation of the epidemic of violence against sex workers in Canada,” McDonald said.
With files from Tonda MacCharles and The Canadian Press