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For the Industry of Prostitution : A Victory Disguised as a Defeat

7 janvier 2007

par Elaine Audet

In its majority report (LPC, NDP, BQ), the Subcommittee on solicitation laws claims that sections 210 to 213 of the Criminal Code have demonstrated their ineffectiveness to protect the "sex workers" (although only section 213 was really applied, almost exclusively against the prostituted persons !) and that the status quo is unacceptable. So we can read in the chapter of their recommendations :

    In order to ensure that both individuals selling sexual services and communities are protected from violence, exploitation and nuisance, the majority of the Subcommittee urges reliance on Criminal Code provisions of general application targeting various forms of exploitation and nuisance, such as public disturbance, indecent exhibition, coercion, sexual assault, trafficking in persons, extortion, kidnapping, etc. The approach proposed by these members is premised on the idea that it is preferable to concentrate our efforts on combating exploitation and violence in the context of prostitution, rather than criminalizing consenting adults who engage in sexual activities for money. (1).

A partial victory for the advocates of decriminalization

It is difficult to understand why the group Stella and its allies are protesting so loudly about the report of the Subcommittee on solicitation laws. For years, these groups have demanded that the government overrules sections 210 to 213 and totally decriminalizes prostitution by resorting instead to the sections of the Criminal Code to punish violence and counter nuisance. The Canadian HIV/Aids Legal Network, ardent defender of this position, which granted recently a prize to Stella (if you see a convergence, it’s not a coincidence !), declared in its 2005 report on prostitution :

    The police and the criminal law should protect sex workers. The Criminal Code has many sections that make violence and exploitation illegal. The following are crimes when committed against anyone, including sex workers : assault ; criminal negligence causing bodily harm ; criminal harassment ; torture ; forcible confinement and kidnapping ; and extortion and fraud. These sections should be used against any person who exploits a sex worker physically, psychologically and economically, or who is violent or threatens violence towards a sex worker. (2).

Katrina Pacey of Pivot Society, another organization in favour of prostitution as work, declared in her March 29, 2003 testimony before the Subcommittee :

    We can rely on sections [of the Criminal Code] such as the assault provision, the extortion provision, threatening, harassment, kidnapping. Those sections actually can be used in their place [of sections 210 to 213] to identify when sex workers are being coerced or exploited. [...] The criminal laws are barriers addressing the health and safety issues faced by sex workers. The criminal laws should only play a role to the extent that they can be used to protect sex workers from violence and exploitation. I’ve pointed out how those sections are already in place (3).

During the Subcommittee’s February 7, 2005 session (4), Concordia University professor, Frances Shaver, promoter of total decriminalization of prostitution and recognition of "sex work" as a profession, declared : “What we need to do is take all of the current laws out of the Criminal Code, use the laws we already have in place to regulate the negative aspects". And Valérie Boucher from Stella wholeheartedly agreed : "As Ms. Shaver already mentioned, in Canada we have laws to control violence against women, abuse, coercion and sexual assault, as well as psychological violence, more recently. Therefore, it would be possible to make abusive bosses subject to the same laws." Meaning abusive pimps. No pleonasm here, it seems some of them could be very nice and well intentioned !

One can only wonder what strategy lies behind the denunciations of this report by the proponents of total decriminalization, when the Subcommittee granted one of their main demands, that is to let play the Criminal Code, thus legitimating prostituters and pimps ; the latter could then be prosecuted only if a complaint is lodged against them for theft, rape, violence, public nuisance, etc. One wonders who will raise such a complaint and will take the risk to be ostracized or eliminated by a milieu where it is the organized crime which makes the law.

Strong opposition

There is, naturally, a damper on the partial victory of those who consider prostitution as an "empowerment". Solid and sustained dissidence by the representative of the Conservative Party, strong opposition by the abolitionists in testimonies given to the Subcommittee, as well as within the women’s movement and the population, prevented the Subcommittee from recommending the legitimization of prostitution as a profession governed by the Labour Code and liable to the income tax law.

We may rejoice because it is certainly not the minority inside a minority (prostituted persons) who should decide on such a change of values which concerns all the women and the whole society. A public debate on a national scale will be needed, as was done for other social problems, and a referendum if necessary (5).

Would we accept that only the nurses, because they know the situation of the patients in terminal phase, are competent to decide about legalizing euthanasia ? Or the doctors ? Or a patients’ committee ? Then, why not re-legalize slavery because some "consenting" slaves and those who "bought" them benefit from it ? Did the Black abolitionists give up the struggle against slavery because a minority declared they were happy being slaves ?

It is not about the economic interest of a few persons, the majority of which abide by the omerta imposed on a milieu ruled by organized crime, but about a question that concerns the whole society. It is a question of giving legal recognition to men’s self-proclaimed right to have access to the body of women for money and, in to lesser extent, to that of other men. How long will it take before all women and girls are judged good for prostitution because prostitution is recognized as a legitimate work ? According to statistics, the average age of entry into prostitution is of 14 years, the girls of yesterday being the "consenting sex workers" of today. Is this mercenary vision of the human being, legitimizing power relations and the violation of the fundamental human rights, the one we want to pass on to our children ?

We fear now that the defenders of decriminalization will go on to the following stage, that is to say to contesting the constitutionality of solicitation laws by resorting to the Charter, as announced by the group Sex Professionals of Canada which, with the help of a professor in law of the University of Toronto and his students, promises to go up to Supreme Court if necessary with this issue.

Intimidation and demonizing

Meanwhile, some will continue demonizing the abolitionist movement by claiming that it is the laws on prostitution, the police services and the feminists that are responsible for the murders of prostituted persons, and not some men to whom the message is more and more clearly sent that women are sexual objects which they can buy, beat, torture, rape, and get rid of the way they want. From there to killing them, there is only a step which some do not hesitate to cross.

This twisted logic totally denies the fact that violence is growing in all the countries which decriminalized prostitution when women and children were delivered, with complete impunity, to prostituters and pimps, transformed by the law into mere consumers and salesmen of "services". For those who refuse to turn a blind eye, the experiences in the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and other countries, prove that legalization, regulation or total decriminalization have resulted in the increase of the prostitution of children and adults, and of trafficking (6).

Total decriminalization increases underground activities, insecurity, violence and physical and psychological degradation of the prostituted persons, whether they are on the streets or in brothels, eros centers, hotels, services of escort, massage parlours, partner swapping clubs, nude dancers bars or their own apartments. Hardly some 4 % of them are registered legally, not only because they lead a double life and refuse to be identified as "sex workers", but also because the prostitution system is fundamentally under the control of organized crime, street gangs, drug dealers, local and international networks trafficking in women and children, who operate underground.

Also, denying reality, some groups claim to speak in the name of the prostituted persons as a whole by discrediting systematically the word of those who refuse to see in their prostitution a profession and who would like to get out of it, as well as the papers and statements of feminists which support them in their fight for a world without prostitution (8). These self-proclaimed spokespersons for "sex workers", rejecting any opinion other than theirs, make however exception for researchers and professors who support their view, such as John Lowman, Frances Shaver, Maria Nengueh Mensa and Louise Toupin, not requiring them, as they do with abolitionists, to be prostituted in order to be credible and have a right to speak.

For a clear position of the feminist movement

What are the Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ), the Association féminine d’éducation et d’action sociale (AFEAS), the R des centres de femmes du Québec and any group which denounces violence and sexual exploitation, waiting for to come out of their silence ? An unacceptable non-position on a report which consequences could be so important for women, when even Quebec’s minister on the Status of Women denounces the various forms of violence against women (cybercriminality, prostitution, pornography, genital mutilations, trafficking in immigrant women, sexual tourism, etc.) and asserts that it is "imperative to continue expressing clearly the social condemnation, in particular that of public authorities, of these practices, by making it known that they are against the values of the Quebec society" (9).

We must recall the fact that, unlike the representative of the Conservative Party who recommends in his minority report to criminalize the women who would refuse to abandon prostitution, abolitionists demand the decriminalization and the abandonment of legal proceedings against all prostituted persons, who are the victims of the prostitution system and are not criminals. The abolitionists also demand the destruction of their police record, which perpetuates their social stigmatisation and deprives them of any hope of reinsertion, and the granting of the refugee or immigrant status to the victims of trafficking, if they so wish (section 213).

Such a radical change would be impossible to realize without the setting up of measures to help prostituted persons, notably with detoxification services, safe houses shielding them from predators, school or professional training adapted to their needs and an allowance for social reintegration allowing them to restart their life without being in a critical situation.

It is also imperative to make sure that effective and harsh laws will be enforced against pimps, prostituters and their accomplices in institutions and the media, to send a clear message on the values of our society, founded on the defence of the fundamental rights of women and children, as well as on the inalienability of the human body.


1. Report of the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws, 2006.
2. Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.
3. Katrina Pacey of Pivot Society.
4. Frances Shaver and Valérie Boucher, February 7, 2005 Subcommittee’s hearings.
5. "Decriminalize Prostituted Women not Prostitution", by Elaine Audet et Micheline Carrier.
6. About legalization of prostitution in the Netherlands and other countries, read the articles of Janice G. Raymond and Melissa Farley on the site of the CATW, also "Ten Reasons for not Legalizing Prostitution", by Janice G. Raymond and
"The Legalization of Prostitution : a Failed social Experiment", by Sheila Jeffreys.
7. "Prostitution : For an Abolitionnist Bill", by Elaine Audet.
8. Paroles de femmes prostituées et de survivantes.
9. Jocelyne Richer, Québec veut s’attaquer à la violence faite aux femmes, Cyberpresse, 16 décembre 2006, and Secrétariat à la Condition féminine du Québec.

Translated by the author and revised by Philippe Robert de Massy.

On Sisyphe, January 11, 2007.

Elaine Audet


Report 6- The Challenge of Change : A Study of Canada’s Criminal Prostitution Laws (Adopted by the Committee on December 12, 2006 ; Presented to the House on December 13, 2006).

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