Posted on 2014.08.06
To: Justice Minister Peter MacKay
I am writing to you today to express my deepest disappointment in and vehement opposition to the bill that you and your department have brought forth to “amend” prostitution laws in this country.
I view this as a sad day for all Canadians. I’m astonished and very concerned by the ease with which you, your department and this government have dismissed and disregarded the decision handed down this past December by the highest appeals court in this country. The disrespect this bill shows to the esteemed judges, empowered and charged with the ultimate authority to interpret and apply law in this country while respecting and upholding human and constitutional rights, should have every citizen questioning just what our Charter means in Canada.
My intention is to present an argument against this bill that will demonstrate how, if passed, it would place thousands of lives in very real danger, does not recognize or uphold basic human and constitutional rights, and will waste valuable resources and tax payer’s money that could be allocated to true victims and law enforcement agencies in fighting the crime that has been associated with but is not exclusive to the ‘sex industry’. Although worded differently, this bill is in direct opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision. My belief is that by removing the moral from the legal issue, we will have a much more realistic picture of the issues at hand and find a solution that addresses the need to keep our country and all citizens safe while not infringing on the basic human right of freedom of choice.
You recently stated: “The bill recognizes that the vast majority of those who sell sexual services do not do so by choice. We view the vast majority of those involved in selling sexual services as victims.” This goes straight to the core of the issue at hand. It is blatantly false and one of the most dangerous assumptions and misrepresentations of the sex industry. It has led to the creation of laws that criminalize acts that should not be deemed illegal. The unwillingness or inability to recognize and respect the vast number of individuals who choose freely to enter this profession and provide a valuable service has created an environment where citizens may be arrested for engaging in activities that should not be considered criminal when two willing, consenting adults are involved. This does a disservice to the victims who truly need all of the resources available and to the law enforcement community who are already being tasked with a difficult mandate. The result is a vacuum in which crime can thrive and grow, and ultimately will costs lives.
It is absolutely critical to this process that the profession of prostitution is acknowledged and separated from crimes that involve sex. These crimes are not a result of the existence of the sex industry and there is no concrete evidence to show that the absence of the profession will stop criminal activity. It is also an incredibly futile exercise to attempt to rescue people who do not want or need to be saved and are not victims of crime but rather victims of moral judgement.
There exists in the minds of many people an umbrella labelled “the sex industry” under which they have placed human trafficking, forced labor, making and distributing child pornography, exploitation, sexual assault, coercion, physical assault, pedophilia and prostitution. Consequently an erroneous picture emerges leading to a belief that all of this criminal behaviour is linked only to the sex industry, that the industry is the cause of it and that, therefore, sex should be outlawed. To believe that if the profession of prostitution was eradicated it would lead to changing criminal behaviour is suggesting that, for example, someone who decides to commit sexual assault would not do so because there were no prostitutes. I’m sure even as you read that, it must strike you as absurd.
These crimes are cruel and heinous and those responsible should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The perpetrators are much more difficult to identify and capture when the sex industry is shrouded in mystery and secrecy. Relieving the stigma attached to the industry may make victims more likely to come forward and report crime which, in itself, would bring some immediate benefits and results. It would be impossible to state with any certainty that this will lead to less crime, but I do know that when victims of crime are confident that they will be believed and given support and that the law can and will be enforced, more will come forward. When they do, it becomes more difficult for criminals to hide and the information is an invaluable tool for law enforcement.
This will be an ongoing process that will take time to resolve and will involve tackling a wide range of issues. I sincerely believe, Mr. Minister, that the first step must be the recognition and decriminalization of the sex profession. Without that, any proposed legislation such as what you have brought forth would outlaw activity between two willing, consenting adults who have the freedom of choice and will not provide the safety measures that the women in this profession require and have the right to.
While some do have a clear understanding of the issues and this in no way disregards the fact that there are many very real victims in this industry, most people have an unrealistic and vague understanding of the sex industry. If their only basis of reference is what has been presented in the media, the resultant picture would not be an accurate one. This would make it very difficult to form an honest opinion or to understand exactly what the Supreme Court decision truly means and what the proposed new bill would do.
The most critical misrepresentation, which is often dismissed as not possible, is the fact that people absolutely do make the informed, conscious and free choice to enter the industry. They are fully aware of what’s involved in the work, the potential dangers they may face and the harsh judgement that they will incur by making this choice. They also know that this profession has much to offer financially and can, in many ways, provide the skill sets to run a small business.
They learn how to negotiate, they may develop strong people skills, and many learn how to better manage money. Some women enter for the short term in order to achieve a different goal, while some enter and quickly decide that this will be a longer term investment. Many enter because they need to put food on the table and want to ensure that their children are looked after and in this profession they have more flexible hours and will likely spend more time with their children than I have seen among some other families. Young women will often choose this as a way to put themselves through school, a tougher task with scholarships difficult to get in a very competitive environment, student loans sometimes difficult to attain and ever increasing fees. They want to come out of school debt free and pursue their own path. The workers most people become exposed to or educated on are the ones who are out there to feed addictions or to pay off a pimp or another controlling person; this is where many of the true victims are.
It is very difficult to believe that in 2014, in a democratic country, women are still fighting for the human and constitutional right to make their own decisions.
The simple truth, Mr. Minister, is that whether or not others understand the how/why they do it or like it, it is the reality and they neither need nor seek your permission. One of the greatest gifts of this great country is that we are open to accepting other ways of looking at the world. Conversations about sex are among the most challenging to have, even between couples, and many seem content to hear just enough to confirm what they already believe, enabling them to ignore the issues at hand. This sex word also seems to give certain people the moral right to pass judgement and immediately try to save those involved in the industry. Over the course of my life, through interactions with people of all ages, most tax brackets, different levels of education and in different types of relationships the hardest conversations to have have been those regarding sex.
It’s time for the discussion and the sharing of some facts.
It is a fact that the women I have met and spoken to (and corroborated by the many testimonies I have read) do not see the work as degrading and absolutely believe that they are providing a valuable service. I have met very few that have had any customer treat them with anything less than respect, none that were assaulted and none that were forced. Again and again, I heard testimonials to the harassment, abuse and sometimes horrible working conditions experienced in former employment that had never occurred in this industry out of, in some situations, hundreds of interactions over many years. The workers often become more confident and because of their finances, often have many choices that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Some leave as soon as they enter a relationship, some to have children or to be there for their children during a certain stage in life. There are a number who choose this as their life career. These women are usually successful and don’t feel a need to change because of the many other benefits they reap through basically running their own business. I have met women as young as 20 and women that are over 40 years old. If you ran into them at the grocery store or in the gym, there would be nothing to indicate what they do for a living. They will tell you that they have been treated with more respect by their customers in this work than they been had in previous employment. This includes nurses, waitresses and bartenders, professional office workers , retail and fast food workers. Often the financial independence allows them to leave and stay out of an abusive situation and have more control over their lives. What gives these women the ability to do this work is that they view sex as a valuable service and not criminal or immoral outside of the context of marriage or relationship. These women don’t feel used and abused or certainly no more than, and most often less than, in previous employment. They also have very strong bonds to and are very committed to family. In fact, I have witnessed more of that in these cases than in some homes that I have visited.
To criminalize, demoralize or disrespect these women for having a different view of sex and life is the crime and is usually based on moral judgement rather that any real threat posed by what they do.
The sex industry has many different components and each draws a different type of worker and customer and has different levels of exposure to danger. The women who work in the streets are often the face for the entire industry and the one that most people are familiar with. These workers are often the most vulnerable and face the highest level of danger. They often work alone, at odd hours, have to be on the streets sometimes for long periods of time and benefited greatly from the striking down of the law prohibiting communication between the workers and possible clients. Prior to December, this was illegal and meant that they were often forced to make quick decisions regarding the safety of the customer and situation and may have even occasionally jumped into a car out of desperation. This was one factor that aided Robert Pickton. These women can be driven by addictions or forced labor but this is not universally true. Some workers prefer the freedom of the streets when they know they are safe to take their time, assess the potential danger and walk away if they choose and work on their own schedule. This is also the most likely place to find the victims of human trafficking, exploitation, and forced labor by a pimp or partner. Due to the very nature of the lack of regular hours and the transient nature of many people who work on the street in any capacity, it is more difficult to track them and establish relationships with them. Further, a single target is presented if these women aren’t working in pairs or groups.
The escort and out call business operate in a different way. They advertise on the internet or in newspapers and work to build a steady client base. These women will go to hotels or client’s houses and it is not unusual to request full names, phone numbers and credit card numbers to establish credibility. They do sometimes work in pairs, which is an added safety measure. These women need to advertise services in order to establish contact and also benefit the most from being able to hire a driver or bodyguard. Many of the women I spoke to that choose this method like that they have a chance to develop a regular customer base, that they have more control of the situation and that they can often work hours of their choosing.
The third way that this business is conducted is out of brothels, bawdy houses and studios. The vast majority would operate much like a salon or barbershop that rents out a station. There is generally a fee for room rental, an agreement regarding working shifts within the operating hours of the business and a receptionist on hand to run the business. This method offers the least exposure
to danger as there is likely be to several people in the building at a time, and often a security system, which may include cameras. It runs similar to a retail sales business where a percentage of the customer base is walk in. This is the most controlled environment and if regulated should be considered one of the best options for offering safety and keeping the business discreet and away from the public.
At this point it is important to address the issue of who the customers are. Your statement, Mr. Minister, that the laws you propose will be “going after the perpetrators, the perverts, those who are consumers of this degrading practice”
creates an unrealistic and unfair picture of the clientele and is blatantly false. That statement suggests that by the very act of seeking out services for a natural human instinct, an individual is perverted or a criminal. Yet if contact is made within what some consider a ‘moral’ way, such as a date or chance meeting, it then becomes acceptable for them to engage in the same activity and it is not viewed as criminal behavior. I find that line of thinking offensive as I am sure most people would. To condemn all people to an emotional or intimate relationship or marriage to make the desire for human companionship or sex legal is ludicrous and an attempt to impose a personal moral code on others. To declare that a 60 year old rancher who is widowed and not interested in another marriage or relationship is a pervert or perpetrator of a crime because he pays a 40 year old woman to spend time with him (whether or not any actual acts of sex occur) would be a miscarriage of justice and is an example of the misguided thinking that your laws will encourage and support. This is not to say that there aren’t those you speak of, yet they are not an accurate view of the vast majority of consumers in this industry.
There have been many studies published over the years by world renowned medical professionals that show unequivocally that having an active healthy sex life is directly linked to a healthier, happier and more productive person and not one has suggested that this is only beneficial within the context of an emotional, intimate relationship or marriage. There has been no evidence to suggest that the eradication of the professional sex industry would create more marriages cause a decrease in domestic or sexual assault, or eliminate extra marital activities; to lead people to think otherwise is a grave error.
Crime vs. Profession
Once we have separated the professional sex industry from criminal activity, a clearer picture emerges of who the true victims are and where any new laws need to focus. Although many of the criminal acts mentioned previously do occur within or on the fringes of the sex industry, this by no means indicates that the sex industry is the only place in which those crimes occur. Take for example the situation uncovered in a Canadian MacDonald’s in which it has been alleged that immigrant workers were brought to Canada under false pretenses and unethical, if not criminal, methods were used to force them into working for less money with few other options upon arrival. This demonstrates that crimes such as human trafficking, forced labor, underage workers, coercion and harassment are not synonymous with the sex industry and all available resources need to be available to ensure that there is no industry where they can go undetected or unpunished.
By enacting laws that do not include what should be considered personal interaction between consenting adults, they will achieve greater results and valuable resources will be put to effective use. The fact that very few cases of human trafficking and forced labor have been prosecuted in Canadian courts indicates that either it is not as prevalent as previously reported or, more likely, that it is very difficult to uncover and prosecute.
That is not to say that there is no connection between these activities and the sex trade but that these crimes do not occur solely for the purpose of sexual criminal behaviour. In fact, law enforcement in this country has done an exceptional job at identifying and apprehending many people responsible for heinous crimes that occur within the sex trade. Imagine what more they could accomplish if they were not tasked with investigating and arresting people who are engaging in activity which many people believe should not be considered a crime or trying to rescue people who are not victims of criminal acts. Those resources could be put towards identifying more of the actual perpetrators and aiding true victims.
Current Proposed Bill and Potential Effects
Mr. Minister, the proposed bill that you have brought forth will not only be as ineffective as the previous laws that were thrown out by the Supreme Court, but has the potential to cause great harm to many thousands of people, to deny the basic human and constitutional rights of freedom of choice and speech to a large number of citizens and to drive this industry further underground than it was previously. It will be an impossible mandate for the law enforcement community and waste valuable tax payer dollars that could be put towards aiding the victims you claim to want to help. There has been no evidence brought forth to support the assertion that these laws will achieve any different result than our previous laws. This nation deserves a fair, objective approach to writing laws that don’t infringe on basic human or charter rights while addressing the issue of safety for all people and communities.
The potential effects of the current bill include but are not limited to:
- outlawing communication and advertising violates the Charter right to freedom of expression and will, once again, force people into unnecessary and dangerous situations (advertising should also fall under regulations such as those set out by the CRTC and not mandated by our federal government or included in the criminal code).
- the arrest of people engaging in activity which many feel should not be considered illegal when it occurs privately and between willing, consenting adults is indicative of a police state and does not support the right to freedom of choice. There has been no evidence brought forth by your department to support the assertion that this will lead to decreasing crime. It will only label normal human instinct and behaviour as criminal. Furthermore, by reducing the customer base of the professional industry an environment of intense competition may be fostered which can ultimately lead to more criminal activity and greater danger for those involved.
- criminalizing living off the industry’s earnings and making it illegal to operate safe businesses such as brothels and studios or to hire others to offer protection leads to less safety and the potential for more victims of crime. This brings things back to where our previous laws had us last year. If brothels and studios are shut down, a small percentage of workers may leave the industry and find other means of employment, some will be forced to lean on social assistance and other forms of government programs to survive, and some may be forced into unsafe living conditions, which this industry provided them with the means to avoid. The vast majority will join the street workers creating an even larger number of women in unsafe conditions.
- by declaring that communication cannot occur where children “might” be present, you have made a clever attempt to reword the law struck down last December. Once again, this leads to the dangerous conditions in which workers may be unable to properly screen potential clients, increasing the likelihood of their becoming the victims that truly require assistance.
These are just a few of the issues that are created by the proposed legislation and highlight that these laws are not going to uphold what our Supreme Court decided last December.
Examining Our Options
There have been many attempts all over the world to legislate prostitution, some seeking to control the criminal activity surrounding the sex industry and some to outlaw the profession because they view women as victims regardless of whether or not they are. While no one model has proven to be 100% effective, there have been some that have shown promise in the areas of reducing criminal activity while not making criminals out of adults who choose to work in or be a consumer of the industry. There are elements of any model that will be unique to each country or community within which they operate and some that could be applied universally. To date, the most thorough and extensive research and review has been conducted in New Zealand where they have implemented and tracked decriminalization with regulation. Sweden has implemented the Nordic model which targets the consumers of the industry and the Netherlands have made the industry legal in the Red Light District. The reviews done by the latter two, while not as thoroughly documented, have yielded some very interesting information and still have much to consider for any model.
The published review of the complete legalization of prostitution in the Netherlands determined that by having no controls in effect, there was too much opportunity for illegal operations to exist and even thrive. The doors were open for organized crime to set up shop and bring about even more illegal activity. Yet even after these findings, the Netherlands are not planning to outlaw prostitution, but to put some controls in place to regulate the industry and minimize the opportunities for organized crime to have the access that was available before.
The plan currently is to reduce the size of the red-light district, not to close it down, require workers in the sex trade to register and require customers to verify the registration. In addition, all businesses such as brothels and adult movie theaters will be required to obtain a license and license numbers will need to be included in any and all advertising for both companies and individuals. It has been suggested that there will be another review to determine if this has the desired effect of allowing the industry to continue while reducing the rampant influx of organized crime and the associated activity, although no specific time frame was given for when that would occur.
The published review of the Nordic model used in Sweden among other countries, has highlighted some interesting results. Monitoring and evaluation of the model was first delegated to the National Board of Health and Welfare of Sweden, which produced 3 reports (2000, 2004, 2007). These reports acknowledged the difficulties of evaluation and provided no hard evidence that the law had in any way achieved its objectives. The report from 2010 included an interesting observation stating, “prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes are complex, multifaceted social phenomena that take place to some degree behind closed doors. Factors such as increased internationalization and a growing number of people advertising on the internet make it difficult for the police and social services to fully grasp the extent of these activities. The knowledge we have about prostitution and sex trafficking can rarely be described with precise figures….we realized that it would not be possible in the framework of this inquiry to produce the precise knowledge about prostitution that politicians and debaters request, but which no authorities or researchers have been able to generate in the nearly eleven years that the ban against the purchase of sexual services has been in place.”
It stated that their objectives of reducing street prostitution and human trafficking had been achieved. Of note, at that time judges and senior police officials had been caught purchasing sex and shortly thereafter the Minister of Labor was caught in the same situation. Sweden now states that street prostitution has been reduced by 50% but that there has been an increase in indoor prostitution, which is harder to track and also made note of the increase of street prostitution in surrounding countries.
New Zealand established and enacted the Prostitution Reform act in 2003 which created a new legal environment. The PRA “decriminalized prostitution whilst not endorsing or morally sanctioning prostitution or its use”. The laws and controls used to regulate other business have been applied to the profession of prostitution. The purpose of the PRA was to:
- safeguard human rights of sex workers and protect them from exploitation
- promote the welfare, occupational health and safety of sex workers
- be conducive to public health and
- prohibit the use of persons under 18 in prostitution
A committee consisting of eleven members appointed by the Minister of Justice, were commissioned to research and document the effects of the PRA and delivered their final report in 2007 (which can be found in full detail on the Justice of Ministry website). It stated in part “that the research undertaken challenges, and in some cases refutes, commonly held perceptions about the sex industry and those who work in it”. They also consider that the media and public perception have exaggerated the number of sex workers and underage involvement in prostitution.
In regards to trafficking, the report stated that “the argument that trafficking in humans and prostitution are inexorably linked is in part due to policy decisions made by the United States. Although much international dialogue surrounding both trafficking and prostitution claims prostitution and trafficking are often linked, the extent of this link is debatable. The Committee considers that in the case of New Zealand, there is no link between the sex industry and human trafficking”.
New Zealand is more likely to deal with the forcible movement of persons within their country (whether for sex or other purposes) under kidnapping, slavery or other related forms of offending and has laws against use of persons under 18 years in prostitution, whether or not they have been transported internally or internationally. In addition, the PRA makes it an offense to compel any person to provide commercial sexual services or earnings directly from prostitution.
In their assessment regarding criminalizing clients their research concluded that “the evaluation of these approaches suggest little change in the overall level of prostitution services provided, with demand being either relocated elsewhere or in the transactions being negotiated in more clandestine local environments. In one study of men who buy sex (Coy et al, 2007), when asked if anything might deter them from paying for sex, few men in an East London study mentioned criminal sanctions as holding any relevance”.
The conclusion of the report stated that in the five years that the PRA had been in force “the sex industry has not increased in size and many of the social evils predicted by some who opposed the decriminalization of the sex industry have not been experienced” and that “on the whole, the PRA has been effective in achieving its purpose and the Committee is confident that the vast majority of people involved in the sex industry are better off under the PRA than they were previously”.
Saskatoon, SK offers an example of a model that has produced positive results within Canada. A new set of bylaws went into effect regarding Saskatoon’s sex industry in January 2013. These bylaws require that each person, agency and worker within the industry acquire a city business license to operate. The requirements for the license include proof of Canadian citizenship, proof of age (must be 18+), a Canada wide criminal record check and a business licensing fee. After city approval, each person is then required to obtain a photo identification card from the Saskatoon Police Service’s vice unit. The studios, brothels and activity are required to operate within specific industrial or light industrial areas which are located at least several city blocks away from schools, churches and residences.
While it is still relatively new and the long term effects will be difficult to predict, there have already been some very positive results. One of the most notable has been the open dialogue and increased communication between the police service and the people in the industry. At the time of receiving the photo ID, officers are presented with an opportunity to engage directly with each person and assess whether or not there may be any force or coercion involved. For the people in the industry, it’s an opportunity to engage with the police without fear and makes them more likely to report crime as well as to share valuable information with the police. My personal opinion is that this one change will have the greatest impact going forward. It has brought about a mutual respect and understanding creating an environment where each can work with the other to the benefit of the entire community.
Is this the perfect model? No it is not. Will it work the same in every community? No it will not. As you said, Mr. Minister, it is not a black and white issue; however, I believe it can be made clearer than it has been in the past.
What has been demonstrated here is that if people sincerely wish to find a workable solution then it is possible. With so much at stake, it is time to start a dialogue from a position of mutual respect and to attempt to gain a greater understanding to the benefit of everyone involved in and touched by this issue, regardless of personal moral beliefs. You said that there is a reason this has not been resolved for a long time. I say there is no reason for that not to change now.
My name is Trish Fisher. I am currently the owner/operator of The Lion’s Den Adult Services Studio in Saskatoon, SK. I was born here and raised in a middle class, Catholic home. My parents were both raised on farms and were hard working people who raised five children. They were married for 29 years, until my mother passed away.
I went to public school and graduated with my grade 12 diploma. Not long afterthat, I got married and started a family. I have two children, a daughter who is an executive administrator in a successful business here and a son who is currently in England working towards his master’s degree.
In 1992 I became the Sales Manager and instructor for Dale Carnegie Training for Northern Saskatchewan. During the eight years I held this position, I was certified to instruct both the course in Human Relations and the Sales Course. I participated in and graduated from their courses in Leadership Training for Managers as well as Customer Relations and Personnel Development. I was involved in the development and delivery of courses to companies such as SaskTel and Blue Cross which were designed to increase communication and create more productive and team oriented work environments. I then moved into a real estate sales career for a number of years followed by a position in advertising sales with Rawlco Radio.
For six years I was an active, weekly volunteer with victim services which is affiliated with the local police service and for three years I was involved in the development and facilitation of a program for women who were victims of domestic violence and abuse as well as those who were victims of childhood sexual abuse.
At the age of 45, I chose to end my 30 year relationship with my former spouse (26 married) and pursue a different path. I made a conscious, informed choice to work in this industry and believe passionately in what I do. I am providing a safe, clean and supportive environment for women who choose to work in the professional sex industry. I have not met a single person in this industry who did not make the free and personal choice to enter and have not experienced a single violent or criminal incident since opening. What my studio does is provide a valuable service to this community and for the women who work in the sex industry locally. There is nothing criminal, shady, perverted or shameful about what goes on and I have tremendous respect for the women I have met. I believe very strongly that each person has the basic human right of choice and we don’t need to understand all the things that people choose but have no right to impose our judgement on those choices. I have lived up to that in my personal and professional life, in private and in public. Freedom of choice is one of the very reasons I have always been grateful to live in Canada and will fight to maintain that right.
Mr. Minister, because you, your department and this government are proposing to write and enact new laws regarding prostitution after our Supreme Court deemed the previous laws were unconstitutional, ineffective and put lives in unnecessary danger, I will expect far more of an effort than a public survey which, based on format alone, would provide not much more than a moral opinion. The general perceptions and lack of education regarding this industry do not provide most people with enough information from which to offer much more. It would be far more beneficial to start an open dialogue with the people most affected by any legislation that is implemented. The insight and information gained would go a long way towards ensuring that the laws are indeed targeting true crime while upholding basic human rights and freedoms as guaranteed by our Charter.
I firmly believe that we are a nation that has a deep respect for the rights and freedoms of all citizens and that most often we demonstrate that in our laws and in our public image. In this diverse, vast country occupied by such a wide array of cultures, values, morals and views of the world, we have shown that through education, understanding and acceptance, all people can live together in peace and mutual respect for individuality. With so much at stake in this issue and the thousands of lives that will be affected directly by this act, it is the duty and responsibility of everyone involved to take whatever time is needed and to use all the resources at your disposal to ensure that we continue to honor and uphold valued human and constitutional rights that allow for freedom of choice.