Canada prostitution bill likely unconstitutional, says architect of Swedish model

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By Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

Ottawa: One of the architects of Sweden’s anti-prostitution strategy, a model the Conservatives are trying to emulate says the government’s proposed new law is likely unconstitutional.

A provision of the Tory bill which still criminalizes prostitutes in some circumstances is also a violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as international human rights obligations, lawyer Gunilla Ekberg said Wednesday. “I would argue that is unconstitutional because it targets those who are victims of first of all a human rights violation but also a crime,”’ Ekberg told the House of Commons justice committee via video link from Denmark.

Ekberg is a Canadian citizen who was an adviser for the Swedish government in the 1990s when it crafted a law that makes it illegal to be a pimp or a john, but not a prostitute.

The Harper government has introduced a similar bill in response to last year’s decision by the Supreme Court of Canada to strike down the country’s prostitution law as unconstitutional. For the most part, the bill treats prostitutes as victims and shields them from criminal prosecution. A portion of the bill, however, makes prostitution illegal if it is carried out in a public place where children could be.

Ekberg and numerous other witnesses at this week’s lengthy hearings on the bill are urging the committee to amend that section in order to strengthen the legislation.

Otherwise, another Charter challenge before the Supreme Court appears inevitable.

In fact, Ekberg said she finds the government’s position “troubling” because there has been so much evidence to the contrary from academics, researchers, those being trafficked, and some provinces.

“Not only are they discriminatory but they are contrary to the human rights obligations that Canada has signed on to.”

Ekberg also took aim at the long-term goal of the government with the bill: eliminating prostitution all together.

“In 16 years that we have been doing this (in Sweden) we will not be able to eliminate prostitution and trafficking completely.”

Two other witnesses, sex worker Amy Lebovitch and former prostitute Valerie Scott, argued Wednesday that the bill ought to be scrapped in its entirety because prostitution should be completely legalized.

Along with retired dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford, the two women were the principals in the case that succeeded last December before the Supreme Court. “Bad laws serve us up on a silver platter to sexual predators,” said Scott.