OTTAWA (CCN) — A 2015 anti-prostitution sting in Sydney, N.S., and a recent court decision upholding the release of the names of alleged “johns,” is applauded by anti-human-trafficking experts.
But there are concerns the landmark 2014 prostitution law that for the first time in Canadian history made the purchase of sex illegal and recognized that most prostitutes are victims exploited by pimps and human traffickers is not being evenly enforced.
“We know there is a lot of pressure from pro-prostitution groups and the sex industry to repeal the laws,” said Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) policy analyst Julia Beazley. “But at this stage, the government has said only that they will be taking a good look at the legislation — something they are doing with several laws passed by the previous government.”
Enforcement of the law depends on local police and Crown prosecutors, Beazley said. “Some jurisdictions have embraced the objectives and approach of the legislation and are enforcing it fully, as we’re seeing in Cape Breton. But we’re also starting to hear that some jurisdictions that had initially embraced the approach are now backing off, concerned that they might end up with a bunch of cases on the books only to see the laws repealed.”
“And still others have never enforced the purchasing provision, believing the laws wouldn’t stand,” she said. “This inconsistency was present even under the previous government, which had made its position very clear, but I think in the absence of clear direction from the current Attorney General of Canada, it’s become even more of a concern.”
But former MP Joy Smith, who played a leadership role in organizing the grassroots campaign to change Canada’s prostitution law in 2014, warned of a “backlash” if the bill is repealed.
“A lot of these young girls who service these men are trafficked and they don’t want to do it, they are controlled by traffickers,” said Smith, who now works to combat human trafficking full time through the Joy Smith Foundation. “What about their shame?”
“The fact of the matter is we are in a new era in Canada: buying sex is against the law,” she said. “These people that go to buy sex from young girls have no consideration for the young girls.”
In September 2015, in response to a growing prostitution problem in Sydney, the police force arrested 27 men and released their names in a news conference. One of the alleged johns went to court, claiming the release of his name before a conviction amounted to “public shaming” and a violation of his Charter rights under section 7.
In late August, Nova Scotia provincial court Judge Brian Williston rejected the challenge, citing the new prostitution legislation in his decision and pointing out the police were not releasing any information that was not already available to the public and the news media. However, mainstream news reports focus on the public shaming of the johns, citing civil liberties experts.
“If the media wants to report it, it has to be well balanced and talk to people like myself,” said Smith. “The sympathies are not with the johns who buy sex.”
“The fact that they were shamed, well that’s too bad,” she said. “What are they are doing behind the backs of their wives? So they are caught and they feel ashamed.”
“I praise the police for doing their job,” she said. “That’s going to save countless lives of young girls.”
“Many judges and many police officers are not keeping up with the law of the land and are not enforcing it like these police and this judge did,” Smith said. “I praise them for doing that.”
Beazley said the media’s response “underlines the continued need for public education.”
“The new laws recognize that prostitution is a form of exploitation and violence against women,” she said. “But it will take time for the broader society, including the media, to understand the realities of prostitution.”
“(Sydney) is serious about targeting the demand for paid sex, and, as the judge said, the police actions were a response to the ‘need to protect society’s most marginalized and vulnerable members in focusing their attention on the men driving demand,’ ” she said.
Smith believes the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered and Indigenous Women and Girls will help put the spotlight back on prostitution as a form of exploitation and violence against women.