We will be appearing before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights studying Bill C-36.
Commonly known as the government’s proposed new legislation, Bill C-36 addresses prostitution. We will share with the committee almost 21 years of professional and human rights work supporting mainly women who were tortured, trafficked, and prostituted within family situations by one or both parents and others connected to their families and or by a spouse.
We support Bill C-36 because it criminalizes the activities of pimps who prostitute mainly vulnerable women and girls. Pimps are generally not strangers to the persons they prostitute. As just revealed, pimps can be family members, spouses and their friends. They can also be guardians, boyfriends, employers, or other trusted persons, for example. Bill C-36 learned from other countries that when pimps and johns are not criminalized organized crime flourishes. Human trafficking of women and girls increases, as well, sex tourism of children amplifies.
Bill C-36 criminalizes the buyers, the johns, who pay to buy or rent another human being. There is no shortage of johns. Johns have preferences. When they rent or buy another human being for so-called “sexual services” their preferences are not for just adult women, there is a demand for prostituted children. It seems when the prostitution of girls of 10 to 14 years of age are mentioned the conversation groups them with prostituted women. Ignored is the fact a Canadian prostituted 10-year-old is only in Grade 4; a 14-year-old in Grade 8—they are not women—they are children. Infants and toddlers are also included in the preference demands of some johns.
The Bill decriminalizes the actions of those who engage in prostitution. Replacing their criminalization with funding efforts to provide meaningful support to help women recover from the violence most suffered and to assist them to exit prostitution.
Bill C-36 pays attention to the protection of children. Child crime scene pornography, for example, commonly accompanies the prostitution of children. One Canadian study suggests the most horrendous of such sexualized victimization is inflicted on children under eight and predominately against girls. Infants and toddlers are also victimized, and sexualized torture occurs. It seems that the ancient taboo not to speak of sexualized violence perpetrated against children is alive and flourishing, unspoken in the multitude of mainstream opinions that suggest all prostituted persons are women who engage in “sex work.” The prostitution of children is skimmed over. Prostitution of children is never “sex work.”
This bill expands the definition of “weapons.” It suggests “anything used, designed or intended for use in binding or tying up a person against their will” will be considered a weapon. This suggests, for example, that rope, chains, handcuffs, or tape can be weapons.
It has a preamble voicing the importance of protecting human dignity and equality of all Canadians by discouraging prostitution. It says prostituted persons are not objects to be bought and sold. Would we welcome teaching children in our schools to consider prostitution as a career? How many of us who have never been prostituted would welcome being told by the unemployment office that the only work available was prostitution? How many of us would rush home to tell our daughters and sons, nieces and nephews, sisters, spouses and mothers to become prostituted persons?
We will present two recommendations to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Firstly, amending Section 269.1 on Torture of the Criminal Code of Canada is necessary. Presently, only government officials such as police or military can be prosecuted for torture under the Criminal Code. When a private individual, group, pimp, or john commits similar cruel and inhuman acts of torture they cannot be charged for torturing. Consequently, there is no public acknowledgement of the truth that women and children have suffered and do suffer sexualized torture when prostituted. Only when this legal discrimination is removed will prostituted and tortured women and children experience their human and legal rights of equality and human dignity.
Recommendation two is to amend sections such as Section 213 which criminalizes “everyone” including prostituted persons who communicate with others for the purpose of providing sexual services when in a public place or around persons under age 18. We suggest that prostituted persons be exempt or have immunity from criminalization. Pimps and johns do pose a threat to children. Bill C-36 criminalizes and imposes various levels of penalties on them for violations occurring in public places or when children may be present.
We support Bill C-36 because, in our opinion, it is legally, socially, and relationally transformative.
Linda MacDonald and Jeanne Sarson are co-founders of Persons Against Torture.