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Government Response to the Sixth Report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights

The Challenge of Change: A Study of Canada’s Criminal Prostitution Laws

Mr. Art Hanger
Chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario

Dear Mr. Hanger:

On December 13, 2006, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights requested that the Government table a comprehensive response to the recommendations included in its sixth report, prepared by the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws, entitled: “The Challenge of Change: A Study of Canada’s Criminal Prostitution Laws”. These recommendations cover a range of issues: criminal offences governing solicitation and the necessity for consistent enforcement; the importance of prevention and awareness efforts and ongoing research on the issue; the necessity for serious offences with severe penalties addressing child sexual exploitation; and, the importance of maintaining concerted efforts to combat trafficking in persons.

In accordance with Standing Order 109 of the House of Commons, I am pleased, on behalf of the Government of Canada, to respond to the recommendations of the Subcommittee. Prostitution is a complicated social issue, which implicates all levels of government and has serious consequences for those involved and society at large. We will continue to work together with our provincial and territorial counterparts and civil society to strengthen our efforts to protect vulnerable persons, including those who are involved in the sex trade.

Criminal Law and Solicitation

The Criminal Code of Canada’s solicitation laws are one tool available to law enforcement to protect those involved in prostitution from exploitation and abuse, in addition to provisions that criminalize assault, uttering threats, kidnapping, forcible confinement, abduction, trafficking in persons, among others. Provincial and municipal police forces generally have authority and responsibility to enforce the Criminal Code, including the laws relating to prostitution. However, this Government recognizes that the application of the law should be consistent across Canada. For that reason, we are committed to continuing to work with provincial and territorial partners, and with the various police associations, to strengthen consistency in enforcement.

For example, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is committed to continuing to address the needs of those involved in the sex trade by taking their complaints seriously and building trust-based relationships. Forging positive relationships encourages vulnerable women to seek help from law enforcement if they are in dangerous situations. The Joint Missing Women Task Force in British Columbia, and Project KARE in Alberta, joint police force teams established to help solve murders of women involved in high risk lifestyles, are actively engaged in building trust-based relationships with those involved in the sex trade.

Prevention, Awareness and Research

The Government has supported various prevention, awareness and research initiatives, in collaboration with provincial and territorial counterparts and/ or non-governmental organizations, which address prostitution-related issues. For example, in May 2005, the Federal Government allocated $5 million over 5 years for the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s (NWAC) Sisters in Spirit (SIS) initiative. Under this project, NWAC is working with other Aboriginal women’s groups and the Government on initiatives to quantify the extent of violence against Aboriginal women, identify its root causes, and implement programs and services aimed at eliminating racialized and sexualized violence.

Further, Status of Women Canada’s (SWC) Women’s Program funds relevant projects, particularly in British Columbia, where a number of groups are collecting data at the community level and working to ensure that their services and programming are responsive to the realities experienced by women in the sex trade. In February 2007, SWC’s Women’s Program provided funding for an initiative in Prince George aimed at helping sex trade workers start new lives by providing refuge and training opportunities. SWC also supports projects towards the development of community-based solutions and awareness-raising in relation to sexual exploitation and violence experienced by women and girls (particularly in rural areas), as well as data collection on the issue of trafficking.

The Department of Justice monitors all Criminal Code offences, including those that address exploitation of women and girls, such as the solicitation laws, and supports related research. These issues are often considered in collaboration with counterparts or officials through various Federal/ Provincial/ Territorial fora. For example, the Federal/ Provincial/ Territorial Working Group on Missing Women is currently examining the issue of missing women and, in particular, cases involving serial killers who target persons living a high risk lifestyle.

The Department of Public Safety, through the National Crime Prevention Centre (NCPC) and in partnership with the Urban Aboriginal Strategy and the Vancouver Aboriginal Council, sponsored a community mobilization process that brought together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community agencies on Vancouver’s Lower East Side to examine strategies with respect to high risk women in the sex trade. This process culminated in a one-day gathering of over 100 organizational and government representatives plus a number of women and transgendered people involved in the sex trade. Issues discussed included: health and safety, housing, support services, employment and training. This meeting is seen as the first phase in a multi-year process of improving the health and safety of women with high-risk lifestyles and developing coordinated approaches to support these women exiting the sex trade.

The NCPC funds pilot studies and demonstration projects to contribute to the knowledge base of effective practices to prevent crime. These projects are submitted by local organizations and approved jointly with the provinces and territories. Where a community has considered prostitution to be a significant issue, demonstration projects with a robust evaluation have been funded. In addition, the NCPC funds projects to prevent victimization among children and youth, which is a known to contribute to future involvement in high risk lifestyles, particularly street prostitution. It also supports programs to reduce the victimization of women, especially in Aboriginal communities. Finally, the NCPC continues to work with international partners to combat the sexual exploitation of children and human trafficking.

This Government appreciates the important contribution made by the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws. Its comprehensive report provides a synthesis of the most up to date research on the issue, including an overview of prostitution generally and those involved in it and the evidence that exists in relation to prostitution in Canada.

Child Sexual Exploitation

The Criminal Code contains comprehensive laws prohibiting all forms of involvement of children and youth in prostitution. Living on the avails of prostitution of a person under 18 years is a serious offence carrying a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment and a minimum penalty of 2 years. A separate offence, applying to pimps who use threats, violence, intimidation or coercion or who, for profit, aid, abet, counsel or compel a person under 18 years to engage in prostitution, imposes a mandatory minimum penalty of 5 years imprisonment. Another offence prohibits obtaining for consideration the sexual services of a person under 18 years, or communicating for that purpose. This offence carries a maximum penalty of 5 years and a minimum penalty of 6 months. Other offences address all forms of exploitative sexual activity, such as child pornography or where there is a relationship of trust, authority, dependency or the relationship is otherwise exploitative of the young person. Further, in any case involving the abuse of any child under 18 years, the sentencing court is required to give primary consideration to the objectives of denunciation and deterrence of this conduct.

The National Strategy for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation on the Internet is a horizontal initiative that provides a comprehensive, coordinated approach to enhancing the protection of children on the Internet and pursuing those who use technology to prey on them. Led by Public Safety Canada, the National Strategy has funding of 42.1 million over 5 years (starting in 2004-05), which is being used to support three initiatives:

  • An expanded RCMP National Coordination Centre and enhanced investigational tools (RCMP);
  • A national Internet tip line for public education and report on sexual exploitation of children (; and,
  • An enhanced SchoolNet program (Industry Canada).

Finally, the Homeless Partnering Strategy (announced in December 2006 and allotted $526 M commencing in April 2007), led by Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC), in partnership with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, builds upon the existing National Homelessness Initiative and its cornerstone program, the Supporting Communities Initiative, launched in 1999, to target four areas for funding including federal horizontal pilot projects. These include, for example, the “Youth Without Shelter” project which, in January 2007 in Toronto, launched its expanded 50-bed shelter for youth in crisis.

Trafficking in Persons

Canada’s ongoing anti-trafficking efforts, both domestically and internationally, are guided by a multi-pronged approach, with a focus on the prevention of trafficking in persons, protection of victims and the prosecution of offenders. In Canada, the Interdepartmental Working Group on Trafficking in Persons (IWGTIP) coordinates all federal anti-trafficking efforts. The IWGTIP is composed of 16 participating federal departments and agencies and works in collaboration with its provincial and territorial partners, as well as civil society and its international partners, to prevent trafficking, protect its victims and hold perpetrators accountable.

In 2005, new Criminal Code trafficking-specific offences were enacted and in 2006 Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced a series of measures to address the vulnerable situation of trafficking victims who are in Canada but are foreign nationals. Further, through the IWGTIP, various departments and agencies have partnered together on numerous research, prevention and awareness-raising initiatives. Please see the following Web site for more information on the Government’s responses to trafficking in persons.

The Way Forward

Undeniably, those involved in prostitution are at a significantly greater risk of abuse and exploitation; strong and consistent responses to this serious social problem are required. This Government views prostitution as degrading and dehumanizing, often committed and controlled by coercive individuals against those who are frequently powerless to protect themselves from abuse and exploitation. Prostitution harms all of Canadian society, and Canadian women in particular. This Government condemns any conduct that results in exploitation or abuse, and accordingly does not support any reforms, such as decriminalization, that would facilitate such exploitation. Commodification and exploitation of women is never acceptable.

For these reasons, this Government continues to address prostitution by focusing on reducing its prevalence. This involves prevention, education and awareness initiatives, supporting programs that encourage those involved in the sex trade toward exit programs, and focusing on consistent enforcement of the criminal law.

We thank the Committee and the Subcommittee for its report, which seeks to assist in preventing the exploitation of vulnerable persons, an objective this Government equally supports.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Nicholson

Mr. John Maloney
Chair of the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws
House of Commons