I'd like to begin by acknowledging that we're gathered here today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
My name is Lisa Steacy. I'd like to thank the committee for inviting Mélanie and me to speak on behalf of the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, which I'll refer to as CASAC to save time.
CASAC is one of the oldest coalitions of sexual assault centres in the world. Founded in 1975, CASAC-member centres continue to provide front-line crisis support and intervention to women from Halifax to Vancouver, in English and French, and in urban and rural communities. CASAC speaks publicly for the thousands of women who tell us their stories on confidential crisis lines.
By providing women across Canada with crisis support, CASAC has accrued unique and intimate knowledge about the causes and consequences of male violence against women, including prostitution. Every one of our public statements on prostitution and male violence against women is informed by the women who call our lines and disclose the previously private violations of rape, battery, incest, and prostitution to front-line workers.
Formerly prostituted women have joined our group in Vancouver, the group in Montreal, the group in Ottawa, and in many other centres to train as volunteers or to work on staff to assist women who are surviving and trying to escape the routine exploitation and violation of prostitution. I'm assured in my conviction and compelled to speak because of these women, as are CASAC members across the country.
I personally have spoken to, met, and can name women who are prostituted on the street and behind the closed doors of escort agencies, massage parlours, and strip clubs and women who advertise themselves online because they bought into the notion that prostitution is a viable, safe, and empowering way to earn the money that they need to put themselves through university. These women have been threatened, raped, and battered by men who purchase sex. They have been threatened, raped, and battered by pimps and procurers. Every single one of them has struggled to endure and survive the day in and day out dangers and violations inherent to prostitution.
In 2001, our members insisted on and passed a resolution that prostitution is a form of male violence against women. In 2005, we further articulated our analysis that prostitution is a harmful practice of sexist and sexual discrimination. It exploits and compounds women's social inequality, the economic inequality of women living in poverty, and the racial inequality of women of colour and aboriginal women.
The government's proposed change to the criminal law offers an opportunity for society, through law, to stand up for and alongside women who insist on more for themselves, and for all women than, being bought and sold in prostitution. The very existence of prostitution not only creates a subclass of women commodified as objects to be bought and sold by men, it sustains the sexual and sexualized inequality of all women.
The definition of “consent” in section 273.1 that follows the sexual assault offences in the Criminal Code provides a useful framework for CASAC to counter the assertion that prostitution is an equal transaction or a sexual activity to which women consent. “Consent” is defined as “a voluntary agreement to engage in the sexual activity in question”. The brutal forces of poverty, violence, and inequality that coerce the vast majority of women into prostitution effectively negate consent.
Bill rightly situates the criminal offences related to prostitution in the section of the Criminal Code for crimes against the person. The women who call and answer our crisis lines across the country have known for decades that prostitution is not harmful because it is a nuisance or a vice, it is harmful because it is a violation of a person, most often a female one.
CASAC is encouraged that Parliament has drafted a bill that makes it clear that there's a vital role for criminal law to play in condemning and curtailing the continued prostitution of women and girls in Canada. In both the 2001 and 2005 CASAC resolutions, we agreed that criminal law can and should serve to prohibit and denounce male violence against women. Bill is a necessary response to the demands of women and women's groups that the government recognize that prostitution disproportionately impacts women and undermines their Charter rights to dignity and equality.
The provisions that criminalize the actions of johns precisely target the men who demand unfettered access to women's bodies. The provisions that criminalize the actions of pimps and profiteers accurately target the men who coerce women and girls into prostitution, who capitalize on women's economic and social vulnerability to recruit them into prostitution, and who benefit economically from women and girls remaining in prostitution.
The provisions that apply to johns, pimps, and profiteers are consistent with an understanding of prostitution as a criminal act of male violence against women. However, from our decades of work with women who've experienced rape, wife assault, incest, and sexual harassment, we know that there is a systemic failure at all levels to arrest, charge, and convict men for violence against women using the laws that exist. We must not compound this failure by pardoning men and further abandoning women by decriminalizing prostitution.
Diligent implementation of the proposed laws will be critical if they're to be effective in achieving their stated aims. The federal government has the responsibility to play a crucial leadership role in setting the standards for police and prosecutors across the country in order to ensure enforcement of all laws that criminalize violence against women. Any criminalization of women in prostitution is inconsistent with an analysis of prostitution as violence against women.
We unequivocally oppose the government's proposal to criminalize communication in certain locations in the name of protecting communities. The laws that criminalize johns and pimps apply in all locations, and a further provision that applies to prostituted women in certain locations is entirely unnecessary.
Bill correctly asserts that prostitution is exploitive, harmful, and violent. The vast majority of women do not freely choose to be in prostitution, so it is therefore inconsistent that women in prostitution can choose the location in which they are prostituted. This provision will likely compound current bias in the delivery of justice in which the most marginalized women—the destitute, the racialized, and the addicted—in street-level prostitution are disproportionately targeted and punished.
The federal government's allocation of $20 million in new funding to programs that assist women who want to leave prostitution is simply not enough. Prostitution, like all forms of violence against women, prevents women's equality. Any lack of equality makes women vulnerable to violence. Working to aid women after sexist violent attack is not enough. We must end the inequality of women and the use men make of it.
All parties and all ministries at all levels of government will need to make a substantive commitment to eradicate the desperate inequality that prostitution exploits and entrenches.
My name is Mélanie Sarroino, and I represent the Regroupement québécois des Centres d'aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel. We are members of CASAC and the Women's Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution.
For 35 years, we have been dedicated to developing a better response for women who are victims of sexual assault and for Quebec communities that want to prevent and address sexual violence. We have 26 member centres in all regions of Quebec. Our work focuses on three streams of intervention—direct services, awareness raising and prevention, and advocacy.
Various studies show that between 80% and 90% of women who have been involved in prostitution were sexually assaulted as children. It is established that being a victim of violence increases the likelihood of being subjected to violence again. That continuum often goes hand in hand with adverse social and economic conditions that contribute to women eventually ending up in the prostitution system.
In that context, the effect prostitution has on women's lives is similar to the consequences of sexual assault. Women who have been sexually assaulted, women who are involved in prostitution or those who have left it behind suffer from insomnia, anxiety, phobias, depression and dissociation. They can also have all sorts of psychological and physiological issues, including gynecological problems, not to mention the social consequences.
I am not going to repeat what my colleague talked about. Of course, we definitely agree with her when it comes to gender equality and the consequences of not repealing section 213. I won't go over that again in order to save time.
We often hear the argument that criminalizing clients will make prostitutes more vulnerable, since they won't have time to assess men. For those of us who work in the area of violence against women, that argument does not hold water. It is hard for us to believe that an additional 5 to 15 minutes will help a prostitute figure out whether or not a man is violent, either before she gets into his car or before he enters her apartment.
We know perfectly well that violent men are often skilled manipulators and cannot be identified quickly. Very often, the women already know and trust them.
The part of the legislation that criminalizes purchases will make things easier for us in the sexual exploitation prevention workshops we provide annually to thousands of young people. In Quebec, CALACS provide prevention education to over 25,000 students a year. Decriminalizing purchases would have been catastrophic. How can involvement in the prostitution system be prevented, be it in terms of recruiters or merchandise, when the law authorizes it?
The new legislation enables us to deal with the issue in the same way we deal with sexual assault. We use that topic to discuss violence in romantic relationships—the abusive power stemming from social inequalities. The new legislation helps make our message much more consistent for young people.
In addition to the legislation, Canada must also deal with the factors that contribute to women becoming involved in prostitution, including poverty, racism, the effects of residential schools, the shortcomings of the youth and child protection system, as well as the idealization of prostitution.
It is imperative to create social supports to provide women with sources of income other than prostitution. That includes a full range of exit services that would give prostitutes health care services—including detoxification care only for women—safe housing for them and their children, legal assistance, access to education and job training, quality counselling services and a guaranteed subsistence income.
Prostitutes must be eligible for all the compensation plans designed to support victims of crime and should have their prostitution-related criminal record suspended, so that they can find another job.
We also think that all the existing resources—including women's centres, sexual assault centres and shelters—should be able to provide, both through tools and an adequate budget....
My colleague Natasha and I are very pleased to be here representing PEERS Victoria Resource Society, which is located in Victoria, B.C. We'd like to thank those who contributed to our joint presentation based on their experiences in the sex industry.
I am the executive director of PEERS, which has been in operation for close to 20 years. Our key programs include day and night outreach, a drop-in centre, a health clinic, employment and education support. We also prepare and circulate the “bad date” or aggressor sheet in our region.
Our programs collectively serve some 350 to 500 persons per year, depending on funding. Some of our program participants regard themselves as currently in the sex industry, while about a third would identify themselves as no longer in the sex industry but continue to use our services because they require assistance with housing, health care access, and other forms of social support.
I'm also a social scientist affiliated with the University of Victoria. In that capacity, I have conducted research on the social determinants of health in the sex industry for over a decade. Currently, I am conducting a national study of managers of escort agencies and massage businesses as part of a large CIHR-funded study led by Dr. Cecilia Benoit.
I want to begin with a few contextualizing statistics about our region specifically. Over the past 15 years, Dr. Benoit and her colleagues have conducted three large health studies of people in the sex industry. Great care was taken in the methodological design, including reaching a diverse and large sample. Looking across these studies, it was found that the median age of first transaction in the sex industry was the early twenties, with a significant minority of participants reporting selling sexual services before the age of 18. Close to 80% identified as women and just under 20% identified as aboriginal. The mean age at the time of the interview was early to mid-thirties. We did not find an over-representation of ethnic minorities, but rather an under-representation.
The individuals interviewed in these studies, as well as those we work with at PEERS, hold diverse views of the sex industry. That is really an important point: they do hold diverse views of the sex industry informed by a range of experiences. However, most take issue with being characterized fundamentally as victims. As one of our members commented, “Although I feel like I had to become a sex worker to support my little girl, it was still my choice, and if I had to do it over again I would.” Another commented, “When women like myself proclaim they are in the business by choice, but people insist on viewing it as victimization, it insinuates that we are not capable of making decisions for ourselves.” Another commented that “The only thing that pushed me towards escorting was my own curiosity.”
One of the very positive developments we have in our region is with the Victoria police. There are two units—the special victims unit and the community liaison unit—that work with PEERS to reach out to sex workers, to encourage them to report crimes and other concerns.
In preparing this for presentation, one of our police liaison officers informed me that there had not been any trafficking charges in our regions in many years, and few if no prostitution-related charges. Instead, their focus has been on targeting only those who exploit or harm sex workers. For example, there have been six reported incidents of what are commonly referred to as “bad dates” this year, and the persons who committed these crimes—not all of whom were sex buyers, by the way—are the priority for law enforcement, as opposed to sex buyers as a whole.
Below I would like to briefly comment on some specific sections of Bill , although I realize it's been discussed extensively already this week. We agree with others who have detailed why proposed section 286.1 and section 213 will continue to constrain communication between sex buyers and sellers, and we also emphasize the need for sex workers to freely communicate with purchasers in order to assess them, set the terms of service, and obtain key pieces of information. Screening is only one aspect of it. You also have to require information from people, and people have to be willing to give you that information. That's part of establishing security as well.
The evidence of this was carefully considered in Bedford versus Canada, and painstakingly considered, I think. Moreover, section 213 fosters a climate of stigma and discrimination as it identifies people in the sex industry as threats to rather than members of the community. It will predictably be disproportionately applied to street-based sex workers. These individuals do not have the means to pay fines or obtain legal support, and their fear of police is already substantial and more deeply rooted than in prostitution law alone, particularly for those who are substance-dependent, without secure housing, or have been subjected to racial discrimination.
Proposed section 286.4, which criminalizes advertising also potentially impedes workers' ability to communicate for the purposes of safety and security. I won't go into that much because I think it's been covered and we have limited time.
Proposed section 286.1, which criminalizes material benefit from sexual services, places constraints on sex workers who wish to engage with others in assisting them. While we recognize that there are noted exceptions, and they have been discussed this week, this law is nevertheless very problematic, from our point of view, as it potentially places an onus on these parties to prove that they fall within these exceptions.
There was some discussion the other day regarding the meaning of the “no exception” clause in proposed subsection 286.2(5), which seems to suggest there is no form of material benefit permissible within a commercial enterprise. I'm hoping for a little more clarification today as this section—
As I was saying, I worked in the sex industry from the age of 21 to the age of 37. This was a choice I made for my daughter, and I am proud of that. It was also my choice to come testify before you today.
I have had two children and a husband for 11 years. I live in Victoria. I am on the board of directors of the PEERS organization and a member of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform. I was also part of Dr. Cecilia Benoit's research team. I currently hold a position at AIDS Vancouver Island in a harm-reduction program.
I am outraged by Bill. I think it disrespects our human rights by stressing the fact that I am a victim because I chose to work in sex trade. However, I chose that job of my own free will. Referring to me as a victim or treating me as such ignores and denigrates my reality. It disregards my choice.
I had a good relationship with many of my clients. I was very fond of some of them, and others a bit less, but I never felt abused. However, I was a victim of discrimination. I was visited by youth protection service workers, who threatened to take away my son because I was a sex worker.
Afterwards, I became very reluctant to tell people that I was part of the industry. I felt very alone and defenceless. Consequently, had anything happened to me, I would not have reported it. I do not feel that Bill will help improve the situation. It will not put a stop to the stigma and judgment toward people who engage in this activity.
As Mr. MacKay said in his speech earlier this week, Bill should lead to a reduction in the supply and demand. Unfortunately, this bill will not have the desired effect. Instead of resolving the situation, the legislation will shift the problem and force sex workers to conduct their transactions in a context of increased pressure. There will be much more potential for conflict, and client screening will be inadequate. At the end of the day, the bill will make individuals involved in that occupation more vulnerable.
It will become more difficult for stakeholders—such as PEERS—to provide services, build trust, establish an open relationship with female and male sex workers or transgendered individuals, as it has been shown that street workers see criminalization as a threat.
I think that Bill could even endanger mobile response teams—which patrol the streets every night to provide frontline support—by prompting them to take to isolated areas like the clientele. Moreover, they will be doing their work in poorly lit locations, with no eye witnesses around.
I would like to bring up a relevant comment made by a PEERS member:
I am deeply concerned by Bill C-36. If that legislation is passed, it will impede my ability to screen and select my clients and negotiate my conditions—my own work conditions—during those meetings. The criminalization of my clients will make my job more difficult. I am already starting to plan ways to work around those new laws. I feel very nervous about my future and my safety.
In closing, I do not think Bill C-36 contains provisions that will enhance health and safety. I think it is very important to separate our moral positions regarding a so-called appropriate sexuality from our legislation and the consideration of our human rights.
I would have preferred to see a model mainly based on progressive principles, such as those implemented in New Zealand—a model that discourages the exploitation of young people while encouraging sex workers to practice their trade in a context that enhances their right to safety. Those principles do not force anyone to work in the industry.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and honourable members of Parliament and all my sister and fellow panellists.
I also want to thank the technicians who made it possible for many of us to videoconference in to this important democratic process.
Our organization did send a letter to Madame Boivin and Mr. Casey and to Mrs. Smith, as well as a brief, which may have been translated in time. In our letters to the members of Parliament, we included a letter from a woman who was in massage and escort for seven years, a woman who was exploited through street prostitution for 22 years, a mother whose daughter is among the murdered victims in Edmonton, a man who was a former buyer, and a therapist who works to help women in their recovery from complex trauma. So they are with me, even though I am here alone.
Also, I carry the stories of grassroots community action to address the heavy impact of men cruising our communities. I remember the fear of children being harassed as they tried to go to school and being asked if they were working girls. Women standing at bus-stops, just trying to go shopping or whatever they had to do, were being harassed by men.
So I speak from a grassroots experience of people in Edmonton trying to do something about a complex issue. I think it's very important for us to state that we do not see this as a partisan issue. We do see it to be a human rights issue, a social justice issue, and a women's equality issue. Our organization would say that we come from the stance where we do not want to see any vulnerable person of any age or persons in vulnerable circumstances such as poverty or homelessness, or having no other jobs or sources of income, or with mental health or physical challenges. We want to live in a country that creates equality for all, and we do not want to see vulnerable people preyed upon in any way.
I think it's also important to remember that in our history as a country and a colony, the weight of the law and discrimination has been focused primarily on women. What we're seeing here is a shift. This is a shift that we would like to support. We see it as a 30-year generational shift. We won't see the fruits of the shift in this law for a few years, but we do think it's very important to shift the accountability for a harm that is generated to those who create that harm.
In Alberta and in the province of Manitoba, there have been many united actions of community groups, of groups led by women who have lived experience, by political leaders, by crown prosecutors, and by police. We have developed resources over the years that are appropriate and respectful of the persons seeking health care or any part of the continuum of harm reduction.
At the same time, the exploitation does continue, so we feel that it's important to shift the accountability to those who are demanding sexual services and creating that market for that industrialization of children and women.
In our brief, we do say that the criminalization of the activity of buying will have a positive effect, but that the criminalization of those who are providing has a very detrimental effect. We do not support the ability to arrest children, youth, and women who are in places where children might be present. We would like to see that section of this bill totally removed. We've lived too often with the discrimination that others have mentioned, and I can cite how in Edmonton, our capital region, the housing commission will not allow anyone with a criminal record to get subsidized public housing and how people who have a history of solicitation are not welcome in that housing.
Women who want to become social workers at our university cannot apply, because they have a criminal record. Many jobs that women apply for require criminal record checks. Many women just give up, because they do not want to talk about what they've been doing, because of the stigmatization.
In 1995, our organization wrote to the Minister of Justice of the day. We said that as ordinary people, we see that there's a power imbalance between the person who's cruising and the person who's standing on the corner, and we think we need to create different options. We went to work in our own city and created, with the crown prosecution office and the mayor and the Minister of Justice, the prostitution offender program.
The Minister of Justice of that day said that because the community raised this issue, we will charge the men the equivalent of a fine, about $500, and we will return that money to the community to help heal the harm. So a multi-stakeholder group, including women who survived exploitation, parents whose daughters were on the street, front-line workers, and all the parties, identified that the priorities are poverty elimination, trauma recovery, bursaries so that people can rebuilt their lives, and public awareness and education.
In Alberta we have had a number of public education initiatives, but this education must be continual; it must be in the schools, around consent.
We must send a message. I'd like to see a message in every airport that in Canada we do not tolerate the buying and selling of people, so that men who are newcomers to our country know that in our country you cannot buy sexual services.
We'd like to see age-appropriate education directed at both those who may become vulnerable as well as those who may become perpetrators. Sadly, we're seeing that many young men are perpetrating violence against women, so we know that we need to look at how to educate our young men about what it is to be in a healthy and respectful relationship.
Our recommendations are that we support the direction of Bill . We would like to see section 213 of the Criminal Code removed. We would like to see the investment in creative and positive social media and prevention education.
We would like to see more than $20 million. I misunderstood; I thought that was $20 million for one year. I can tell you that the groups working across the country, from PEERS Victoria Resource Society all the way across the country, would know well how to put that money to use to support women, men, and the transgendered wherever they are on the continuum.
We also think that it's important to establish a monitoring and evaluation process. Any law is a blunt instrument. There will be positive intended consequences; there will also be positive unintended consequences.
We had the past laws for almost 30 years. We think that we need to monitor every five years or so that we know what we are accomplishing by trying to set normative values in the law.
We also would like to see an easy mechanism established to wipe away and expunge the criminal records of anyone charged with section 213 in the past—any prostituted woman, male, or transgender—to remove this burden from their shoulders and welcome them into the fullness of our Canadian society.
In Scotland, while they still had some charges around prostitution, they just went away. No one had to apply for a pardon; the charges went away. We can do something; we can be creative: we're calling for this expunging of all the records of the past 30 years.
Those are our primary points. Thank you.
Thank you for the privilege of being able to come before you today, the justice committee, to discuss Bill .
I am the director of Defend Dignity, which is a justice initiative of the Christian and Missionary Alliance churches in Canada. We act as a catalyst for individuals and churches to get involved in ending sexual exploitation in our country.
The first step in ending sexual exploitation is to educate people on what is happening in their city and region, and so to that end we partnered with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada to hold awareness events in 28 locations from British Columbia to the Maritimes in the last two years.
We've been in large cities and in small cities following the same format in every location. There are presenters from front line local agencies, from local police officers, from survivors, a policy analyst, and a police officer who is part of the Defend Dignity team who addresses the issue of demand. Governmental and non-governmental agencies are invited to network at each event, giving audiences further opportunities to learn about the issue in their region.
A number of the agencies and survivors we have partnered with at these events are witnesses here at these hearings.
These information forums have given Defend Dignity a national perspective and awareness of the scope of the issue, the services that do exist and the services that do not exist in many regions of Canada, as well as with the inconsistency with which police enforce prostitution laws and protect those involved.
As part of the C and MA churches we are seeing a growing number of congregations doing their part by providing service delivery to victims. Dignity House in Winnipeg is a second-stage restoration and healing home for women exiting prostitution that's operated by Kilcona Park Alliance Church in that city. U-r home is an incorporated safe house that's about ready to launch in Newmarket, Ontario, also supported by one of our Alliance churches. Other churches are exploring ways to provide services to victims.
Defend Dignity's mandate stems from our core belief that each person has intrinsic worth and value, and consequently every individual deserves to be treated with dignity no matter their gender, their race, their colour, or their socio-economic status. We do believe that prostitution is inherently violent, that it objectifies, oppresses, and commodifies people. Sadly in Canada, it has become a means to survive for the most disadvantaged and poor among us.
I was in Ottawa just last week and met with Jason Pino who is the founder and director of an organization called Restoring Hope, which is a weekend teenage shelter in downtown Ottawa. It initially opened just last February 2013 for teenage boys, and within weeks they had teenage girls coming to them saying could we please have a place for shelter because we're being forced to sell ourselves in order to have the basic need of shelter met.
Canada can and must do better for our young people. We need legislation in place that will protect our most vulnerable.
Defend Dignity believes that Bill has strong elements that will prohibit the exploitation, violence, and abuse that characterizes so much of prostitution. We strongly support the new offence prohibiting the purchase of sexual service in section 286. Research from Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, from Eaves in Great Britain, and the outcomes from the Nordic model in Sweden tell us that the greatest deterrents to johns purchasing sex would be criminal charges, fines, jail terms, and having their names publicized. Holding men accountable for their actions will result in societal change, putting a stake in the ground that says it is never acceptable to buy another human being, and that women are not commodities.
In addition to this offence which criminalizes a buyer, and because we believe in the value and dignity of the offender as well as the victim, we do urge the government to consider mandating that each offender participate in prostitution diversion programs. There are only a few cities in Canada that offer john schools, but those that do report that many of the men, upon completion of the program, have a new understanding of the harm done to the women they had purchased, to their families, and to themselves. The john school run by the Salvation Army in Saskatoon reports that there have only been eight reoffenders out of the 699 men who participated in their school that began in 2002. These programs need to be mandated and expanded to cities across Canada so that criminalized men can begin to make behavioural changes. The fines collected from these offences and from the john schools should be put back into exit services for people leaving prostitution.
We also have serious concerns about section 213, and ask that it be removed from the bill. Our concerns lie with the issue that these sections target the most vulnerable in prostitution, street prostitutes, most of whom only sell themselves to survive. They see themselves as having no other option, due to the issues of poverty, homelessness, mental illness, addictions, and coercion. To add the penalty of a conviction and possible fine to someone who is already way down would be adding an unnecessary burden. We do not believe that this reflects the intent of the law as described in the preamble, which we think is wonderful.
In our work with survivors, we hear of how prostitution-related charges have kept them from finishing education and securing good employment. In one such instance, in Ontario, a young woman exited prostitution as a single mom, was furthering her education, and needed a criminal check for a required placement in order to graduate. Upon learning of the prostitution charges, no employer would place her, and consequently she did not graduate from her program. She was revictimized due to her criminal charges.
Defend Dignity also believes that it is unreasonable to state on the one hand that prostitution is inherently exploitative, with most prostitutes facing the risk of violence, and then on the other hand to lay charges against them. Since most prostitutes are victims of violence, no charges should be laid against them. In our work with prostitutes and with survivors, violence seems to be a recurring theme. In no other instance in the Criminal Code are the victims of violence charged. Only the perpetrators of violence should be charged.
In discussion with the office of the justice minister, Defend Dignity has been given the rationale that these offences will be handled at the discretion of the police, and this does cause us some concern. In our interaction with police across Canada, at our 28 events, we discovered that there is inconsistency in how police view prostitution, deal with prostitutes, and enforce criminal offences relating to prostitution. In some locations, police services are already operating under the new paradigm described in the preamble of the bill. They see prostitutes as exploited victims of violence, work to help them, and offer access to exit services.
However, in some locations, police deny prostitution's existence and did not know, until it was pointed out to them, that there were online ads for women for sale in their city. In that same location, youth workers were dealing with underage girls selling themselves for drugs, and yet the police refused to admit that prostitution was occurring. Other police at our events described charging the women and putting them in jail as their method of dealing with prostitutes.
New legislation regarding prostitution necessitates consistent training of police, from coast to coast, on the realities of prostitution and the inherent exploitation and violence involved. It is essential that this training begins as soon as the law is implemented. We just can't stress this enough.
My concerns for having well-trained police also come from a trip to Nunavut, where I listened to the stories of women being sexually exploited by family members. Police in the north need to be made aware of the familial prostitution that occurs and taught how to handle it.
If Bill is to be successful, then education for all, in the justice system as well, including crown attorneys and judges, must be part of the implementation.
Defend Dignity is appreciative of the $20 million in new funding that the government has promised for exit services. However, when compared to the $8 million that Manitoba spends each year on this issue, it simply is not enough. We also encourage the federal government to collaborate with provinces, front-line agencies, and faith communities in much the same way that this is being done with the “National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking”.
Canada stands on the cusp of creating a better country for countless children, women, and men currently being sexually exploited, and also for those who are at risk of exploitation as the new laws are put in place. Canada will be a better place as this law begins to shape society. It will be a Canadian society where people are not commodities, where men are held accountable for their actions, and where all are safe from predators. Therefore, it is crucial that the new prostitution legislation recognizes the social and individual harms of prostitution, that it aims to discourage it, and that it works to abolish it.
Defend Dignity supports Bill , and suggests that the following improvements be made to create the best legislation and policy possible:
One, remove section 213 from Bill C-36 so that no prostituted person is charged for communicating for the purpose of offering or providing sexual services.
Two, provide standardized education for police, crown attorneys, and judges that would explain the paradigm shift of how prostitution is viewed as part of the implementation of the new law;
Three, mandate crime diversion prostitution offender programs, also known as john schools, with funds charged going directly to exit services for prostituted people.
Four, increase the amount of new funding for exit services to proportionately match what the Government of Manitoba spends each year on sexual exploitation.
And five, work collaboratively with provinces, faith communities, and front-line agencies to provide off-ramp services for prostituted people.
Thank you so much for giving consideration to these comments.
It's unfortunate you can't see me, because I look exceptionally gorgeous today.
I'd like to start by acknowledging the Treaty 7 nations on whose land I'm speaking to you from.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee, for this opportunity to contribute to your review of Bill .
My name is Marina Giacomin, and I am the executive director of Servants Anonymous Society Calgary. I have been a social worker for over 25 years, with a primary focus on issues related to women and children, including violence, poverty, and homelessness.
I am also a survivor of sexual violence and exploitation, which I experienced beginning at a very young age and until my early twenties, including a year when I was 16 years old and frequented the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, British Columbia. I have been free from that experience for 25 years now.
I would like to both personally and on behalf of SAS, Servants Anonymous Society Calgary—and, most importantly, the hundreds of women and girls we have served—thank the Canadian government for Bill and your recognition of the evidence of prostitution as inherently violent and primarily an issue of violence against women. We support the abolishment of prostitution in Canada and urge you to support this bill.
I will offer you the exit perspective today, and start by describing for you SAS Calgary and our experience and expertise.
Servants Anonymous Society Calgary has operated for the past 25 years providing a voluntary, comprehensive service for girls and women age 16 and older, with or without children, who are seeking an exit from prostitution; sexual exploitation, including other sex industry experiences; and healing from the related violence and trauma.
We have service data on over 700 girls and women: 100% have experienced violence; approximately 40% identify as aboriginal; and 75% are 24 years and older, with 90% of them, however, having been introduced into the sex trade as teenagers, predominantly around the age of 14.
We believe we are the most comprehensive service for this population in Canada, and have provided care to women and children from across the country. We work closely with both local law enforcement, including Calgary Police Service's vice and organized crime unit, and for the past many years have provided the mandatory training regarding sensitivity and compassionate law enforcement approaches to prostituted people for all new recruits of the Calgary Police Service. We also work in collaboration with our provincial and federal correctional facilities, with the RCMP, and on occasion with Canada Border Services.
Servants Anonymous Society Calgary provides a SAFE house program, which allows for an immediate exit from prostitution for girls and women. The SAFE program is professionally staffed 24/7; provides access to medical care, detoxification, and addiction services if required; and trauma recovery work also begins here.
The SAFE program is a 30- to 45-day stabilization program. A recent review of our outcome statistics for over 100 women accessing SAFE shows that women staying in the SAFE program for one week experience a 40% increase in successfully exiting to safe and stable environments. Women staying in SAFE for a minimum of two weeks experience a 50% increase in their success, and women remaining a minimum of four weeks in SAFE experience a 90% success rate in exiting to safe and stable environments.
Following SAFE, the SAS program offers transitional supportive housing in five houses located throughout the city, where women live communally with a live-in volunteer or supportive roommate. We offer permanent independent supportive housing. We own a number of fully self-contained apartments with a live-in volunteer unit on site to ensure safety and to provide any additional support the girls and women may require. In addition, we offer permanent affordable housing in the community through a formal partnership with our local housing authority.
Along with housing, women participate in an extensive daily life skills classroom. Our entire curriculum has been written by alumni and women with lived experience of prostitution and sexual exploitation. All of the women are assigned a key worker or a counsellor who is a professional social worker or addictions counsellor for personal case management and support. We employ a number of alumni who have gone on to complete their education in the social services. We offer an on-site professional child-minding service and a child development, parenting skills, attachment bonding therapy, and in-home support program for women with children.
SAS has a very high rate of children being returned from child welfare or child protective services to their mothers who are in our program, and a very high rate of pregnant women being allowed to keep their children upon delivery. Indeed, the catalyst for many of the women we have met who choose to exit prostitution have come to us because of either an episode of extreme violence, where they directly feared for their life, or the discovery that they were pregnant.
The final phase of the Servants Anonymous Society Calgary program is a six-month employment education support service. We offer follow-care support and outreach for any of our past participants to help them access continuing services in the community or return to SAS if required. We also help them develop résumé, job search, and interview skills; we offer through our social enterprise, on-site and in-community paid work experience programs, and scholarships for continuing education. In fact, a number of our alumnae have gone on to university or other post-secondary education to advance their education and improve their long-term employability. Women who complete the entire SAS program experience an 88% success rate in remaining free of prostitution, sexual exploitation, and are in safe, stable housing for a minimum of two years afterwards.
An independent social return on investment evaluation of our services was commissioned by the Government of Alberta, Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General. It was conducted from 2009 to 2012 and showed that our services result in a social return on investment of $8.57 for every $1.00 spent by government. These are reflected as savings to the taxpayer in the decreased costs of homelessness; law enforcement responses; inappropriate use of ambulance, emergency medical services, and hospital stays; incarceration; child welfare interventions; and homicide investigations. Clearly, comprehensive services supporting women to exit prostitution are of great benefit, both to the women and to the community.
SAS Calgary applauds the Government of Canada for recognizing the need for such services and for including financial provisions to support survivors of prostitution to exit and create safer lives. We support Bill and the focus on the criminalization and fining of pimps, traffickers, and purchasers or “johns”. We have, all too often, seen the long-term effects of violence and trauma associated with the sex trade, and this legislation is a first and necessary step in deterring those who prey on the vulnerable people in our society. We believe this legislation will require some small adjustments; however, for the first time in Canadian history, women exploited by the sex industry are being viewed with dignity, as people worthy of being given support to exit violent and exploitive situations, rather than as public nuisances.
Since Bill was unveiled, we have been hearing very loudly from the pro-prostitution lobby. We are told that some women choose prostitution as a viable career option, and while this might be true for an extremely small percentage of people, the media has reported extensively on this angle. It is not our intent to debate that point of view today. What we want to ensure is that the voices of experience from survivors of exploitation and prostitution do not get lost in a pro-prostitution debate.
What is vitally important for this committee and for Canadians to remember is that the majority percentage of women and girls are exploited, are forced or coerced into prostitution, and are trapped by violence and threats. Legalization should not be an option. This is not a job.
Evidence shows that there are large numbers of women and girls who would leave prostitution if they had the means to do so. And we know this because we operate one of the most comprehensive exit programs in the country and sometimes we have to turn women, girls, and children away because we don't have the space. In fact, as of this week, we have a waiting list of 14 women, meaning an average of 1 to 2 months before they can get in. Those days could mean the difference between life and death for someone's daughter, their mother, or their sister.
It is also clearly evidenced in the research that focusing the criminalization on sex purchasers and pimps or traffickers helps vulnerable women to exit, and begins to support the public's understanding of prostitution as an issue of gender inequity and violence against women.
We would like to offer one recommendation for an amendment, particularly subsection 213 (1.1) regarding communication offences in relation to the expectation of the presence of children or persons under the age of 18. While SAS supports the legislation's intention to prevent the spread of social norms that treat women as sexual objects and to keep impressionable children somewhat safe from the social harms resulting from prostitution, we believe that prostitutes themselves must be held immune to this provision, understanding that they themselves are victims. We recommend that the bill be amended here to reflect this.
We would suggest that the rigorous enforcement of Bill and heavy fines and punishments put in place to target johns who attempt to purchase or procure a prostitute will offer a strong deterrent in such locations and support the objectives of Bill 's preamble, without criminalizing prostitutes themselves.
We believe this will fortify the legislation against further legal or human rights challenges. It is not a human right to have sex, or to have access to someone else's body for such, but we do each have the right to safety and protection. We know that this will support more vulnerable people in asking for help from police and in seeking to exit from prostitution.
Our experience, from having helped hundreds of women and girls, is that whether a woman was forced or coerced into prostitution as a young girl, or whether she made a decision based on very limited or unreasonable options, violence and trauma are always present factors. And once in prostitution, many girls and women become trapped. As one woman from our program explains, "The only way out of being pimped is either death or being sick with HIV, because if you are HIV positive the bikers, [as well as gangs, and violent “johns”] will kill you themselves". Violence, is violence, is violence. There is no difference inside or outside.
For those who would objectify women and commodify their bodies, Bill sets out real deterrents. The additions to the Criminal Code will give law enforcement and prosecutors the tools they need to protect women and combat organized crime. We should all take pride in this made-in-Canada solution.
I want to thank all of you for joining us today. You are the second-last group of witnesses on Bill . The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is clearly tasked with studying this bill. The committee's approach is often of a very legal nature, and that obviously may appear to be out of touch with your respective realities.
As a lawyer, I have represented shelters for abused women. I can tell you that the situation is not clear-cut, and the shelters don't always have an easy job to do. So we raise our hat high to all those who work in settings where women are exploited, abused and treated with a blatant lack of respect. Many of us work day and night to fight this scourge. We do have a legal job to do here, and so I will focus on that.
We understand the work you have to do. I am somewhat biased in favour of CALACS. I admire the work you do. I may be a bit more familiar with those organizations than other groups here today. I want to thank those groups again for sharing their experiences with us. I also want to thank people from outside Canada. I appreciate other countries' experience, as that can help broaden our horizons. However, our legislative framework may sometimes differ from that of another country. That is the legislative framework we have to work within.
The Outaouais CALACS sent me its brief, which is similar to what you said, Ms. Sarroino.
Can you tell us a bit more about the work you do on a daily basis to fight against sexual assaults? We can see that sexual abuse is often related to conjugal violence. You have unfortunately identified too many cases.
Can you give us an overview of the work you do in your community? Can you explain to us in more depth why section 213 is so harmful if we start from the premise that women are victims of prostitution? In my opinion, this provision is almost a dismissal of the bill. We cannot say one thing while doing the opposite.
Can you tell us more about the nature of the work your group does in various regions? Can you also tell us what the problem is with this bill?
Some people feel this a way to hide. I think section 213 is the source of the problem in this bill. The same goes for the $20 million. I would like to hear a bit more from you on this.
Neither. There is a lot of incest.
With child luring, we are seeing more and more young victims of assault, as well as more and more women who are assaulted after meeting someone on the Internet.
There are some cases related to conjugal violence. There are also some related to prostitution, depending on the region of Quebec.
Our second aspect, which is very important, is prevention and awareness raising. As I mentioned, we reach out to 25,000 to 28,000 high school students a year. I am not sure what the situation in Canada is, but we know that, in Quebec, sexual education courses are no longer available in school, and this really hurts today's young people. We are trying to deal with this lack of sexual education, mainly when it comes to abuse, romantic relationships, and respect or consent in relationships. Those are the topics we address as part of prevention and awareness raising.
We are also involved in advocacy, which is basically what I am doing right now. We talk a lot about all the issues related to sexual violence against women. Our group believes that prostitution is the ultimate act of sexual violence against women. So those are the main ways in which CALACS are involved.
I am very happy to hear about section 213. I have been listening to testimony for days. Regardless of whether we are in favour of sex workers, and whether or not we are religious, both sides agree that this section should be removed from the bill.
The provision is inconsistent with the bill's preamble and its objective, which is to completely decriminalize women because, as we believe, they are victims of their own exploitation. That's very clear. So consistency is lacking. We agree in saying that this will criminalize the most vulnerable women—those who are struggling with substance abuse and who are, disproportionately so, aboriginal women in several regions of Canada.
It is important to be very careful not to further victimize those women, who are already very vulnerable.
Sure. Thanks for your question, Ms. Smith.
I would say that three of the key services that probably need to be offered are the opportunity for immediate exit, long-term sustainable housing, and life-skills programs. When I say life skills, I'm not talking about general life skills. All of our life-skills curricula have been written by women who worked as prostitutes or were involved in sexual exploitation, so when we're talking about budgeting, we're actually looking at it. First, we have a conversation about what is our actual relationship with money. We come at it from a very psycho-educational perspective, and then a skills-based perspective next. So the life skills are extremely important, relationships with others.
It's particularly important for women who are going to go back to school or find a job sometimes have struggled with their relationships. Interestingly, we find in particular that they can struggle with their relationships with other women, mostly because for the majority of their lives, they've been groomed and trained in how to relate very well with men and have not had as much opportunity to relate well to other women. So we really pride ourselves on establishing a sisterhood sort of model, a mutual model, where everything we do is based on mutuality. We don't believe for a second that we are experts in anybody else's lives. They are the experts in their lives, and they tell us what services they need to help heal or to move on, or whatever next step in their life they want to take.
Thirdly, I would say it's extremely important for there to be opportunities for advanced education or employment training for women so they do have alternatives. We know that poverty is a huge underlying contributing factor to prostitution and exploitation. When we can equip women with the skills and the financial resources to do something about that, they become extremely successful and get to actually follow paths and achieve goals that they really have.
We do have our partnership with the police services. We receive funding from various levels of government, from a lot of private donors. Our provincial government helps us out a little bit with some money through civil forfeiture, which is related to crime prevention. That is an opportunity, I think, to leverage the federal dollars as well. Also, our partnership with the municipal government, the City of Calgary, provides us with some opportunity to provide the attachment bonding at work with moms and their children, if they've been separated for a long time. When their children are returned to them, that can create all sorts of new issues and challenges, so our municipal government helps us out that way. We've developed excellent relationships, really, with all of the political parties in Alberta because we're non-partisan, obviously.
So, yes, I think there are a lot of opportunities with this bill, and that's why I love Canada. I'm such a proud Canadian, and I love how innovative Canadians have been around issues like homelessness. Now in Calgary we're looking at ending poverty. As a country, we're talking about prostitution and what works best for women. I really mean it when I say that we need to be proud of this bill and that we can make a real difference for Canadian girls and women.
Thank you very, very much, Mr. Casey.
Actually, we did raise this two years ago when the bill was being debated. I was one of 16 witnesses to the independent committee. We provided documentation about the harmful effects of criminal records. Unfortunately, I think that got tabled.
So we thought it was important to raise it again in our brief to the standing committee to be true to the women, men, and transgendered persons whom we have seen burdened by criminal records.
Again, we've done a little bit of research. I mentioned that in Scotland, it just goes away. There's no process. I think we have made our pardon—well, I know now it's not even a pardon. I think that we've made it very onerous, very expensive, and we still continue to punish people.
We would like to see a whole different approach, again with the intent of this bill, to recognize the vulnerabilities the come from exploitation. We would like to see us go one step further and just expunge those records. They're doing that in the United States. There have been several successful cases.
We actually have run a court diversion program in Edmonton since 2002. The crown has enabled us to invite women to work on their own diversion plan—what they saw as the root causes for why they were being exploited—because many women were being charged under section 213. We then presented that to the crown. The crown would then approve the plan. Then it was our role to walk with women and support them as they accomplished their plan.
We've had very creative crown prosecutors roll up eight charges—including those under section 213, failure to appear, breach of warrants—and wipe those records clean. This was before they became entrenched. But the challenge is that there are many people who have not yet come forward because of the cost of this record suspension, and so they still carry the weight of the criminal record that may date back to the 1990s.
We'd be very happy to send you all of the work we have done and the research that we did prepare for that earlier committee. I think we would do a great thing for people, a great breath of hope, if we would say, “Come in out of the cold, from the discrimination you have experienced, and have that chance for an education, get that public housing you need, go to school if you want to become a social worker, you are part of our community.”
So I thank you so much for raising that question.
Just on that point, before I get to my other questions, some of the largest human trafficking cases in Canada have happened in the Toronto area, both in my area in west Toronto and in Hamilton—the international trafficking of human beings, in a number of cases, for the sex trade industry. So it may not happen everywhere in Canada. There are different experiences in different places, and I think that in areas where you have a large number of new Canadians, where there's a lot of international traffic, that's where you're likely to see that sort of thing. I suspect that the witnesses whom we had before us earlier today talking about Asian women trapped in the industry would probably say that a fair number of Asian women come into Canada as trafficked victims into the sex industry.
I just want to say to each of you that I very much appreciate your being here, bringing all your expertise and experience here, and I say the same thing to all of the witnesses who have appeared before us in every session this week. It's clearly high time that we had a national conversation about this issue. Sometimes things come before Parliament for convoluted reasons and in ways that we can't predict, but three people brought a case before the courts many years ago. It eventually reached the Supreme Court, as we all know, and the Supreme Court rendered a decision, penned by the Chief Justice, and here we all are today discussing this very important thing.
So whether we would have chosen to or not, it's a good thing that we're having this discussion, and whatever we decide, I think the situation going forward in Canada will be better. Chief Justice McLachlin said to the Parliament of Canada, to the 10 members of Parliament you see before you today, and to the other 300-odd who aren't here with us but are watching very closely, and to the members of the Senate, that the regulation of prostitution is a complex and delicate matter. I think from everything you said and everything we've heard that it's clear that's true.
It will be for Parliament, should it choose to do so, to devise a new approach. So we have before us one option. We can choose to go with the option that's before us as drafted. We can choose to make some changes to it. We could choose to do nothing at all, as two of the litigants who brought this case before us asked to do. Yesterday we heard from Ms. Scott and Ms. Lebovitch, and they would like us to do nothing at all, to let the laws that were struck down by the Supreme Court but are to be held in abeyance for the year expiring in December, and to have wide-open, unregulated, unfettered, legalized prostitution in Canada—anytime, anywhere, at the discretion of the purchasers and the sellers.
What do each of you think we should do? Should we choose to do something? Or should we choose to do nothing? Should we choose to criminalize the purchase of sex or not? And if we don't do anything, what do you think will be the state of affairs the next day in Canada and over the next 10 years? Where will we see ourselves in 10 years? We heard earlier in the week from experts on the situation in Europe, and they've told us that in Germany today, where they have wide-open, legalized prostitution, that there are over 400,000 sex workers and that there has been a significant increase in human trafficking, largely into Germany from Eastern Europe, but also from other countries. Conversely, we've heard that in Sweden—this from one of the key drafters of the Swedish model, which is part of what we're looking at today—that the experience has been different there. In Sweden there is less violence, fewer sex workers, less purchasing of sex, and there's less human trafficking.
So, given all of that, I'd like to hear from you on what you think we should do? Should we choose to do something or should we choose to turn our eyes the other way and do nothing at all?
Let's start with you, Ms. Steacy.