OTTAWA – After only five hours of debate, the federal government's prostitution bill passed a June 16 second reading vote by 139 to 117, with no support from the New Democratic, Liberal or Green parties.
"For the first time in Canadian history, Bill C-36 will amend the Criminal Code and shift the burden of criminality from the sellers to the buyers," MP Joy Smith said in a statement.
"Johns arrested for purchasing or attempting to purchase sex will face stiff fines and/or jail time."
Smith, an expert on human trafficking and a leading promoter of the bill, said it has won support from survivors and frontline agencies for its "made in Canada" approach.
The bill targets pimps and johns rather than vulnerable women and youth, she said. It also "encourages the exit from prostitution and reflects the exploitation inherent in prostitution."
In her June 12 speech during debate on the bill, Smith blasted media for telling Canadians "prostitution is a legitimate occupation for women and that it is entirely separate from sex trafficking and exploitation."
"This is a lie," she said. "Prostitution exploits women, youth and vulnerable populations.
"It escalates gender inequalities by turning women's bodies into a commodity to be bought, sold, rented and exploited by men. In short, prostitution provides an avenue for abuse and violence."
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will review the bill before it comes back to the House of Commons for third reading in the fall.
In her speech, Smith stressed the clear link between human trafficking and prostitution.
"It has been appalling to hear from pro-legalization lobbyists over the past weeks that criminalizing the demand would make things more unsafe for women in prostitution and that it would have devastating consequences," she said.
"This argument is absolutely absurd."
"One study that interviewed 100 prostitutes in Vancouver found that violence is the norm for women in prostitution," she said. "Sexual harassment, verbal abuse, stalking, rape, battering and torture are the points on a continuum of violence, all of which occur regularly in prostitution."
"This violence is perpetrated by johns and pimps," she said.
She called for a different outlook. "Canada's approach must recognize that prostitution itself, not just violence, is a form of violence," she said.
Smith outlined the problems faced by the countries that have legalized or decriminalized prostitution – ranging from increased human trafficking to more violence against women.
Opposition parties expressed dismay at the time allocation imposed on the debate, arguing the vote was rushed.
But Justice Minister Peter MacKay defended the decision, noting the importance of having a new law in place by December.
When the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the existing law on prostitution as unconstitutional last December, it said that law would remain in effect for only one year.
On June 12, during debate on the bill, NDP Justice Critic Francoise Boivin pointed out the Criminal Code already prohibits exploitation of minors and human trafficking.
Other Opposition MPs criticized the bill for inadequately addressing the safety concerns of prostitutes.