Debunking the Myths About Canada’s Proposed Prostitution Law

_DSC4179 - Version 2The Harper government’s new prostitution Bill C-36, The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, has polarized stakeholders as evidenced in the ongoing hearings before the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, with no consensus among social service agencies who provide support to prostitutes, among prostitutes themselves, or among legal analysts and lawyers who study the issues.

Those who condemn Bill C-36 and favour full legalization of prostitution in Canada focus their remarks on the following arguments:

1. Prostitutes choose to work in the sex industry and like it.

Because some women have the emotional maturity to choose this work, it does not mean that one should ignore the vast library of research that shows that in the main, prostitution is a survival strategy, a last option, and the very edifice of prostitution is built on the lie that women like it.

A United Nations International Labour Organization report in 1998 found that prostitution was one of the most alienated forms of labour.

2. Bill C-36 will push prostitution further underground.

The empirical evidence from Sweden is that street prostitution was cut in half by the Nordic model as working girls were free to sell their services unimpeded by the law in safer, indoor locations. (See “The Ban Against Purchase of Sexual Services: An Evaluation 1999-2008″ Swedish Government report 2010).

With Bill C-36’s decriminalization of common bawdy houses, women will be free to set up their own indoor situations or go online and advertise their services.

3. Bill C-36 will make prostitutes less safe.

It can’t be sugar-coated. Prostitution is a dangerous way to make a living and making it legal for women to sell sex will not change this. However, research shows that safety issues are present  whether prostitution is legalized or criminalized. If one works as a prostitute, no matter the legal structure, there are very high odds of physical and sexual violence as well as long-lasting trauma.(See `Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”,Dr. Farley et al)

4. Bill C-36 is a conservative moral crusade

Governments throughout Europe are adopting laws that embrace the Nordic Model, including socialist (Sweden and France) and progressive governments (Iceland, where the sex industry has virtually been shut down, on account of a large number of women in elected office). The twelve-year legalization experiment in Holland and Australia has been a debacle. Prostitution has increased, trafficking of foreign  sex workers has increased, and pimps are now cast as legitimate businessmen. Women and girls work underground rather than registering and paying tax.(See “Legalizing Prostitution is Not the Answer”, Drs. Mary Sullivan ad Sheila Jeffreys 2001 http://www.catwinternational.org)

If one considers equality for women a moral issue, then yes, it is a moral issue.

5. Bill C-36 will be struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The proposed law is a radical departure from its predecessor. Under the Criminal Code, prostitution was legal. Under Bill C-36 it is illegal for men to purchase sex. The law is no longer directed at activities that surround prostitution, such as soliciting  sex on a street corner or operating a common bawdy house. The new law calls a spade a spade. Prostitution hurts and exploits women and children.

Bill C-36 treats women as the victims they are, they will not face criminal  sanctions unless they ply their trade in the immediate vicinity of school grounds, playgrounds, or daycare centres. All easily avoidable.

The current legislation was struck down because the connection between the effect of the law and the object of the law i.e. public nuisance, was illusory. It was taking a legal sledge hammer to maintain public order arising from a legal activity. It was grossly disproportionate. Bill C-36 clearly sets out its goal: the illegality of the purchase of sex and the abolition of prostitution.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

A Snake in a Suit

10950859361151CDPNew Jersey lawyer Paul Bergrin spent five years working for the “good guys” as a prosecutor in Newark, New Jersey. That is one of the reasons his slide into the ranks of the worst criminals is so astounding.

Bergrin then took up a career as a criminal defence lawyer and was hailed as an aggressive and brash advocate who acted for gang members and drug dealers. His clients also included Oscar-nominated actress/singer Queen Latifah and rapper L’il Kim.

Bergrin gained a reputation as someone who would do whatever it took to get a client acquitted. His reputation first took a hit when he was arrested for running a brothel called NY Confidential whose owner, his former client Jason Itzler, had been incarcerated for money laundering, among other offences.

This brothel gained notoriety with the revelation that New York attorney-general Eliot Spitzer was a frequent flyer of their $1,000.00 per hour services.

If felony charges had been pursued Mr. Bergrin could have served as many as 25 years in prison, however, the matter was heard as a misdemeanor and he received three years probation and a $50,000.00 fine.

But his troubles were far from over. In 2009 Bergrin was charged with conspiracy to murder, witness intimidation and faced RICO charges for racketeering and belonging to a criminal organization. RICO legislation was originally enacted in the US to cripple the Mafia. The RICO charges were later dismissed by a trial judge, but reinstated once the Court of Appeal had its say.

Bergrin’s alleged defence tactics were far from the norm and included the provision of sexual services, courtesy of his brothel, to influence jail guards, police officers and informants. Even more unusual was the sudden death of persons who were witnesses in cases where he was defending the accused.

It was discovered that in eight Superior Court cases, witnesses were murdered or paid to give false evidence. One case involved the slaying of a FBI informant and in another, Bergrin hired a hit man to take out a witness against his client. With one dead witness, the only other witness recanted and Bergrin’s client walked away from capital murder charges.

When Bergrin attempted to get bail the State played tapes of conversations that Bergrin had with the alleged hit man, an undercover officer. He was denied bail.

Life has changed for Paul Bergrin. He was in solitary confinement for six months and remains in jail awaiting his trial. He no longer wears the stylish suits he was known for and I am sure he misses his beachside home.

Truly, a snake in a suit.

UPDATE:

On March 18, 2013, a jury convicted attorney Bergrin of all 23 counts on which he was tried, including conspiracy to murder a witness and other racketeering, cocaine and prostitution offenses.

The U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Paul J. Fishman, announced the verdict saying: “Bergrin’s conduct was a stunning violation of his role as an officer of the court and a betrayal of his roots as a member of law enforcement. Today, the jury returned the verdict compelled by the evidence and imposed the justice he deserved. We take no joy from his tragic fall, but I am extremely proud of the work done by those in my office and agents from the FBI, IRS and DEA that led to this just result.”

Bergrin received a life sentence on Sept. 23, 2013.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Why I Support Canada’s Proposed New Law on Prostitution

BarristerOn Tuesday I will make submissions to the House of Commons Justice Committee on Canada’s new prostitution laws, which passed second reading several weeks ago, and will surely become the law of the land, perhaps with some amendments.

As many of you know, I was counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in Attorney General v. Bedford and one of the few voices in the Supreme Court of Canada that urged that prostitution not be legalized.

Of course, we all know that the law criminalizing activities related to prostitution was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada last December, thus opening the door for our federal government to create new law, taking into account the necessity for it to pass constitutional muster.

The new law does just that. It decriminalizes prostitution for the women and girls that trade in sexual services, but makes it illegal to purchase sex in Canada, thus targeting customers (johns) and those who seek to exploit (pimps) the mostly female, often aboriginal victims of the sex trade. It permits the selling of sexual services so long as it is not conducted in the vicinity of children 18 or under. It also forbids the advertisement of sexual services.

The basis of my objections to the legalization of prostitution is founded on one of Canada’s underlying principles, that respect for the human dignity of each person is foundational to our society, a dignity whose inherent value was confirmed by our highest court in the Rodriguez case (euthanasia) and finds expression in the 1949 United Nations Protocol on the trafficking of humans, a convention signed by Canada which provides:

“Prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of a person and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community.”

The view that prostitution subordinates and victimizes women and girls is not particularly popular, but I have seen it first hand when I lived on Granville Street in the early 1970’s and in Vancouver’s west end in the 80’s. The image of a “happy hooker” is a Madison Avenue gimmick that has no basis in reality.

When my husband, Doug, ran the Vancouver Vice Squad, I saw again the squalor and exploitation of young, addicted woman, both tragic and poignant.

To those who say that legalization is the only answer, one only has to look at those countries who have based their social policy on sex work as a legitimate job with benefits paid and tax collected.

Perhaps the best example that the harms inherent in prostitution are not alleviated by legalization is the State of Victoria in Australia where prostitution was legalized in the 1990’s.

It was said that legalizing sex work would assist in eradicating the criminal element, guard against unregulated expansion, and combat violence against prostitutes.

How wrong they were…violence was not eliminated, street prostitution was not curtailed as they naively expected, working conditions were no safer than before, prostitution escalated and turning sex work into a legitimate business opportunity for women and girls did not dignify or professionalize prostitutes.

Instead there occurred massive expansion, particularly in the illegal sector with unlicensed brothels. Women were not empowered to become self- sufficient entrepreneurs, as they could not compete with the businessmen who took over the brothel business. Street prostitution was not eliminated as street workers had a host of social problems including addictions, mental illness, and an inability to be hired by legal brothels because of their lifestyles.

Canada’s new prostitution bill addresses many of the safety concerns identified by the Supreme Court of Canada, but more than that, the tenor of the law does not accede to the notion that prostitution is acceptable and legitimate in a free and democratic society.

In my view, prostitution not only harms the women and girls involved but also undermines the social fabric of Canada. It is too easy not to try to provide a way out for our mothers, sisters and aunts who are trapped in this degrading practice. It is a basic issue of human rights.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Prostitution in Canada: You Can’t Talk About It, But You Can Do It

When buying and selling sex in Canada is legal, how do you decide what parts of Canada’s Criminal Code criminalizing prostitution-related activities are unconstitutional and deserving of abolition?

You look at today’s decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal in Canada v. Bedford 2012 ONCA 186 and recognize that while you still cannot communicate in public or in a motor vehicle to discuss the sale of sex, you can sell sex, just like before, without fear of arrest, and in twelve months you can legally offer sexual services from your own bedroom, without being charged for running or occupying a “common bawdy-house”.

So, what is a “common bawdy-house”? The words are used interchangeably with “brothel” and connote vulgarity, indecency, and debauchery. The Ontario Court did not strike down the law on keeping or occupying a common bawdy-house, rather they deleted the word “prostitution” from the definition section which now reads:

“a common bawdy-house is a place kept or occupied for the purpose of prostitution or the practice of acts of indecency”.

With one stroke of a judicial pen, sex workers can soon legally offer their services from their home, an option that was otherwise unavailable to them. Without this change in the law, sex workers can only work the streets or meet their “dates” in a hotel or a client’s home.

The crime of keeping or occupying a common bawdy-house was legislated to combat neighbourhood disruption or disorder and safeguard public health and safety, however, the Court today ruled that the safety of working girls is more important than maintaining a quiet neighbourhood, recognizing the extreme risks of harm that befall street sex trade workers.

The Court also held that the law against “living off the avails of prostitution”, while intended to target pimps, was inadvertently outlawing reasonable services required by prostitutes including drivers, spotters, and bodyguards. Thus, the Court inserted language into the Criminal Code that only bars commercial relationships between prostitutes and their service providers where the relationship is conducted “in circumstances of exploitation”.

The decriminalization of these Criminal Code provisions raise difficult issues that fall along ideological lines. Prime Minister Harper is on record as saying that prostitution is bad for society and harmful to communities. .

Meanwhile liberal factions believe the Court’s tinkering with the law does not go nearly far enough. They seek complete decriminalization of prostitution laws as modeled by the Netherlands experience.

For Canadians, the jury is out until the Supreme Court of Canada rules on the issue or the Harper government takes a stab at enacting laws that maintain the illegality of prostitution-related offences without offending the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the protection of life, liberty and security of the person.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang