Author examines what works and what doesn't internationally, and offers a plan
for Canada to amend its laws following Supreme Court decision

Ottawa, January 27, 2014 - Canada's Parliament has only one year to amend its laws surrounding prostitution after the Supreme Court found on Dec. 20, 2013, that they infringe on Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Otherwise we will face de facto legalized prostitution. But in a major paper released today by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, Benjamin Perrin, a leading legal expert on human trafficking, offers a road map to what should be Canada's goal: Getting women out of prostitution.

In the paper, titled Oldest Profession or Oldest Oppression?: Addressing Prostitution after the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in Canada v. Bedford, Perrin writes that "Prostitution in Canada is devastating in its impacts on the most vulnerable". He quotes one victim of child prostitution, who began being sold for sex at the age of 12 in Vancouver: "Abuse was all I knew. I felt I deserved it and that it would always happen so I might as well get paid for it".

But simply striking down Canada's prostitution laws is not the answer. Perrin writes that "the reason that decriminalizing/legalizing prostitution is ineffective in achieving its lofty goals of a regulated business like any other is that prostitution itself is inherently harmful". He surveys the evidence in jurisdictions such as the Netherlands and Germany and finds that street-prostitution continues to thrive and conditions in brothels have not improved. Perrin concludes that "exiting prostitution is the only way to truly protect prostitutes".

With that outcome in mind, the starting point for overhauling Canada's prostitution laws should consist of the following key components, inspired by an abolitionist model developed successfully by Sweden and since adopted by other countries:

  • First, going forward, Canada's objective should be to abolish prostitution. Its harms are inherent and cannot simply be regulated away.
  • Second, prostitutes themselves should not be criminalized, but given support to help them exit. In most provinces, the intensive assistance required is sorely lacking.
  • Finally, our criminal laws and enforcement should instead target pimps, traffickers, and johns with enhanced penalties – they are the perpetrators responsible for the harms of prostitution. "Prostitution would not exist without men who are willing to pay for sex acts", writes Perrin.

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Benjamin Perrin is a leading legal expert on issues such as prostitution and human trafficking. He is an Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, Faculty of Law, and a Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. He previously served as Special Advisor, Legal Affairs & Policy in the Office of the Prime Minister and was a Law Clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada. Perrin is the author of Invisible Chains: Canada's Underground World of Human Trafficking (Penguin, 2011) and co-editor of Human Trafficking: Exploring the International Nature, Concerns, and Complexities (CRC Press, 2012). He is also the author of the previous MLI publication, Migrant Smuggling: Canada's Response to a Global Criminal Enterprise.

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute is the only non-partisan, independent national public policy think tank in Ottawa focusing on the full range of issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

For more information, please contact David Watson, managing editor and communications director, at 613-482-8327 x. 103 or email at david.watson@macdonaldlaurier.ca. On Twitter @MLInstitute