Rather than essentialize some women as « sex workers » and act as if their rights were to be leveraged against all women’s rights, I think it is worth remembering the alternatives to the pimps and madams’ dream of some pull-out-all-the-stops decriminalizing of the *sex industry*.
Two strong female MPs (Joy Smith and Maria Mourani) have been doing the work of consulting with women’s groups and putting forward such alternatives. Both strongly endorse the Nordic model.
On December 10, 2013, MP Joy Smith said in the House: »Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions with hundreds of signatures, brought to Parliament this morning. The petitioners request that Parliament amend the Criminal Code to decriminalize the selling of sexual services, criminalize the purchasing of sexual services and provide support to those who desire to leave prostitution. »
She outlined her support for the Nordic Model, in a commentary published on Dec. 20 by the Georgia Straight:
As for Maria Mourani, Canada’s linguistic barrier and the disaffection of ROC medias for Quebec may have kept Canadian women in the dark about her tireless advocacy against traffickers and pimps. But this criminologist and feisty feminist has been working with survivors, women’s groups and law enforcement units to write a private member’s bill (http://openparliament.ca/bills/41-2/C-452/) that she presented in the House of Commons on October 16, 2012. Here is my translation of a press release Ms. Mourani published at the time.
Accompanied by several women’s groups, MP Maria Mourani tables a Private Bill on human trafficking and sexual exploitation
Ottawa, 2012-10-16– “The police and prosecutors who are fighting against human trafficking and sexual exploitation need better tools. The bill I am introducing today meets these needs and follows a consultation process I undertook with both police personnel and members of the Barreau du Québec specialized in criminal law, and with organizations advocating in defense of trafficking victims. This bill aims to complete the work begun by my colleague Joy Smith, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St-Paul”, said the Bloc Québécois spokesperson on Justice and Public Safety Issues and Member of Parliament for Ahuntsic, Ms. Maria Mourani.
Representatives of the following women’s organizations – Comité d’action contre la traite humaine interne et internationale (CATHII), Association féminine d’éducation et d’action sociale (AFEAS), Regroupement québécois des centres d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel (RQCALACS), Concertation-Femme and the Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle (CLES) – all came out in support of the draft Bill introduced by MP Maria Mourani to address shortcomings in Section 279 of the Criminal Code with regard to human trafficking.
Consecutive sentencing, reversing the burden of proof and forfeiture
“The offense of human trafficking is often accompanied by the perpetrating of other crimes, that are often violent”, argued MP Mourani. “However, despite incurring several charges linked to a same incident, traffickers get off with short sentences, since these are served concurrently. This bill therefore ensures that any sentence levied for human trafficking will be served consecutive to other sentences linked to the same incident.”
In addition, this bill also reverses the burden of proof against the accused. It will be incumbent on him or her to prove that s/he is not living off the avails of a third party’s exploitation when in the presence of a victim of trafficking victim, first to the police at the time of the investigation, then in court if a trial is held. This will facilitate the work of prosecutors in a context where victims often prove to be fragile and vulnerable witnesses.
Finally, this bill also allows the forfeiture of the criminal proceeds of all persons convicted of these heinous crimes. How can we explain seizing the property of illegal drug traders, but not those of traders in human beings?,” continued the MP from Ahuntsic.
Organizations support Maria Mourani’s Bill
The RQCALACS (Quebecs coalition of rape crisis centres) offers its support to Bloc Québécois MP Maria Mourani’s bill on human trafficking. The logic that placed the full burden of proof on the shoulders of sexual exploitation victims proved a failure in the judicial context. Furthermore, it ignored the reality faced by many women involved in prostitution, that is being manipulated or, worse, threatened by pimps”, explained Rosa Pires, spokeswoman of RCALACS.
“The law proposed by Ms. Mourani is designed to allow law & order forces to pin down sex brokers at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. Its objective is to both impose severe penalties and authorize the forfeiture of properties acquired through human trafficking. AFEAS can only endorse such legislation,” added Céline Duval, provincial president of AFEAS, a federation comprising nearly 10,000 women across Quebec.
Said Ms. Diane Matte, spokeswoman of CLES at the press conference: “Today, we fully support the bill introduced by the member from Ahuntsic, Maria Mourani. We are of the opinion that targeting pimps and the profits of an industry based on exploitation, as this bill proposes to do, will better enhance the protection of women in prostitution and that of victims of sexual trafficking.”
“One of the mandates of Concertation Femme is to raise awareness about violence against women, and our group is also involved in helping victims regain their dignity. Actively opposing violence against women is a priority of our organization, and in this spirit, we urge the adoption of a legislative framework that will better support women. Therefore, the Bill proposed by Ms. Mourani fully accords with our goals, and registers as a measure that would facilitate helping VAW victims and curbing this persistent problem in Canada. This project will also open the door to better awareness-raising and prevention among women and adolescent girls”, offered Maysoun Faouri, president of Concertation-Femme.
The Quebec Association Plaidoyer-Victimes also wished to announce its support for the bill: “Plaidoyer-Victimes endorses the changes proposed by MP Maria Mourani in her bill tabled on October 16, 2012 in the House of Commons. By reversing the onus of proof to place it on the shoulders of suspected traffickers, this project will facilitate the disclosure by victims of sexual abuse situations. We must encourage victims to report their victimization”, argued Arlene Gaudreault, President of the Association, “but it is essential to protect them when they do.”
The Collectif de l’Outaouais contre l’exploitation sexuelle (COCES) and the Diocese of Ottawa for the Status of Women have also extended their support to MP Mourani’s Private Bill.
In favour of a non-partisan approach
“I therefore urge all my colleagues in the House of Commons to support this bill and avoid partisanship in upholding the dignity of all these victims who deserve justice,” concluded Ms. Mourani.
I believe that Ms. Smith and Mourani are women’s best allies in Parliament on this issue and I want to work with them in helping Canada deal better with women’s exploiters and stop criminalizing the women they are prostituting.