Key Tory MP backs prostitution bill, but urges clarity on where sex can’t be sold

New federal prostitution bill rightly targets buyers but should be more precise, MP says

Conservative MP Joy Smith, one of the most prominent voices in Parliament on the issue of reforming Canada’s prostitution laws, says legislation tabled by the government last week needs to spell out exactly where prostitutes could be charged with a crime for selling sex: near schools.

Smith told Maclean’s she “loves” Bill C-36, which was introduced last week by Justice Minister Peter MacKay, especially its emphasis on, for the first time, making it illegal to pay for sex anytime, anywhere—following the so-called “Nordic model” she has long championed, under which buyers of sex, not sellers, are targeted by police.

But the Winnipeg MP is not satisfied with the way the bill still leaves open the possibility that sex trade workers might also being charged with a crime. MacKay’s legislation creates a new offence that makes it illegal for a prostitute to communicate for the purposes of selling sex in a public place where a child might reasonably be expected to be present.

In his news conference to announce Bill C-36 last week, MacKay suggested that police might interpret that prohibition very broadly, listing “malls, schools, recreation centres, even neighbourhoods where children could reasonably be expected.”

In an interview with Cormac MacSweeney for the Maclean’s On the Hill podcast, MacKay later refused to given any examples of locations where prostitutes would not be subject to being arrested and charged. “Look, as minister of justice I’m not going to give people advice where to sell sex,” he said.

But Smith said that while she’s entirely in favour of charging buyers of sex wherever they are caught, she thinks the prostitutes should be susceptible to being charged only if they try to work near a school. “It’s going to be defined in committee,” she said, referring to the House committee that will be studying the bill. “It’s not defined succinctly now. And I think that’s one issue that will be hashed out at committee.”

She suggested the law should be refined by MPs to make prostitutes subject to being arrested and charged mainly if they try to sell sex “in front of schools during daylight.” She added that in her extensive work with groups that try to help prostitutes change their lives, she has never heard of a case of sex being sold that near a school. “In all the years I’ve worked with victims, I’ve never seen that happen,” Smith said.

The complete interview with Smith will be featured on the Maclean’s On the Hill podcast on this website starting Saturday, June 14. Last week’s interview with MacKay can be heard here, starting at the 16:48 point of the podcast.