Groups differ on criminalizing sex trade
Former brothel manager Tania Fiolleau now runs a website designed to help sex workers escape the life. She thinks prostitution laws should be decriminalized for sex workers, but remain illegal for customers and pimps, photographed in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday June 13, 2013. (CARMINE MARINELLI / 24 HOURS)
Vancouver-area groups shared their vision for the country’s prostitution laws before the Supreme Court of Canada Thursday, with little agreement on what should be criminalized.
Suzanne Jay of the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution was in Ottawa when the court heard arguments on whether to uphold key sections of Canada's prostitution laws. Last year, Ontario's Court of Appeal struck down part of the Criminal Code that outlaws "bawdy houses." That ruling effectively legalized brothels.
Jay said the coalition — one of more than 20 groups granted intervener status — argues for what is called the “Nordic model” where prostitution is decriminalized for sex-trade workers, but illegal when applied to johns and pimps.
“Don’t punish them as though they’re the same as the men,” Jay said. “You are punishing them for their inequality.”
The coalition wants police to bust more Vancouver-area massage parlours, which Jay said “sexualizes racism” and exploits Asian women through such threats as having their immigration papers withheld.
“The ads for these places entrench this idea that Asian women are for sale.”
Jay said legalizing brothels would make a bad situation even worse because there is already a large network of massage parlours fronting prostitution. Many are run by organized crime.
“They’re not getting busted enough,” she said. “They’re not getting investigated enough. If you remove the laws entirely then that just means they can advertise more blatantly. They don’t have to be as discreet as they are now.”
Speaking from Ottawa, Kerry Porth of the Pivot Legal Society said Nordic model didn’t work and that all prostitution laws should be struck down because even arresting johns hurts sex-trade workers.
“I don’t know how taking away a woman’s means of earning a living is helpful to her.”
Porth said people fear what they don’t understand.
“If sex work is decriminalized we can be a lot more open in talking about the reality of what sex work is,” she said. “Just because (Criminal Code section) 213 disappears you are not going to have a sex worker standing on your front lawn.”
Such a stance rankles Tania Fiolleau, a former madam who ran four brothels, but who now operates the savethewomen.ca website. She wants being a john or a pimp to remain illegal, stiffer penalties, and more resources to help women escape the life.
“This push to legalize it all gives the women a false sense of empowerment,” Fiolleau said. “(Being a sex worker) chips away at their soul. They become the walking dead.”
Legalizing brothels, she argues, won’t get rid of dangerous pimps because they will simply act as “bodyguards or drivers.” The goal, she said, should be getting women out of prostitution, not “pretending they are empowered.”
“In my opinion it’s paid rape,” she said. “Women are not consenting in their heart.”