anti-prostitution laws

#EndDemand: Why Bill #C36 is like working at MacDonald’s (if purchasing burgers were criminal)

[Trigger Warning: Violence]

Today was a hard day. I had a day full of classes (okay, not exactly full day of classes more like ended at 2pm and then I had to stick around for a couple of meetings). It was a busy day, nevertheless.

Aside from classes and these meetings, the Department of Justice also released their Bill entitled The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. You can find a direct link in the link provided here but I suggest reading the provided link here first. It is a much easier read.

This Bill works off the premise that it will protect the alleged victims from the alleged pimps, johns, and the big bad traffickers. It also assumes that consensual sex between adults is inherently violent and degrading. It adopts the “End Demand” approach to prostitution as opposed to the harm reduction model (ie/ reducing harms and making it safer for sex workers).

I was thinking today about what this means for sex workers and their families and friends. The Bill doesn’t just target the pimps, johns, and traffickers. It also points to further alienation and isolation from support networks for sex workers (which is really fuckin horrible because the industry was previously alienating and isolating under the old legal regime). I noticed a lot of commentary on this Bill and some interesting analogies on twitter especially from non-sex workers. It got me thinking about another analogy… Why Bill-C36 is like working at MacDonald’s (if purchasing burgers were criminal).

I have never worked at MacDonald’s but that’s okay because many non-sex workers who come up with their own analogies never done sex work either (and I say many because some non-sex workers might have been sex workers in their life at one point). So not having experiencing working in fast food doesn’t negate this analogy because I ate their burgers before too! That’s just like having sex and automatically becoming an expert on sex work!

First things first, the burger that MacDonald’s is selling, the act of buying it is criminalized (amongst many other behaviours associated with selling the burger—like where they can sell it, and how or who they can advertise to sell it). The whole objective of criminalizing the purchasing of burgers is to “end demand” of burgers. Stop your degrading burger cravings from happening again! Not an actual real MacDonald's Burger

Note: Above burger is not an actual real MacDonald’s burger. 

The first way MacDonald’s is like sex work is that not everyone wants to do it. Still, some people have to do it whether they like it or not—they still need to eat. And heck, I hear you get 50% off burgers at McDicks if you work there! Though that part isn’t like sex work because they still have to pay for their burgers at McDicks at full price.

But what if buying burgers at MacDonald’s was criminalized? And I don’t extend this analogy to all products being sold at McDee’s because sometimes people just want a big juicy burger to satisfy their cravings. In the sex trade industry, with this new Bill, it appears that it will just be targeting full service sex workers or sex workers that only advertise sexual services that are criminalized (not all sex work is criminal, like exotic dancing). This is an important point to make because not all sex workers offer the same services and not all services involve sexual services (like oral or full service). So you can equate prostitutes (and I use that term purely as a legal term) to workers at MacDonald’s—BUT only the workers that make the big, juicy burgers (you know, sometimes with all the extra toppings… mmmmm).

So you are craving a MacDonald’s burger, what do you do? On one hand, well, you go out looking for a MacDonald’s. The MacDonald’s doesn’t come looking for you—well okay maybe except those stupid television commercials and flyers that the postman delivers. Except now, the networks that air those commercials and the postmen that are being paid to deliver those flyers, yeah, they are now criminalized too! They are advertising those big juicy burgers and enticing you to buy those burgers! Bad, bad bad! We must stop that so that you stop craving those burgers! *poof* ALL MACDONALD’S ADVERTISEMENTS ON THE TUBE AND IN THE MAIL GONE!

But you know what, you still want that burger…

You then get into your car, knowing that there is a MacDonald’s out there somewhere that is selling that burger. Except now, the one thing about MacDonald’s is that they are never in residential areas (sometimes in smaller cities, no where near a school or a church). Within the context of this Bill, it would be criminal if you found a MacDonald’s in any of those areas (near a school or church) and purchased that burger to help quench your cravings. So instead, what you have to do is drive to the outskirts of town (let’s say) just to get that burger.

On the other hand, sometimes, people don’t crave burgers from MacDonald’s. Some people buy MacDonald’s just because they see it! The Big “M”! Nom nom nom nom nom! And sometimes people buy MacDonald’s just because they are about to drive by one. “Wait, turn! I want some McDee’s!” The availability of it all—the big “M,” the juicy burger… *drool* And actually, research by John Lowman indicates that the industry is not driven by the demand of burgers, it is driven by the supply of the burgers. No really though, John Lowman, a criminologist, has found that the clients of sex workers are not driven by their demand but the supply (or the availability) of services.[1] So whether it is a craving, people are still going to be selling burgers at MacDonald’s and whether it is criminal to sell burgers at MacDonald’s near a school or a church, people are still going to be selling burgers somewhere. And people want to buy burgers for all sorts of different reasons—because they are craving the burger or they see the “M!” for example. And I mean, the fries and the drink that you want to buy that come with the cheeseburger meal, that’s okay to purchase. You just can’t buy those damn burgers!

You drive up into MacDonald’s and you know that the burger you so strongly want to eat (no pun intended), people are going to look down on you for eating it because the policy that says eating it (again no pun intended) is inherently violent and degraded to the person selling it. DON’T EAT MY BURGER THAT I AM SELLING YOU BIG BAD PERSON! Lol

Yet, the person selling the burger knows all of this—they know that the burger they are selling is a criminalized act. In fact, they know that working for their employer, MacDonald’s, and those pictures of the burgers all over the place…that’s criminal too! They know that they shouldn’t have children in the building and they know that anyone under 18 shouldn’t be working there and that anyone who is under 18 (or is believed to be 18) shouldn’t be even near another employee that is under the age of 18 years (that’s criminal too). So, only adults are able to work at MacDonald’s now. You then have to get rid of all the playgrounds and no more Happy Meals! And that darn fuckin burger, you still want it.

You walk into MacDonald’s and you notice that there are no advertisements for burgers—you see fries, salads, chicken nuggets, pop, muffins. But no fuckin burgers! So you quietly ask the employee taking your order, “Do you have any burgers for sale?” The employee doesn’t really know who you are but the employee knows that if they spend too much time talking to you trying to determine if you actually want just a burger or are some sort of predator that is asking for burger but want the whole fuckin menu without paying for it, they could cause some unwanted attention from the Burger Police. And nobody likes the Burger Police. The employee really doesn’t have any time to negotiate how serious your burger cravings are… the burger is sold anyways without even determining a firm price of the burger. The employee brings the order to you, and then tells you the price of your burger. You are upset! You did not expect to pay that much for that burger and now you want your money back. All. Of. It! You threaten the employee that if you don’t give back the money you paid for your entire order (not just the burger), that something terrible will happen to either the employee or at the place of business (MacDonald’s). The employee, out of fear that you will do something terribly bad, gives you back your entire monies that you paid for your order. That, or you just beat the employee and take the money too. Because you know that, with her working for her employer, her employer isn’t supposed to be selling those burgers and that she could lose her job if anybody found out.

After you leave, her employer is upset that you stole money or that you threatened the employee in order to have your money returned to you (even after you ate the burger). So then, her employer forces her to work longer hours and for less than minimum wage.[2] And all of this: working longer hours and being paid less than minimum wage, it is violation of employment and labour codes/rights.

But that’s where this analogy ends.

For people who work at MacDonald’s, they do have access to rights, like the right to be paid minimum wage (because we all know if MacDonald’s could pay their employees less, they probably would), and these employees have recourse if they experience rights violations. Sex workers, when their work is criminalized (either the selling or purchasing of their services), they do not have any recourse for anything—violence, assault, sexual assault, etc. That’s why the decriminalization of sex work is important—it creates access to other rights that other non-sex work individuals have access too like labour and human rights.

I choose MacDonald’s because, in our society, it is a stigmatized job. The argument that the antis always bring up is, “Nobody dreams of becoming a prostitute!” And when I was growing up, I heard similar arguments for MacDonald’s (nobody wants to work at MacDonalds!). But you know what, some people do work at MacDonald’s whether they like it or not. The difference is that they can file complaints to address rights violations. Sex workers can’t … and that is because of criminalization. This will be the case under Bill C-36. It won’t help with accessing services, like health care, any better either. And if you are thinking this analogy is ludicrous, good job! That’s the Bill for you: it’s so ludicrous that it’s downright unbelievable!

Anyways, my final point is this: Instead of having everyone suddenly claiming to be a sex work expert, let’s just all sit back and let actual sex workers be the real experts on the issue. Just because you had sex once, doesn’t make you a sex work expert 😉


[1]Lowman, John, and Chris Atchison. 2006. Men who buy sex: A survey in the greater vancouver regional district*. The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 43, (3) (08): 281-296, (accessed June 4, 2014).

[2]Although I recognize various gender identities work in the trade, I use the pronouns she/her because this Bill was aimed at “protecting vulnerable women and girls.”

Crime Control, Social Order, and Prostitution

Garland’s article entitled, Crime Control and Social Order, presents the arguments the criminal justice system is “part of a larger system of ideological regulation reflecting the sociocultural order of late modernity” which influences crime control policies (p. 297). The crime control policies and practices are then an extension of “criminological, cultural, political, and economical conditions of the social world” (p. 297). He calls these reactionary politics (p. 301). Initiating these reactionary policies to crime is the “insecure character of today’s social and economic relations” (p. 302). Garland posits that there exist new social relations along with a new political culture within the field of crime control (p. 304). He also argues that crime control policies over emphasize the politics of choice and responsibility when controlling for crime (p. 304). Contributing to these new social relations, political culture and crime control policies is the neoliberal state and “widening of the gap between the rich and the poor” (p. 305). Garland’s also states that government policies to crime control views criminals not as disadvantaged but as different (p. 304).

Employing Garland’s theory of crime control and social order presents a contradiction when paralleled with the crime of prostitution.[1] The reasoning to police prostitution is often that prostitutes do not have a choice and that they are victims, as emphasized most recently by Justice Minister Peter MacKay.[2] If all other criminals are allowed to determine the choices they make and are to be held liable for their actions, then the argument follows that they need to be held liable. However, this argument falls short when, as I stated, prostitutes and prostitution are substituted into the argument. If prostitutes are victims and do not choose to enter the trade freely, then they should not be held liable for their choices. Unfortunately, this same argument is utilized to say that policy must criminalize clients of prostitutes. This argument is premised on the assumption that all prostitution is violence against women and that prostitutes are victims. It also states that prostitutes can engage in selling sex but they should not be paid for their sexual services wherein these policies are argued to ultimately prevent exploitation of prostitutes. Further, this argument presents the same inconsistencies of the original argument as it is still holding prostitutes liable for the choices they make–as they are unable to be paid for their services, if they engage in prostitution then they are liable for putting themselves into poverty or into the pathway of violence. One might argue that prostitutes do not make a free choice to enter into the trade. However, the approach that all prostitutes are victims (who don’t make choices) and all prostitution is violence (because who makes that choice to put them in the pathway of violence) further relegates prostitutes to the margins of society and detracts from the real violence that women experience.

Additionally, the government is so obsessed with policing and regulating prostitution and preventing prostitutes from earning an income, but at the same time it is benefitting from the income of prostitutes. Canada Revenue Agency even has an industry code for prostitutes to utilize when filing their taxes. This presents a conundrum: If the government can benefit from the income of prostitutes, why can’t prostitutes benefit from their own income?

The Bedford v. Canada decision outlined inconsistencies within the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC) when it came to the sections policing prostitution. Chief Justice in her decision stated that the objectives (of the laws that were struck down) were to prevent community nuisances and to also prevent prostitutes from exploitation.[3] However, the evidence presented demonstrated that the laws actually contributed to the exploitation of prostitutes. When we return to the argument that all prostitutes are victims and that we need to protect them exploitation, we return to the original objectives of the laws that were struck down. The government runs the risk of re-creating the same unsafe conditions for prostitutes if they base their argument on preventing exploitation of prostitutes by not allowing them to be paid for their sexual services. In fact, the Government increases the risk of violence committed against prostitutes.[4] As was demonstrated by Wally Oppal’s Missing Women Inquiry, Governments and police should prevent rapes or murders of prostitutes.[5]  There are also existing laws within the CCC (human trafficking) whose objectives are to prevent the exploitation or coercion of all individuals in any trade. Are prostitutes really a special class of people that they deserve their own laws whose main objectives are to prevent exploitation? The Government’s approach to prostitution still perceives prostitutes as different—as the Other. There is nothing new to this policy to criminalize the trade, whether it is criminalizing the buyers or sellers of sexual services. While, on one hand, Garland’s argument that the criminal justice system is “part of a larger system of ideological regulation reflecting the sociocultural order of late modernity” which influences crime control policies is correct, on the other hand, when we substitute the crime of prostitution it falls short. In closing, with respect to the social relations and political culture, nothing has changed in response to the policing of prostitutes or prostitution within the context of Canada’s anti-prostitution laws.


[1] Within this post, I utilize the term prostitution/prostitute as a legal term.





“Bedford marks a victory in the struggle against colonialism and colonial structures for Indigenous sex workers. When we begin to understand the history of Canada’s anti-prostitution laws, and the policing of Indigenous bodies and identities, we understand how the construction of these identities and bodies serve to sustain colonialism and all its tools. The criminalization of the sex trade is the criminalization of certain bodies and identities, because we all know that it isn’t white men who get arrested for prostitution related crimes on a daily basis. In the end, decriminalization of the trade is decolonization of the trade, and thus the Bedford v. Canada decision is a step toward decolonization.”

Read more at “Prostitution Laws: Protecting Canada’s Crackers Since 1867”

#BedfordSCC Public Consultation on Prostitution Laws in Canada

The Government of Canada is seeking input from the public regarding the SCC Bedford v. Canada decision (you can read about that here). This consultation process is open from February 17, 2014 until March 17, 2014.

The link includes a short discussion paper (albeit a biased position) along with several questions (HERE).

Chris Bruckert, of POWER, states, “This is a really skewed document…you read it and right away you see which way the government wants to go with the legislation.” (Source)

These questions include:

1. Do you think that purchasing sexual services from an adult should be a criminal offence? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.
2. Do you think that selling sexual services by an adult should be a criminal offence? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.
3. If you support allowing the sale or purchase of sexual services, what limitations should there be, if any, on where or how this can be conducted? Please explain.
4. Do you think that it should be a criminal offence for a person to benefit economically from the prostitution of an adult? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.
5. Are there any other comments you wish to offer to inform the Government’s response to the Bedford decision?
6. Are you are writing on behalf of an organization? If so, please identify the organization and your title or role. Take some time to read this blog by PIVOT.

The #NordicModel and the CPC approach to #BedfordSCC

Awww isn’t this sweet, the cons want to help the hookers… no wait, they want to help women because hookers are a different class of people altogether in their eyes. But for real, this is how the Othering of sex workers that their bed buddy, Sun News, contributes to the violence and whorephobia that they experience. Is it really all that hard to refer to sex workers as sex workers and not prostitutes, prostituted women, or hookers? I get the right to self determination as some sex workers refer to themselves as hookers or prostitutes but only to reclaim the word and sometimes to refer to the history and legality of the word (Source). For real though, sex workers, is it all that hard?

Also, the cons attempts to address the SCC decision is a step in the wrong direction. If you weren’t angered after reading this article, entitled “Conservatives set to replace prostitution laws to help sex workers,” then you probably missed the gaps in their argument to criminalize the buyers or adopt the Nordic Model.

Let’s be honest, the cons aren’t helping sex workers by implementing the Nordic Model. In fact, much of the successes associated with this model have been refuted as myths. A talk that was given Mary Len-Skillbrei (Associate Professor at University of Olso) and Charlotta Holmstrom (Assistant professor at Malmo University) outlines the myths of the Nordic Model. Refuting this model as a myth is based on their research since the nineties and a large comparative study in 2007-2008 in which they “examined how Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden approach prostitution through criminal justice and welfare policies, and reviewed the evidence for how these policies impact Nordic prostitution markets and the people who work in them” (Source).  They found that there were too many differences for there to be a “Shared Nordic Model” which suggests that referring to multiple countries to apply a model to one country is bound to be rife with difficulties. They also found that the success that is similarly praised by the Conservatives and the abolitionists (the antis) “is far more fraught than popular support would suggest” (Source). Even when the antis assume that this will help victims or prevent trafficking, this model actually “produce negative outcomes for people in prostitution” (Source). In fact, it has been cited that policies such as these produce an offshoot of bylaws, regulations, and other policies that negatively affect those involved in the trade. This article actually makes it very clear that when the antis say they only want to help and save women and young girls in the trade, the opposite happens. The authors state, that the other policies that arise because of this model “assume that the women who sell sex are to be punished and blamed for prostitution” (Source). As outlined by the authors, what is even more revealing of the model is how it treats migrant workers.

What is not commonly known when people cite the Nordic Model is the way it treats migrant women. Sweden even has an act that is entitled “Aliens Act” (oh how nice!) that prevents migrant women from selling sex. The authors state the problem with this concisely:

This reveals the limits of the rhetoric of female victimisation, with clients framed as perpetrators: if the seller is foreign, she is to blame, and can be punished with deportation. (Source)

Just exactly how is this model and its subsequent policies supposed to protect those that are “trafficked” if they are being deported? Helloooooo violence!

Then in Norway, the individuals *ahem* the victims that the model is meant to protect actually produce more negative and harmful effects on their lives. The whole basis of decriminalization is to highlight the contradictions with criminalization. The antis attempt to argue that the decriminalization will lead to more victimization and exploitation of those in trade, when in fact, the victimization and exploitation happens due to the Canada’s ambiguous nature of their quasi-criminal state of the trade. As such, the antis then support the criminalization of the buyers (which is essentially the Nordic Model in its simplest terms). However, what the antis fail to acknowledge is that the Nordic Model contributes to increased policing, neighbor and border controls which “stigmatize them and make them more vulnerable” (Source). This the same outcome of Canada’s ambiguous, quasi-criminal laws that police the trade which is supported by numerous reports/documents that are very recently published. For example, in this document entitled “10 reasons to fight decriminalization” outlines how criminalization “fosters violence” of not only women in the trade but also men and trans sex workers. What does that say about us as a society when we ignore a whole class of people and their lived experiences in the trade all in the sake of a moral crusade to police sex and sexual identities? Exactly. Exchanging one criminal law for another criminal law is exactly the same thing as what it was before: CRIMINALIZATION!

Finally, the authors of the article cited throughout this post actually highlight that the most often cited report by the antis describing its success only looks at women who are in contact with social workers and police. So this is not an accurate representation of the effects of the model and clearly suggests that the only way the effects are measured are due to contact with the police. Do you see the contradictions with that argument? No. Then let me spell it out for you: the only way one can receive help and the way in it is measured is the contact that one has with increased policing. Yeahno. Not ideal for migrant, racialized, or indigenized sex workers. In reality, the antis argument for the Nordic Model to protect victims and trafficking victims does the exact opposite.

So when Public Safety Minister Blaney says “the government will find another way to help women because prostitution turns people ‘into real modern slaves.’” What he really means is that the conservatives just wish to further subjugate women to people who are incapable of making the choices for themselves or having agency, similar to the abolitionists approach to the decriminalization/criminalization debate. Also, if all prostitution is slavery, then what does that mean? Conflating prostitution with slavery actually ignores the lived experiences of those who are in experience slavery and ignores the history of the slave trade. While yes some women were sexualized and raped during their lives as slaves, this does not mean that they were prostitutes, and saying that they were/are does an injustice to the key issues: the safety and security of individuals.

And no, Minister Blaney, this is not what many cases of prostitution is all about. What is harmful for women is subjugating them to beings that are incapable of making choices about their lives and their livelihood, and preventing them the safety and security affording to other citizens in Canada. Prostitution doesn’t turn women into human trafficking victims because prostitution isn’t trafficking. Even though prostitution isn’t actually defined in the Criminal Code, it has been defined by case law. This definition includes three main elements: the provision of sexual services, the essentially indiscriminate nature of the act, and the necessity for some form of payment (Source). Yup, the definition of prostitution does not include anything in relation to the definition of human trafficking. While the human trafficking definition refers to prostitution or sexual services, it fails to differentiate itself (human trafficking vs. prostitution) which is problematic in and of itself. These problems are demonstrated when one is actually charged with trafficking in Canada. As it goes, the fact is that human trafficking charges in Canada tend to be reduced to other charges because it doesn’t meet the threshold for trafficking elements. What does this exactly mean? Do we need more strict laws? No. What it means is that by conflating trafficking with prostitution just means that it does nothing for the safety and security of individuals that occupy either side of the argument. Also, by ignoring the voices of sex workers in the trade contributes to the problem that you, Mr. Blaney, are trying to prevent: removing their own identity. It says that sex workers don’t exist and don’t matter in this discussion. When, in reality, they matter because they are the real experts on the trade. Further using sensationalistic words and phrases, or the most extreme cases (like those who are addicted to drugs and also engage in sex work) is problematic, and also despicable.

Ugh. Despicable, Mr. Blaney.

So when the conservatives and the abolitionists argue that they are fighting for gender equality by criminalizing the trade or getting rid of prostitution, what they really mean is they are fighting for gender equality for a particular type of women, and that they are anti-human rights and anti-immigration.