Sault Ste. Marie Police: New Prostitution Law And Business As Usual

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This past May the Sault Ste. Marie Police opened the doors to the Neighbourhood Resource Centre (NRC) on Gore Street. The police storefront was established to address crime in the downtown core and to reinstate a sense of safety in the area- or at the very least to send a message that residents will not tolerate the thug culture that has permeated the neighbourhood.

Over the past months the NRC has brought together myriad agencies and people living in the downtown, to work towards a reclaimed and healthier neighbourhood. An often forgotten population included among this group are sex trade workers.

SSM Police officers located at NRC have been assisting grassroots organizations and health/service providers to connect to prostitutes for the purposes of harm reduction support. Developing trust between sex trade workers and service providers is the first priority that must be established otherwise outreach efforts amount to empty gestures.

There has been some apprehension among those offering outreach to sex trade workers that should Bill C-36 become law, the tenuous relationships that have begun developing between service providers and women entrenched in the sex trade will dissolve.

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Despite the concern raised by current and former sex trade workers and agencies providing direct support to sex trade workers, Bill C-36 passed the third reading in Senate on Tuesday. After the formality of Royal Assent is granted the bill will become law. Bill C-36 aims to restrict and discourage sex trade activities.

In part Bill C-36:

  • Criminalizes the buying of sex. Penalties include cash fines to jail time.
  • Prohibits prostitutes from discussing the sale of sex in certain areas.
  • Makes it illegal for a person to receive material benefit from prostitution by anyone other than themselves i.e.- only the prostitute could benefit. This excludes those who have a legitimate legal living arrangement with the individual.
  • Criminalizes the advertisement of prostitution. Media platforms that ‘knowingly advertise an offer to provide sexual services for consideration or money’ may be persecuted. However, prostitutes themselves may advertise their own services but the media platform could face prosecution should it knowingly advertise that sexual service.

Those opposing Bill C-36 have stated that this law increases the risk of violence against women. It has been repeated over and over again that such legislation would drive women further into isolation and remove them from the purview of society. It has also been oft expressed that keeping women safe from violence requires addressing the root causes of prostitution such as: supporting women and children out of poverty, creating safe and affordable housing, removing stigma associated with mental health and addiction issues and increasing opportunities for education and employment- to name a few.

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Short of divine intervention, Bill C-36 will receive Royal Assent- probably before Christmas. Sault Ste. Marie Deputy Chief, Art Pluss, anticipates that there may be need for some discussion with NRC partners regarding how to proceed with outreach to sex trade workers.

“We get paid to enforce the rules. We won’t question the law. That being said we realize that there is much more to this than just the strict letter of the law. We are a sensitive police service- we realize that laws alone will not remedy, in this circumstance, the welfare of primarily women who are in the sex trade. Whether by choice or not by choice they are there.”

The Deputy Chief asserted that outreach will continue.

“The good work happening out of the resource centre, as long as I hold a command position with the Sault Ste. Marie Police Services, will not end. We’ll enforce and respect the law and at the same time running parallel to that and maybe even a little ahead of it, the good work that has begun here will carry on.”

Constable Darin Rossetto is the NRC ‘house officer’. He has become the familiar face downtown assisting people that come into the centre by connecting them to appropriate community resources, listening to concerns and on occasion delivers helpful supplies to folks in need. Having seen it in action, Constable Rossetto believes that continuing outreach is vital.

“I think it is safe to say that harm reduction is a sign of success. We want to increase trust and communication and work together to provide strategies where in the event that sex trade workers want out of that situation we are able to help. In addition to actual harm reduction items the component to educate is also very important.”

Deputy Chief Pluss added, “It’s happening. We can’t as a progressive society turn a blind eye to it. It’s going to happen- let’s make it safer at least.”

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Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that ‘everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justices. Critics of Bill C-36 assert that the legislation is a violation of section 7 of the Charter making it vulnerable to yet another challenge.

Those who originally challenged the Charter have promised to launch another legal fight when the bill receives Royal Assent.

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