THE BODY POLITIC
September 1983, No. 96
Anti-soliciting amendment stalled
"Downtown should be a place where a man can take his family, but that's not necessarily the case right now," says Sgt Mike Thompson of the Metro Toronto Police Department.
The cause of the problem, accordiag to police officials, is street solicitation. "Prostitution is a big problem on Yonge Street now (and) where you find prostitutes you'll find other crimes like pimps, drug dealing, robbery and other spin-offs," Thompson told the Toronto Star.
Police officials argue they have no enforceable laws with which to control street solicitation. Prostitution is legal in Canada but the Criminal Code defines soliciting in a public place and keeping a common bawdyhouse as offences. Police claim that a 1978 Supreme Court decision that soliciting must be "pressing and persistent" has made the law impossible to enforce, and that this has caused an increase in prostitution.
Dianne Martin, chairwoman of the legislation committee of the Criminal Lawyer's Association, says the police analysis is "bullshit."
"The police can still convict in soliciting cases," she says. "They have simply decided not to lay charges. The police attitude is, 'We know who is a prostitute. We want to charge them when we want to charge them, whether or not they are pressing and persistent.' They can't do this now.
"A lot of factors have contributed to an increase in prostitution, including the economy and the cops' decision not to lay charges. The change in the law is not the cause."
Toronto Alderman Jack Layton agrees. "Unemployment is by far the main cause of the increase in prostitution," he said.
Layton, whose ward has the largest concentration of street prostitution, believes "nuisance problems will not be solved by throwing prostitutes into jail. Instead, we need more police visibility to promote a sense of security for residents and to prevent nuisances."
The City of Toronto Neighbourhoods Committee held a public meeting June 15 to encourage contributions to city council's discussion of street solicitation. Submissions from several individuals and groups led the committee to recommend to council that it lobby the federal government to remove soliciting from the Criminal Code.
The Toronto Area Caucus of Women and the Law (TACWL), an organization representing over 150 feminist lawyers and law students, argued in a brief to the committee that soliciting should be da criminalized because "any law that marks prostitutes as criminals makes them more dependant on pimps and leaves these women the frequent and unprotected victims of violence and abuse. We believe the answer lies in prosecuting the overt behaviour for what it is, a nuisance and harassment, and by beginning to address social attitudes that denigrate women and economic realities that make prostitution a necessary means of financial support."
The Toronto Elizabeth Fry Society, a group which helps women in conflict with the law, presented a similar position. "To decrease street prostitution," they argued, "requires a far greater commitment than that required to pass regulations. It requires that you find out why so many women are on the streets; why so many young people are leaving what, at least on the surface, appear to be safe homes in the suburbs to barely survive on the downtown streets of Toronto."
Despite the committee's recommendation, city council has urged the federal government to "strengthen the Criminal Code so as to remove the need to prove that solicitation was 'pressing and persistent.'" Other municipalities across the country, including Vancouver, Calgary, Niagara Falls, Halifax and Winnipeg, are also pressuring the federal government to take this course of action.
Vancouver Mayor Michael Harcourt says prostitutes are "taking away the civil liberties of thousands of people to use the streets." Gordon Price, the founder of Vancouver's Concerned Residents of the West End, wants the government to give the police the power to move the prostitutes. "I'm not familiar with any city in the world that tolerates street prostitution in a middle-class area," says Price.
Sally de Quadros, a member of the Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes, disagrees. 'Why should hookers have to work in slums? Why shouldn't they work in the same neighbourhoods where the johns live?" she asks.
Despite the pressure from police, municipal politicians and neighbourhood groups, the federal government has refused to make substantial changes to the soliciting section. Instead, Justice Minister Mark MacGuigan has established a special committee to determine whether there is a consensus in Canada that prostitution should be illegal. The committee, which is also examining the issue of pornography, will report its findings no later that December 31, 1984.
In the meantime, MacGuigan proposed, June 23, amendments to the soliciting section that would make it an offence for customers to solicit prostitutes and would add a "motor vehicle in or on a public place" to the definition of public place. These proposed amendments will not be considered until late fall at the earliest.
Created: December 1, 1996
Last modified: May 1, 2003
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