By Élaine Audet & Micheline Carrier

Last year, the Canadian government expressed its intention of revising the legislation dealing with prostitution, in the direction of a total decriminalization not only of prostitutes, but also of customers and pimps. Late 2003, a parliamentary committee was set up for that purpose. Last december, groups favorable to the recognition of prostitution as a “profession” sent a public letter to Prime Minister Paul Martin, pressing him to act in that direction.
As these groups, we refuse that the prostitutes be treated like criminals, that they be harassed and subjected to violence, that they be deprived of care and services, while the persons really responsible, the pimps and the customers, are rarely interfered with by police services. However, contrary to these groups which do not fight against prostitution but want to improve the conditions of “sex work”, we consider that prostitution is not a “profession”. And that to decriminalize prostitution will not put an end to the “stigmatization” of or to the violence against the prostitute. This did not occur in the countries which liberalized their laws on prostitution and we do not see why it would be otherwise in Canada.
Furthermore, the complete decriminalization of prostitution would imply decriminalizing the activities of the customers “prostitutes”, pimps and traffickers. In the countries which made this choice, the pimps, recycled into respectable businessmen, become wealthy in full legality, at the expense of prostitutes renamed as “sex workers”, whom they exploit to the hilt. The search for profits requires the recruitment of an increasingly young and numerous labour, to answer the insatiable needs of the “customers”. It leads to the international trafficking of women for the purposes of prostitution, linking inseparably the fate of the local prostitutes to that of their “imported” colleagues. The recent scandal of visas granted by Immigration Canada to foreign nude dancers, doomed to be integrated into the Canadian prostitution system, is a perfect illustration of this situation. Studies confirm the spectacular increase of the trafficking of women and children in countries which legalized or decriminalized prostitution.
Prostitution is a form of violence, of exploitation and of alienation. It undermines the dignity and the integrity of the individual. It results mainly from sexual oppression and socioeconomic disparities, which strike first at women and children. It seems to us absurd and irresponsible to seek the decriminalization of a system which crushes thousands of human lives, under the pretext that current laws do not bring forth the elimination of prostitution. Since when do laws eliminate crimes like rape or incest? Does that mean that we should decriminalize these acts? Who would dare demand the legalization of slavery or torture, as a way to control their unacceptable consequences?
Decriminalizing prostitution raises important social, ethical, economic and political issues which far exceed immediate individual interests. How can one speak about “consent” and about “choice” when the average age of entry into prostitution is 13, when everyone knows that it is economic and emotional misery which drives more and more women and children to sell their body, as well as the brutal measures of training to which pimps, traffickers and criminalized gangs are subjecting them to? Decriminalization of prostitution cannot constitute a true alternative to the increasing misery of prostitutes.
Decriminalizing prostitution would also result in disastrous effects on the relationship between men and women and on the image of women, by giving the impression that all women can be the object of prostitution. What influence would the fact of granting prostitution the status of a legitimate profession also have on young people? Would prostitution be proposed to them as a career choice or an alternative to unemployment – prostitution for the girls and pimping for the boys? Would it be then necessary to offer a training in this “profession”, as is already done in countries which have decriminalized prostitution? As for us, we refuse this simplistic vision which would result in submitting the body and sexuality to the logic of the market.
In industrial nations such as Canada, more than 90% of prostitutes are under the control of pimps. According to a 2002 report published in Québec by the Conseil du statut de la femme (Council on the status of women), 92% of the female prostitutes would like to leave the underworld of prostitution if they could. “To get out of it”, says the ex-prostitute Agnès Laury, “requires the unwavering will not to return to the street, to get help and to totally sever the ties to the underworld”. In their respective fields of competence, the governments of Canada and Quebec could require from the beneficiaries of grants intended for the defence of the rights of prostitutes the formal commitment to fight against prostitution and to help the prostitutes to leave this environment by providing them with incentives (training, reinsertion, grant, etc.). The different levels of government should also take immediate measures so that women victims of sexual trafficking can be offered the choice between refugee status or the voluntary return to their country of origin.
In 2001, the number of prostitutes in the world is estimated at 40 millions, 75% of them aged between 13 and 25. Every year, about four million new women and children fall victim to the world trafficking for the purpose of prostitution. We urge Canada, based on its values of equality and respect for human rights, to let itself be inspired by the model of Sweden, which succeeded in slowing down the expansion of prostitution without criminalizing the prostitutes.
No important research on prostitution and pornography has been effected since the Fraser report in 1985 , despite the fact that the situation has changed considerably over the last 20 years. We therefore ask the government of Canada, prior to any reform of the criminal code on the subjects of pimping, prostitution and solicitation, to launch a major study on all the consequences of decriminalizing prostitution, notably on the risks of an increase in local trafficking and sexual tourism. Because the policies on prostitution have a structuring effect on society as a whole and, therefore, on our collective future, we ask the government to also lead a vast public consultation on the subject.
The following persons supported this position:
Louky BERSIANIK, writer; Aoua BOCAR LY, sociologist and president-founder of Quebec Network of African Women, Horizon 2015; Pierrette BOUCHARD, researcher and titular of the Chair of Studies on Women’s Conditions, Laval University in Quebec; Thérèse BOUCHARD, specialist of human rights and development; Pascale CAMIRAND, feminist ethician, University of Sherbrooke; Bonnie CAMPBELL, professor, Faculty of Political Science and Law, UQAM; Elaheh CHOKRAÏ, Montreal Iranian Women’s Association; Michel CHOSSUDOVSKY, director of the Research Center on Mondialisation; Nicole CÔTÉ, ceramist-sculptor; Djahan DARDACHTI, physician; Luce DES AULNIERS, anthropologist, titular professor, Department of Communications and Studies on Death, UQAM; Francine DESCARRIES, researcher and professor of sociology, UQAM; Margrit EICHLER, researcher and professor of sociology and studies on equity, University of Toronto; Andrée FERRETTI,writer; Yolande GEADAH, author and researcher; Pierre JASMIN, pianist et professor of music; Amir KHADIR, vice-president of UFP; Hélène LAGACÉ, specialist of equality and equity between men and women, Henri LAMOUREUX, socio-ethician and writer; Georges LEROUX, philosopher; Nima MACHOUF, Montreal Iranian Women’s Association; Diane MATTE, coordinator, World March of Women; Karl PARENT,film maker; Hélène PEDNEAULT,writer; Gabrielle PELLETIER, biologist and president of Quebec’s Networks of Ecologist Groups, Richard POULIN, researcher and sociologist, University of Ottawa; REGROUPMENT OF THE REGION OF QUEBEC WOMEN’S GROUPS, Bruno ROY, writer; Céline SAINT-PIERRE, sociologist, Chair Fernand-Dumont on culture at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS); Nathalie SAINT-PIERRE, consultant; Jean-Claude ST-AMANT, researcher in education, Laval University in Quebec; France THÉORET,writer; Louise VANDELAC, titular professor, Department of sociology, UQAM; Michel VENNE, journalist.
For more information: Sisyphe (link)
You can also act against the decriminalization of prostitution. Here are two ways of doing it:
1. You can copy this letter in a e-mail and send it to the Prime Minister of Canada, M. Paul Martin, to the Minister of Justice and to the Minister responsible for Status of Women Canada at the e-mail addresses below:
Address of the Prime Minister, Mr. Paul Martin
Address of the Minister of Justice, Mr. Irwin Cutler
Address of the: Minister responsible for Status of Women Canada, Ms. Liza Frulla
2. Send a message with your support to this position, your name, the city where you live and your profession. You can gather signatures around you and send them to us. In any case, do not forget to write the city of residence and the profession of each person.
At: Sisyphe’s address (link)
There is no deadline to support this appeal. You can write to the ministers concerned or send us your support at any time.
Thank you to act for a world without prostitution.
New signatures:
AVICE, Mary, personne retraitée, Mandeville, PQ; BARIL, Audrey, étudiante à la maîtrise en philosophie, Université de Sherbrooke, PQ; BARIL, Catherine, traductrice, Sherbrooke, PQ; BEAULIEU, Cécile, PQ; BEAUREGARD, Micheline, adjointe à la titulaire, Chaire d’étude Claire-Bonenfant sur la condition des femmes, Université Laval, Québec, PQ; BLANC, Liliane, écrivaine et historienne, Granby, PQ; BOUCHARD, Brigitte, responsable du Bureau d’accueil, PQ; touristique, Ile-d’Orléans, PQ; BOUCHARD, Jocelyne, préposée à la comptabilité, Rouyn-Noranda, PQ; BOUCHER, France, avocate, directrice de la clinique juridique de l’UQAM, Montréal, PQ; CAMIRAND, Hélène, photographe, Montréal, PQ; CHÉNIER, Stéphanie, psycho-éducatrice, Sheffortd, PQ; DA COSTA, Sylvie, informaticienne, Montréal,PQ; DAIGLE, Louise, coordonnatrice d’un journal communautaire, Sherbrooke, PQ; DECUNG, Lorie, étudiante, Québec, PQ; DORÉ, Louise, enseignante, Jonquière, PQ; DUGUAY, Mélissa, PQ; FONTAINE, Anne-Chantal, traductrice, Sutton, PQ; FORTIN-PELLERIN, Laurence, étudiante, Québec, PQ; GAGNON, Françoise, animatrice de groupes sociaux, Chicoutimi, PQ; GAUDREAULT, Lucille, enseignante, Jonquière, PQ; GRAVEL, Lise, fonctionnaire, Repentigny, PQ; GRENIER, Christine, agente de bureau, Saint-Godefroi, PQ; HUDON, Brigitte, psychologue, Sherbrooke, PQ; JEAN, Rhéa, doctorante en philosophie, Montréal, PQ; JOLIN, Christiane, romancière et adjointe aux juges de la Cour du Québec, Chambre criminelle et pénale, Montréal, PQ; LAMOUREUX, Gisèle, botaniste et écologiste, Montréal, PQ; LAROCHE, Huguette, enseignante à la retraite, Jonquière, PQ; LEGAULT, Georges A., éthicien, Université de Sherbrooke, PQ; LEMIEUX, CÉLINE, professeure de philosophie, PQ; MAJOR, Yolande, répondante diocésaine à la condition des femmes, Sherbrooke, PQ; MALHERBE, Jean-François, directeur de la Chaire d’éthique appliquée, Université de Sherbrooke, PQ; MAYA, Paulina, organisatrice communautaire, Montréal, PQ. MELANÇON, Louise, théologienne, membre de L’Autre Parole, Sherbrooke, PQ; MONASTESSE, Manon, intervenante sociale, Laval, PQ; MORIN, Blanche, directrice de la Maison d’aide et d’hébergement, Pabos (Gaspésie), PQ; MORIN, Denise, comptable, Serbrooke, PQ; NICKNER, Hélène, intervenante sociale, Rouyn-Noranda, PQ; OLGUIN, Luz-Maria, membre de l’UFP, Montréal, PQ; OLLIVIER, Michèle, professeure, PQ; PINARD, Stéphanie, intercenante sociale, Rouyn-Noranda, PQ; ROY BUREAU, Lucille, professeure d’éthique, Université Laval, Québec, PQ; ROY, Guy, assistant-mécanicien, Lévis, PQ; SAINT-PIERRE, Jeannine, Jonquière, PQ; SAVARD, Marie, poète, Montréal, PQ; SIMARD, Danielle, directrice commautaire, Montréal, PQ; ST-AMOUR, Jocelyne, Montréal, PQ; ST-AMOUR, Johanne, homéopathe humaniste, Québec, PQ; THERIAULT, Manon, intervenante sociale, Macamic, PQ; VAN HOOF, Marine, historienne de l’art et critique d’art indépendante, Montréal, Québec, PQ; VANDETTE, Hélène, agente de liaison, à la Maison d’aide et d’hébergement, Pabos (Gaspésie), PQ; VIGER, Raymond, journaliste et intervenant de crise, Montréal, PQ;
Outside Canada
ALBERTINI, Catherine, ingénieure de recherche, Issy-Les-Moulineaux (France); DUROUX, Françoise, professeure, à l’Université de Paris VIII (Etudes féminines), France; LARTET-GEFFARD, Josée, médiatrice culturelle, Bordeaux, France; OROSCO, Jean-Marie, directeur informatique, Paris, France;
Placed on Sisyphe, 2004, December 5th.
Élaine Audet et Micheline Carrier