Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Feds seek input on hookers

OTTAWA—The Conservative government wants to hear from the public about how to rewrite the prostitution laws that were struck down by the Supreme Court late last year.
A month-long online consultation period on the Justice Canada website began yesterday and runs to March 17.

“Our government is concerned about the significant harms that flow from prostitution to communities, those engaged in prostitution, and other vulnerable persons,” Justice minister Peter MacKay said in a release.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” he stressed.
“We are, therefore, asking Canadians right across the country to provide their input through an online consultation to ensure a legislative response to prostitution that reflects our country’s values.”
In a Dec. 20 ruling, the high court unanimously struck down laws against street soliciting, living on the avails of prostitution, and keeping a brothel.
The Supreme Court ruled the laws endangered sex workers and were violations of the constitutional guarantee to life, liberty, and security of the person.
It gave the government one year to come up with new legislation before the current Criminal Code provisions lapse.
In the meantime, however, several provinces say they will not prosecute prostitution-related offences and that, in some cases, existing charges are being thrown out, drawing the ire of the federal justice minister.
NDP justice critic Francoise Boivin expressed deep skepticism of the government’s track record on public input.
“You’ve got a minister that’s almost announced the law that he’s going to present,” she said in an interview.
“He didn’t leave much room for changing his mind, but we’ll see.”
MacKay said earlier this month that the government already had started drafting new prostitution legislation, and planned to consult police and provincial governments.
Adding online public input to the mix is not unprecedented for the Conservative government, although it tends to pick its spots.
The government held consultations on a new victims’ bill of rights last year. In that case, the public comment period ran for almost five months, from May 1-Sept. 27.
The Department of Justice also consulted the public in 2010 on drunk-driving laws and family law reforms while a 2008 effort to harmonize federal law with Quebec civil law also was opened to public input.
“I think it makes perfect sense,” Liberal justice critic Sean Casey said of the consultations on prostitution law.
“They have a year to do this and to get it right,” he noted.
“There’s a better chance of getting it right if they listen to the public.”

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