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(VIDEO) Peter MacKay testifies at prostitution bill hearing in Ottawa

Hearings began on Monday to ratify a new Canadian prostitution bill, and proceedings started with federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay as its first witness.

The new bill must be in place by this December – 12 months from when Canada's old law was thrown out – and MacKay has said he would consider amendments to the Conservative Party's proposed bill, but that he believes it is adequate, and is in-line with the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"We believe that prostitution is inherently dangerous and exploitative," said MacKay on Monday. "What I believe, is that we shouldn't normalize it. We shouldn't condone it or support it. We should work to help people exit prostitution.

"I believe that we need to minimalize to the greatest extent possible, the inherent dangers of prostitution... We're not attempting to facilitate, enable. We're attempting to reduce."

The following is from the Canadian Press's Mike Blanchfield, in his preview of Monday's proceedings in Ottawa:

The vast list of those testifying includes sex workers, indigenous women, community workers and experts from Europe.

A Justice Department discussion paper summarizes the three international approaches taken towards prostitution.

There's the "Nordic model" of Sweden, Norway and Iceland, which criminalizes clients and third parties but not prostitutes, accompanied by social programs aimed at helping sex workers.

There's the decriminalization or legalization of Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia.

And there's the outright prohibition of both the purchase and sale of sexual services, which is the state of play across the entire United States, with one the notable exception: the state of Nevada.

Canada's proposed law, as it stands now, is closer to the Nordic model, and it would outlaw the buying of sex but not the selling of it.

The New Bill and its Critics

Harper's Conservatives unveiled their proposed bill in June, but there was criticism by some who questioned whether the "Canadian model" was aiming to protect women and sex workers, first and foremost, or whether it was instead primarily focused on penalties and criminalization.

The proposed new bill would target customers and those who profit from the sex trade – pimps, not prostitutes – but critics maintain that would only drive female sellers into darker, more dangerous areas.

"I'm devastated and heartbroken," one woman, a 25-year-old escort, told the Toronto Star. "It's essentially full re-criminalization."

"It will force women into those dark, dangerous industrial areas," SFU professor John Lowman told Black Press's Jeff Nagel in June (link above). "What you're looking at here is a form of state-sponsored institutionalized entrapment.

"Can you think of any other law where it's legal to sell something which is illegal to buy?"

Files/Videos from the Canadian Press...

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