Buying sex in Canada

Prostitution has been a hot topic for Canadians since the Bedford v. Canada legal challenge to Canada’s prostitution laws in 2012. The case is currently on appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada and has spurred two vastly different documentaries on the subject.

Valerie Scott in Buying Sex

In Canada prostitution is legal — for the most part. The activities surrounding the sale of sexual services, such as communication to make said exchange, brothels and procuring, are in fact illegal.The way these conflicting laws work essentially necessitates that sex workers conduct business in secret and without any form of protection or security.

This is why the Bedford v. Canada legal challenge began, with applicants Terri-Jean Bedgord, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott arguing that the current prostitution laws were unconstitutional. In 2012, the Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled that some, but not all, of the laws related to prostitution violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The case is currently on appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, which heard the case just two days ago, on Thursday, June 13.

The case has caused incredible rifts between feminists and women’s groups as many argue and debate the need for legalization of all aspects of prostitution and sex workers, in order to gain protection — while others argue that the sex industry victimizes and abuses young women. These heavy and varied discussions have also spurred the creation of two documentaries which may shed some light on the subject.

French director Jean-Claude Lord’s film Les Criminelles offers a window into the lives of women who work in the industry. The film gives sex workers (specifically in Quebec) a voice — making it lack objectivity entirely. He grazes the opinions of other parties, only to return to his purpose of attempting to normalize this line of work and demonstrate that these women could be your next door neighbour, and that they’e not criminals.

My major concern with Lord’s film is that it doesn’t offer a full picture, but a single opinion on this complex issue. Not to mention that the beginning of the film is somewhat clumsy as he discusses nudists and strippers which I believe aren’t really at the heart of this issue (especially nudists!). He’s also very involved with the film, appearing in practically every shot and addressing the audience at intervals from his editing suite — this adds to the overall lack of objectivity. It’s interesting to watch in order to explore that one perspective, but it doesn’t really give you the ability to reach an educated opinion.

The National Film Board of Canada’s Buying Sex explores this issue in an entirely different way. Directors Teresa McInnes and Kent Nason speak to people involved in all sides of this complex debate and allow every voice to be heard. From lawyers, male buyers, sex workers and opposers, the film has indeed covered all its bases. Most importantly they travel to New Zealand, where prostitution is legal, and Sweden, where it is illegal, to discuss the realities that come along with these laws and how they function in practice.

Buying Sex allows you to develop an informed opinion and to be critical when thinking about the potential changes to these laws, and what that actually could mean for Canada.■

Les Criminelles is available for free online here and Buying Sex is available for rental via the NFB website for $0.99 from June 14–21

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