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Breakthrough in Canada

“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle–victorious.” – Vince Lombardi

The fight against sex trafficking is a global war that must be fought one battle at a time. While the battle rages on in many parts of the world, recent events in Canada are cause for celebration. We can take an important moment to collectively pause and bask in the sweet joy of victory. The fight for stronger laws aimed at reducing the demand for commercial sex in Canada has been won!

Exodus Cry had the honor of joining hands with other dedicated abolitionists across Canada in an unceasing fight to change the country’s laws. We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to have played a role in this great victory. Through countrywide public screenings of Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, followed by a special government screening and presentation at the Canadian National Parliament in Ottawa, the dangers of the commercial sex industry were brought to light. The special screening was hosted by Member of Parliament (MP) Joy Smith, one of the most prominent advocates for the plight of trafficked women and girls in all of Canada. Because of Mrs. Smith’s tireless efforts, she has affectionately been called Canada’s William Wilberforce. It was truly a privilege for us to partner with her. Mrs. Smith recently wrote a letter to Exodus Cry Founder/CEO Benjamin Nolot reflecting on the years leading up to her nation’s historic victory:

As a Canadian Member of Parliament who has worked for over a decade to combat modern day slavery in Canada, I want to take this opportunity to personally thank you for your relentless efforts to effect change. Over the years I have appreciated your work to launch Exodus Cry and produce Nefarious. Over the past few years, Canadians have been wrestling with our prostitution laws. Your film was very helpful in revealing the dangers of legalizing prostitution…In 2012, I was honoured to host a screening of Nefarious on Parliament Hill for Senators and Members of Parliament. Now, as of last December, Canada has adopted an approach similar to Sweden and Norway. This message is one that must continue to be shared in every country. Keep up the great work!

As we have said many times, one of the most important tools for the prevention and elimination of sex trafficking is the law of the land. The law can either enable trafficking to flourish or it can be a powerful force in prevention. It is for this reason that a worldwide battle for better laws designed to fight trafficking and sex slavery is so critical.

The struggle in Canada came to a head in 2009 when Terri-Jean Bedford, a formerly prostituted woman turned brothel owner, was charged and convicted for operating a brothel. After being faced with this conviction, Bedford decided to challenge the constitutionality of Canada’s laws on prostitution. The laws at the time legally allowed the purchase and sale of sex but attempted to hinder the sex trade by placing prohibitions on acts such as advertising and communicating for the purpose of prostitution, pimping, and operating brothels. At the time that Bedford challenged the constitutionality of the Canadian law, she was a self-proclaimed commercial dominatrix who operated a Sadomasochistic dungeon in Ontario called Madame de Sade’s House of Erotica, nicknamed the “Bondage Bungalow” by the press. Bedford was joined in her challenge by Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott, both staunch advocates for the decriminalization of prostitution in Canada.

Between 2009 and 2012, a variety of rulings and appeals regarding this case were issued. Ultimately, the criminal code was amended to allow for legalized pimping. It was then that the case went to the Canadian Supreme Court. And Exodus Cry was there—alongside other organizations, churches, and leaders in abolition—to take a stand for an end to legalized pimping and to promote better laws aimed at the prevention of trafficking and sex slavery.

In 2012, Exodus Cry began hosting screenings of Nefarious to raise awareness about the tragic implications of trafficking and exploitation. Our goals included inspiring people to raise their voices against the pending changes and to call on the government to adopt the Nordic Model of legislation, a human rights approach that criminalizes the demand for commercial sex. It was at this time that we had the honor of joining forces with Mrs. Smith, who hosted the government screening in Ottawa.

Despite the ongoing efforts of advocacy organizations throughout the country, in December 2013 the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s remaining prostitution laws. This decision essentially legalized both brothels and pimping, putting vulnerable and trafficked women in even more danger. The decision was a major defeat for those fighting for the cause of abolition. But the story was not yet over! The Court allowed for a 12-month stay on the implementation of the decision in order for the government to come up with a new, revised law that could be found constitutional. This ended up being the perfect, God-ordained window of time in which the Nordic Model could be given a chance in Canada.

During this 12-month stay, a whirlwind of activism, prayer, and awareness swept through the nation. Alongside times of intense corporate prayer and fasting, inquiries were conducted, research was published, and debates were had (and won). The truth about the commercial sex industry was becoming extremely clear to a larger audience, and the Nordic Model emerged as a proactive approach that could protect exploited women and girls, and hinder pimps, johns, and traffickers. Under the leadership of Justice Minister Peter MacKay and advocates such as Mrs. Joy Smith, Canada developed its own version of the Nordic Model. It was introduced as Bill C-36 by Mr. MacKay as a new way to move the nation forward in the area of human rights.

November 6, 2014 became a historic day for Canada in the fight against exploitation when Bill C-36 The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act received Royal Assent and became law.

Under Bill C-36:

1. For the first time in Canada’s history, the buying of sexual services will be illegal.

2. For the first time, prostituted/trafficked women will be treated with dignity.

3. For the first time, the government of Canada will provide robust funding to help women and youth escape prostitution.

Particularly notable about Bill C-36 is a special preamble which provides crystal-clear guidance on the intent of the legislation. Very few government bills contain preambles, so the inclusion of this language in this bill is particularly important. The preamble is a profound and important declaration by the government of Canada regarding its stance on the commercial sex trade.

The Preamble of Bill C-36 states:

Whereas the Parliament of Canada has grave concerns about the exploitation that is inherent in prostitution and the risks of violence posed to those who engage in it;

Whereas it is important to protect human dignity and the equality of all Canadians by discouraging prostitution, which has a disproportionate impact on women and children;

Whereas it is important to denounce and prohibit the purchase of sexual services because it creates a demand for prostitution;

Whereas it is important to continue to denounce and prohibit the procurement of persons for the purpose of prostitution and the development of economic interests in the exploitation of the prostitution of others as well as the commercialization and institutionalization of prostitution;

Whereas the Parliament of Canada wishes to encourage those who engage in prostitution to report incidents of violence and to leave prostitution;

And whereas the Parliament of Canada is committed to protecting communities from the harms associated with prostitution.

The story of Canada is an encouraging example of what can happen when prayer and action join forces in a powerful call for justice. Let’s continue to press forward! Battles are being won!