"Today our government is making prostitution illegal for the first time," Justice Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday in Ottawa, in a written statement.
The move toward federal legislation comes after the Supreme Court of Canada, in December 2013, found prostitution laws unconstitutional -- calling them too broad and "grossly disproportionate" -- and gave the government a year to devise new laws.
It also came days after an online Justice Department survey showed two-thirds of 31,000 respondents said the sale of sex should not be considered an offense.
The proposed law -- 49 pages long and called Bill C-36 -- makes it illegal to sell sexual services in public spaces where anyone under age 18 may be present. It also criminalizes advertising of sexual services, increases child prostitution penalties, and established a $20 million fund to help move people from the sex trade.
Although MacKay said the law would target pimps who profit from prostitution as well as customers, Katrina Pacey, a lawyer for Pivot Legal Society, which has intervened in the drive to reform the sex trade laws, said, "This is in fact full criminalization of prostitution ... which is going to result in sex workers going to jail. The minister has found various ways to limit all of the safe ways for sex-trade work."
Parliament member Carolyn Bennett, of the Liberal Party, said in a television interview Wednesday, "We're very concerned that it may not meet the test that the Supreme Court put forward in terms of the health and safety of women."
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, in a statement, praised MacKay for seeking public input before announcing the bill, adding, "Members agree that preventing victimization and exploitation of those selling sex, and allocating funding for support programs to assist vulnerable individuals, as well as preventing community harm, are key priorities."