Sixty witnesses went before the Canadian Parliament's House Justice Committee in Ottawa this week in hearings on Bill C-36, written to rework laws regarding sex work. Many witnesses noted the bill does not explain which sexual services would be regarded as crimes if it becomes law.
Lawyer Elin Sigurdson of Pivot Legal Society, a Vancouver organization involved in the Supreme Court case, said the bill has "a real vagueness problem."
"I think it's both a key thing and an example of a bigger problem with the bill. When the thing that's being regulated -- it's described as sexual services, (but) the bill doesn't contain a definition of what it is."
Existing prostitution laws were struck down in 2013 by Canada's Supreme Court, which noted many of the laws violated sex workers' rights to security and freedom of expression. The court gave the government a year to create new legislation.
Sexual activity needs to be defined in the bill, witness Tim Lambrinos of the Adult Entertainment Association of Canada told the committee, mentioning a prepared definition that listed a variety of explicit acts, adding, "It's not the Bill Clinton definition of sex. You don't even define what sexual activity is (in the bill), and there's no tools in place for the (police) to implement."
Parliament member Joy Smith, a proponent of Bill C-36, said there was no need for overt definitions.
"Everybody pretty well knows what it's about," she said.
"What needs to happen is talking about stopping the predatory nature of prostitution and human trafficking. Stopping the brutalization of the women and children and young boys involved, and that is the focus of the bill. I mean, everybody can go into the minutiae of is this sex, is this not sex. Generally speaking, the world knows what sex really is. What we're looking at is whatever the women are doing. It's the brutalization of them."
The committee will meet again next week for a clause-by-clause analysis of the bill.