Ojibway former child sex worker says striking down prostitution laws does nothing to help Aboriginal women

By Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
OTTAWA– Some celebrated Friday after the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s prostitution laws as unconstitutional.

But one Ojibway former child sex worker cried.

And they weren’t tears of joy.

“It feels as a survivor, someone commercially and sexually exploited, that it’s a slap in the face. A big slap in the face,” said Bridget Perrier, 37, a former child sex worker who was first sold to men in Thunder Bay at the age of 12. “We can’t put dollars signs on our bodies.”

The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously agreed the current prostitution laws in Canada are unconstitutional and has given the federal government a year to come up with something better. The current laws will remain in place until then.

Perrier feels the ruling is a step towards giving men the right to further victimize Aboriginal women and girls who, she says, turn to the sex trade when they no longer have hope.

“Sex is an honour, so why are our girls being dishonoured? They’re being dishonoured when we’re finding them in dumpsters, they’re being dishonoured when they’re standing on a street corner in minus 35 degree weather,” she said.

Perrier now runs Sextrade 101, a victim advocacy group in Toronto that aims to help Aboriginal women and girls get out of the sex trade. She says making prostitution legal doesn’t protect vulnerable Aboriginal women and girls.

She believes they’re more vulnerable in society due to centuries of colonialism, particularly Indian Residential Schools that traumatized Indigenous people when the government forcibly removed children and put them in state-run schools where many died, were sexually assaulted and beaten for speaking their language.

The last school closed in 1996.

But many people don’t agree with Perrier. They say the current laws make it less safe for women by making them quietly service clients by putting them in unsafe conditions to avoid police.

Prostitution was never illegal in Canada, but living off the avails of prostitution, communicating for the purpose and operating a brothel are.

APTN National News interviewed one man in Ottawa that is known as a “hobbyist,” a person who pays sex trade workers for sex.

The man, who didn’t want to be named, said he thinks striking down the laws will make women safer.

“I think it’s great news and rather progressive thinking on the part of the court. Many (service providers) are vulnerable, this ruling provides some support,” he said. “If only the laws were different dating back so many years Ottawa wouldn’t have all these unsolved prostitute murders still on the books.”

The murders he’s referring to are mainly women who worked on the street, the bottom of the sex trade world in the city. Many are addicted to drugs.

Men “cruise” the streets looking for them and can have sexual services provided for as little as $20.

There’s an Internet site where the men trade tips about where the girls are in Ottawa, especially where police are and how to avoid them.

“I don’t support street prostitution or trafficking for that matter,” he said, adding, he does support the girls on the street though. “(I) think the laws should focus on cleaning those aspects up and empowering women to do what they want, if they want, with the their bodies.”

But the ruling does allow for debate and coming up with a better solution, said MP Joy Smith.

“Despite this ruling, the debate around prostitution is hardly settled,” Smith said in a statement. “There are those who wish to legalize and normalize the industry, those who wish to criminalize all aspects of the industry, and finally those, like myself, who recognize prostitution as an industry that is inherently harmful to women and girls and therefore must be eliminated.”

She like, Perrier, supports the Nordic model where countries such as Sweden criminalize the people who pay for sex and not the provider.

“The Nordic model of prostitution is effective due to its three approaches: explicitly criminalizing the purchase of sexual services, a national awareness campaign to educate the public that the purchase of sexual services is harmful to women, and finally strong support programs for those who seek to exit prostitution,” said Smith.

Prostitution is legal in countries like New Zealand where, since 2003, governments legislate the sex trade, including zoning and licensing brothels.

If the feds do make changes that is the avenue they should follow as the Nordic model still finds someone guilty said the man who frequents local escorts.

“It’s just as flawed as it still has a criminal element. It really offers no protection for the providers. Make it legal, legislate it like in New Zealand,” he said.

The federal government said they’ll review the ruling.

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