New federal legislation on prostitution will bring the threat of jail time and steep fines for customers who buy sex as well as others who profit from the sex trade.
Known as the Nordic model that outlaws the buying but not the selling of sex, the Conservative government's bill comes in response to the striking down of the existing law on prostitution late last year by the Supreme Court of Canada.
"We will criminalize those who are fueling and perpetrating the demand for this dangerous activity," Justice Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday.
Those to be targeted by police under the new law include pimps and others who exploit sex workers, including those who advertise the sale of sex in print or online.
MacKay said legitimate, non-exploitive service providers – such as doctors, pharmacists and taxi drivers – won't be targeted, nor would spouses or family members of sex trade workers.
It's not yet clear if that leniency will extend to bodyguards hired by sex workers for security.
MacKay pledged $20 million in support to help sex trade workers exit "a life of exploitation and danger."
Fines might range from $1,000 to $4,000 and jail time could be up to five years in jail for an offender who pays for sex – double that if it involves a minor.
The bill would criminalize the act of selling sex in public places or where children could be expected to be present.
SFU criminology professor John Lowman said criminalizing customers and the public buying of sex will again drive the trade into out-of-sight places where women will be at greater risk of predators like serial killer Robert Pickton.
"It will force women into those dark, dangerous industrial areas," he said.
"What you're looking at here is a form of state-sponsored institutionalized entrapment," Lowman said. "Can you think of any other law where it's legal to sell something which is illegal to buy?"
He said the legislation recreates many of the problems that led the Supreme Court to strike down the old law on grounds it exposed women to too much danger.
A federal survey of Canadians released June 1 following government-led consultations found 56 per cent of respondents think it should be a crime to buy sexual services, but 66 per cent said it shouldn't be illegal for sex workers to sell their services.
A study by UBC researchers released earlier in the week argued a Canadian move to the Nordic Model would force prostitutes to work in riskier conditions where they have less control over their health and safety.
Where clients continue to be targets of police, sex workers' ability to protect themselves from violence and abuse or access police protections is severely limited," said report author Dr. Kate Shannon.