Prostitution and sex-trafficking are flourishing in Montreal despite recent laws banning the purchase of sex and sex-trafficking, according to advocacy groups opposing the exploitation of women and girls through the sex trade.
Éliane Legault-Roy, a spokesperson for CLÉS (la concertation des luttes contre l'exploitation sexuelle), a Quebec-based anti-prostitution group said that events like the F1 incite prostitution, charging that women were trafficked into Montreal from other parts of Canada for the Grand Prix last June with young girls being recruited from youth centres for prostitution.
Sister Phyllis Douillard of the Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus and Mary who works with street people and is involved in social justice issues isn't surprised by these troubling developments. For many years she was part of a larger inter-faith coalition advocating for laws to better protect women and girls from exactly this kind of sexual exploitation.
A veteran of annual demonstrations at the Grand Prix over the organization's purported hand-in-glove relationship with prostitution she continues to raise awareness about the harm of the sex trade to women and youth. But she frankly acknowledges that she has heard all manner of rationalizations from men.
The problem with the "male mentality" she says is that men often view prostitution as just another means for women to earn a living. They have told her that women who come here (to Canada) at least "get something to eat" and, were it not for prostitution, would be "starving in their own countries".
Last December the Conservative Government's anti-prostitution law banning the purchase, but not the sale, of sex came into force. The new law based on the much-touted Swedish model was a response to the Supreme Court's decision striking down Canada's old laws banning the sale of sex.
The government was given a year to come up with new legislation or let the ruling stand. The new law also banned pimping and maintaining a brothel, reversing the age-old prejudice against prostituted women and girls by re-framing prostitution as a crime of sexual exploitation by men of vulnerable women and minors.
Prior to its passage Parliament had already enacted two other pieces of legislation concerning sex-trafficking. Former Bloc Québecois (now NDP) MP Maria Mourani's bill which recognized sex as a category of human-trafficking passed unanimously in the House of Commons while Conservative MP Joy Smith successfully sponsored an earlier bill providing for minimum mandatory sentences for trafficking a minor.
Douillard said that there is a history of complicity in prostitution and sex-trafficking at the highest levels everywhere which makes it difficult for the police to enforce the laws, noting that when soldiers were monitoring the situation in Kosovo at the time of the UN mission prostitutes were provided for them. She also said a study conducted in England showed that most brothels were located in close proximity to the British Parliament: hence the difficulties in getting anti-prostitution legislation passed there.
However, the situation is somewhat different in Sweden she says because it is a small country, making it easier to train the police force, get people involved, engage psychologists to provide counselling and generally to educate the public about the issue. However, she says it is very important to continue putting pressure on the authorities to enforce the laws. "The more we can prosecute the clients," she says, "the more prostituted women would be helped".
Peggy Sakaw, the co-founder with Liliane Kohl of the Temple Committee Against Human Trafficking at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom in Westmount who has worked closely with Sister Phyllis Douillard over the years in the inter-faith coalition in the Montreal area says that the lack of enforcement of the anti-prostitution law is no coincidence but related to a larger strategy playing out on the world stage.
As an example of global factors at work she cited a draft resolution passed recently by the well-respected human rights organization Amnesty International calling for the decriminalization of pimping, owning a brothel, and the purchase of sex.
It is this type of concerted action by leading organizations that can influence governments and municipal administrations she says that is causing confusion about the legitimacy of enforcing the anti-prostitution law here, not because of any gray zone in the law or an unclear mandate to the police as we have been hearing recently: the French press is reporting that some officers in the SPVM (Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal) are turning a blind eye in regard to erotic massage parlours which are operating with impunity.
"The RCMP has an outstanding educational program on human trafficking and it is up to all of us to keep promoting and supporting that. We must demand enforcement," Sakow says.
This startling turn of events by Amnesty International has been a clarion call to action for many concerned citizens who support genuine human rights and want to put an end to the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls (as well as boys) in the 99 billion dollar global sex industry by criminalizing the behaviour of men who buy sex and especially by eliminating the profit motive for the pimps who sell vulnerable individuals who overwhelming have histories of gender, racial and economic inequalities and have experienced violence.
The controversial resolution sparked worldwide protests along with an open letter signed by close to 500 social advocacy and grassroots groups and individuals urging the human rights organization to reject its proposed draft policy and was endorsed by many public officials and well-known personalities including Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep, Dr. Bernice King (the daughter of civil rights activist Rev. Martin Luther King), philanthropists Jennifer and Peter Buffett (the latter the son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett), Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Anna Quindlen, poet and human rights activist Rose Styron, actor Mandy Patinkin and many others.
Douillard sees education and sensitizing the public about the grim realities of prostitution as a "growth issue" whose time has come despite setbacks, pointing to the true story of a local prostituted woman who worked with the police for a year to stay off the streets, then fell back into the sex trade, eventually making her way out for good.
Sakow is also optimistic in spite of everything. "Despite the misguided ideas of Amnesty International and other human rights groups, I deeply believe that truth and justice for children and those most vulnerable to exploitation will ultimately triumph. There are enough good people to see this outcome," she says.
By Deborah Rankin for
Ville Marie Online