June 2, 2014 6:02 pm
Updated: June 2, 2014 7:47 pm

Canadians split on sex worker policy, survey says


Watch above: The results of a government survey will help form the basis for new prostitution laws that could be introduced in the coming days. Vassy Kapelos reports.

OTTAWA – The results of a federal consultation on prostitution suggest no one agrees on how best to approach people who sell sex.

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A slight majority of those who responded to the Justice Department’s month-long online consultation earlier this year felt that buying sexual services should be a criminal offence.

But two-thirds of the more than 31,000 respondents said selling sex should not be an offence.

About six in every 10 participants said benefiting economically from the prostitution of an adult should be illegal.

READ MORE: Why ex-sex worker calls prostitution law consultation ‘ridiculous’

The department received comments from 117 organizations, but did not reveal who they were, citing “reasons of confidentiality.” It also didn’t monitor for (much less prevent) multiple responses coming from the same person to stack results.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay focused on the slight majority who believed buying sex should be an offence, and tweeted that the findings would be taken into account in coming legislation on prostitution.

The government did not record IP addresses from those who participated in the online consultation, and it “cannot be determined whether multiple submissions were received from a particular IP address,” according to a document obtained by Global News.

Asked why the government didn’t track duplicate answers, Justice Canada spokesperson Carole Saindon said in an email that since all responses were analyzed, it was “nonetheless possible to have multiple people submit responses using the same IP address.”

In May, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler expressed concern about how representative the sampling of responses was, since only some submissions were reviewed by members of MacKay’s office, according to the document.

“It is troubling to read that only some of the responses made their way to the minister’s office without more explanation on what assessment occurred to filter such responses,” he wrote.

Saindon said a combination of manual review and “qualitative coding” using a statistical analysis program was used to compile results.

Valerie Scott, an ex-sex worker, told Global News in April the online consultations were open to “people who’ve never been in sex work, people who don’t know anything about it.”

“Sermons were given to parishioners to write in, churches all over the place had posters up telling people to write in about how awful prostitution is and that is primarily who has responded,” Scott said.

Saindon said 131 of the 31,172 respondents identified themselves as “a provider of sexual services or organizations representing them.”

Saindon said only those who chose to identify themselves as such could be counted, so “an accurate figure of individuals writing in at the request of their church group would not be feasible.”

When asked for a response on concerns from those in the sex work industry that the survey included loaded questions or was weighted too heavily on people who have no knowledge of the sex work industry, Saindon wrote:

“The consultation was open to all Canadians to provide their input.  The questions were straight forward and focused on key issues that will inform the Government’s development of its response to the Bedford decision.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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