In Saskatoon Charging and Disposition Patterns Under Section 213 of the Criminal Code of Canada, Leora Harlingten cross-references court records and Saskatoon city police files to examine charging and sentencing patterns under section 213 of the Criminal Code of Canada (better known as the communication for purposes of prostitution law or CC213). The study’s aim was both to compile raw data as to who was charged, how often, and the result, and ascertain whether the law was applied evenhandedly in prostitution cases. The results determined that three times as many women as men were charged under CC213, and the severity of the sentences was disproportionately meted out against women.
In Saskatoon in 2000, fifty-six women were charged with fifty-eight violations of CC213, as opposed to only seventeen men. Of those cases where a decision could be determined from available evidence, five women but no men served jail time. Fifteen women and three men received conditional or suspended sentences. Twelve women received fines averaging $233.00, while ten men were fined an average of $456.25. Even this last statistic, however, is misleading. The socio-economic status of women in the sex trade—often young and single mothers—makes any fine more punitive than for the men, who tend to be older and, generally, have a greater earning power. The children of women charged under CC213 also suffer considerably. If the mother is incarcerated for any time, children are placed into foster homes or sent to relatives. Readjustment to new home lives has been linked to a great number of childhood disorders, and the intimidating prison environment during visits further strains the emotional bond between mother and child.
Given such disparities in charging and sentencing patterns, the reality that most women in the sex trade do so to alleviate poverty’s effects, and the regular physical and mental abuse and health problems that prostitutes face, the criminalization of sex trade workers is wholly misplaced and unjust. Decriminalization would offer prostitutes protection and legal recourse against those who rob, rape, and assault them.
While Harlingten acknowledges that this study does not explore particular socio-economic factors in her case studies, nor does she address the role of pimps in the sex trade, this study nevertheless highlights obvious disparities in who is charged and the results. This research could also be used as a basis of comparison with other Canadian cities or to measure against incidents of violence against prostitution since CC213’s passage into law. “The protection of all individuals’ human rights and dignity,” she writes, “are vital to a democratic society. Rather than punishing women through the legal system, it would be better to remedy systems that put people at risk and protect their human rights” (p.20)