Sex Workers Protest Against Bill C-36

The mass media is a common educational source of information for the general public. The media is powerful and can have bias in their news articles. The focus will be on the new legislation, Bill C-36 that was recently passed. Bill C-36 was the Conservative government’s response to the three laws related to prostitution being struck down by the Supreme Court. This legislation will criminalize the buyers, ban advertisement from sex workers, and criminalize those who communicate for the purpose of prostitution in public places where a minor can be present. The mass media has reported many protests that occurred across Canada. As a result, there have been many different newspaper articles reporting on this legislation and one will see that the media will emphasize certain points as these points are deemed important and have significance while disregarding other elements of the legislation.

All the news articles reporting Bill C-36 stated the problems with the new legislation. This in itself is a framing technique. It sets a boundary on the issue and focuses on specific points within the legislation so that one could take a stance on the matter. The prostitution issue in Canada is a social phenomenon and can encompass many different and complicated aspects. However, there are many different perspectives that can be used to examine the prostitution issue and what one may find as important, may not be important to another. Politicians usually frame an issue in a particular manner and create this absolute boundary, a binary standard where one must take either side; in reality, people can take many positions depending on the specific element.

In Downtown Toronto there were protesters who laid on the ground, in the middle of the intersection, that stopped traffic for approximately fifteen minutes. The other protest was in Montreal, Quebec where protesters held a dance party in their Downtown City Square. There was also a protest at Parliament Hill in Ottawa against the new legislation. Reporters and journalists will often underestimate the number of supporters in the protest (Boykoff, 2007, p. 248). In all of the news articles, the picture that was presented at the very beginning of the article shows protesters in red umbrellas. The pictures do not have many protesters in them which can give the impression that there are not many supporters during the protest. The Toronto Sun news article stated that there were “around 100 people” in the protest (Davidson, 2014) while in the Globe and Mail, there were “dozens of demonstrators” during the protest (Campbell, 2014). The discrepancy indicates that these numbers are not facts but rather a speculation of the crowd estimate. It should also be noted that dozens is a fairly vague word that can mean a wide range of numbers. In Jackson Square, Hamilton there were 30 supporters for the protest (Metro News, 2014). In the Montreal protest, there was 75 people protesting (Mosimann, 2014) while it was stated there is a small group of protesters in another article (CBC, 2014). Ultimately, the underestimation technique will persuade the reader to view the issue as not important and/or have little significance. Consequently, it may allow the audience to take the Conservative’s side in their stance against prostitution since it was noted that there are not that many who oppose the Bill C-36.

As Boykoff (2007) argues, the mass media does not report all protests, which is a disregard issue framing technique (p. 254). It should be noted that there are not many news articles reporting these protests even though it can affect many, if not all sex workers and their clients. Since there have been reports on these events, it is not an absolute disregard but rather a relative disregard. A relative disregard is where the events are reported but are hidden within the newspaper (Boykoff, 2007, p.254). Some protests can have a lot of reporting while some such as Bill C-36 protest has relatively little reporting. The reports of Bill C-36 protests were hidden in a sense that it did not make the front page. It can be argued that the limited reporting of these protests can be influenced by Stephen Harper and Peter Mackay who are in support of the new legislation. Mass media tends to follow the government’s ideology and the majority of the population’s opinion in order to gain the most audience to make money off of advertisements. The media clearly has its own agenda and it is apparent that the politicians who are in power would obviously influence and benefit from this. When the issue is not known to public, there will be no oppositions that politicians will have to care for.

Boykoff (2007) argues that the mass media will use the freak frame which, “focuses on the non-mainstream values, beliefs, and opinions of these dissidents, as well as their age and appearance,” (p. 229). In the CBC article, one can see that the picture at the beginning of the article presents a woman who belongs in a subculture (CBC, 2014). The woman has a half shaved head, long blonde hair, lots of make up on and can definitely be defined as someone who does not belong in mainstream society. Click on this link to view the video In a news clip by Global News, there was an image that captured one of the protesters and this protester in particular had tattoos all over her back (Global News, 2014). It can be argued that this image will allow the reader to assume that all protesters will belong in this subculture and that their values and beliefs are completely different compared to mainstream society’s values and beliefs. Even though the media claims that they are neutral in stating these protests, it is clear that every picture that was chosen has an impact and was chosen for a specific reason.

In some articles, it was mentioned that the court gave Parliament one year to pass a new legislation for the prostitution issue (Beaumont, 2014; Campbell, 2014; Horlick, 2014). The mere mention of this time limitation on producing and passing a new legislation for the prostitution issue in Canada suggests that Parliament cannot be blamed entirely if there are issues within the legislation. It was stated, “the government is rushing the proposed legislation through,” (Beaumont, 2014) which clearly argues that the time limit is important to examine. A year is not considered a long time as new legislations can take years to build because there are so many complicated issues that have to be addressed. There are many different specific aspects that have casual relationships with one another and so if one thing changes, it may or may not change another. This chain reaction must be thought out before implementing any legislation. But as one can see, if there is a time limitation as to when the legislation has to be passed, then it would also mean that Parliament members may overlook certain aspects that are important.

The protests against Bill C-36 also follow this issue where reporters and journalists will present information in a certain way that persuades the reader to a certain conclusion. By choosing certain images, the reader will be guided to certain conclusions and by writing and using language in a certain way, the reader will also draw their own conclusions.

It is clear that the mass media depicts these particular protests in a very specific manner. It is clearly difficult to educate oneself solely from the mass media as there are many opinions and biases within these news reports. The whole idea that a news report can clearly articulate the issue at hand is absurd since there is limited space on the newspaper article to really tell the whole story. Journalists and reporters will often highlight whatever they feel is important and focus on these specific issues rather than looking at underlying themes and/or the whole picture.

In all the news articles that were examined, each of them had some type of issue framing; however, it is not to say that all the issue framing techniques were all the same types. All the articles mentioned that sex workers are the victims. There is this notion that prostitution is not a career by choice. Therefore, in order to save these victims, we must decrease the demand for sex workers (Caldwell, 2014). However, the new legislation poses that communication for the purpose of prostitution is illegal in any place that a minor can be present at. This essentially means that any public place will be considered illegal to have such communication. It is argued that this legislation will endanger sex workers even more because they will hop into their client’s car before they can assess if they want to sell their sexual services. Politicians will often frame certain issues and focus on part of the problem in order to provide a solution. Bill C-36 is no different in a sense that politicians are focusing on the issue where sex workers are victims and need help. But most sex workers argue that they want decriminalization so that they can live like any other ordinary citizen. Many sex workers would argue that the new legislation will only endanger them more because they are unable to hire security guards for their protection.

It is clear that the media will pick and choose certain elements to incorporate into their news articles. As one can see, reading the news does not necessarily mean you can get all the correct information as journalists and reporters have their own bias. The mass media has their own agenda and one must read news articles critically in order to get a better understanding of the truth. Therefore, the news media can give the reader a glimpse into the issue at hand, but it cannot be fully trusted as a good source of information.



Ashby, Madeline. 2014. “Ashby: Prostitution law ignores the lessons of history”. Ottawa Citizen. November 2014. Retrieved on December 9, 2014. (

Beaumont, Hilary. 2014. “Sex workers, supporters rally against Bill C-36”. The Coast. June 2014. Retrieved on December 9, 2014. (

Boykoff, Jules. 2007. “Mass Media Deprecation.” Pp. 216-47 in Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.

Boykoff, Jules. 2007. “Mass Media Underestimation, False Balance, and Disregard.” Pp. 248-60 in Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.

Caldwell, Tony. 2014. “Sex workers protest Bill C-36 on Parliament Hill”. Sun News. September 2014. Retrieved on December 9, 2014. (

Campbell, Will. 2014. “Sex workers take to Canada’s streets to protest prostitution legislation”. Globe and Mail. June 2014. Retrieved on December 9, 2014. (

CBC News Montreal. 2014. “Sex worker supporters dance against new prostitution bill”. CBC News. June 2014. Retrieved on December 9, 2014. (

Davidson, Terry. 2014. “Toronto sex workers protest new prostitution legislation”. Toronto Sun. June 2014. Retrieved on December 9, 2014. (

Global News. 2014. “Sex worker advocates protest against Harper government’s prostitution bill”. Global News. June 2014. Retrieved on December 9, 2014. (

Horlick, Leah. 2014. “Conservative Prostitution Bill: Two Steps Back”. Canadian Dimension. October 2014. Retrieved on December 9, 2014. (

Metro News. 2014. “Hamilton sex workers protest controversial federal bill”. Metro News. June 2014. Retrieved on December 9, 2014. (

Mosimann, Yasmine. 2014. “Demonstrators dance to protest new sex work draft legislation”. McGill Daily. June 2014. Retrieved on December 9, 2014. (



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