Monday, September 18, 2023 — Today, the Ontario Superior Court released its decision in CASWLR v Attorney General (Canada), a case that sought to strike down harmful provisions of the Protection of Communities and Exploited People Act (PCEPA) on the grounds that they violate sex workers’ Charter rights. Sex workers across Canada are devastated to learn that the Ontario Superior Court has upheld all the provisions that cause grave harm to all sex workers. The decision is incredibly dismissive of sex workers’ concerns, knowledge, and intersecting realities, and we are deeply disappointed.
Sex workers and our colleagues will continue to be at risk of criminalization, social and racial profiling, and targeted violence.
Despite all the evidence confirming the gravity of these many harms, the court discounted and rejected evidence from sex workers and relied heavily on evidence from law enforcement to find that “there is a considerable body of evidence that many sex workers are manipulated or coerced into sex work or trafficked while in it.”
Troublingly, the Court also concluded that sex workers misunderstand the law. This patronizing conclusion ignores the extensive evidence submitted describing how sex workers and non-exploitative third parties, and particularly migrant and Black sex workers, are being arrested for third-party tasks. The Court also denied the evidence detailing how criminalization causes stigma, which leads to violence against our communities, claiming “a lack of empirical evidence.”
“Sex workers deserve a decision that recognizes the human rights violations faced every day from a criminal law that systematically discriminates, over polices, and under protects all sex workers, particularly those who are most marginalized by that same criminal law,” said Jenn Clamen, national coordinator of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform.
“Sex workers who are Indigenous, Black, migrant, and trans experience the most harmful impacts of the criminalization of sex work, as we are communities that are already overpoliced and under protected,” added Monica Forrester, one of the individual applicants in the case. “We need sex work laws removed from the Criminal Code so there is at least one less tool law enforcement can use against us.”
The systemic inequalities that are exacerbated by the criminalization of sex work cannot be ignored. These violations will not end until sex workers’ rights are recognized, and sex work is fully decriminalized through the removal of all criminal provisions introduced through the PCEPA.
Our Alliance member groups are grateful to all our allies who have stood with us in solidarity in this this case. We know this is not the end of the fight for sex workers’ rights and we are prepared to defend them all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
For interviews with the Alliance or one of our member groups contact: Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reformcontact@sexworklawreform.com or 514.916.2598
Alliance member organizations include: Action santé travesti(e)s et transsexuel(le)s du Québec (ASTT(e)Q); ANSWER Society; BC Coalition of Experiential Communities (BCCEC); Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Work Support Network; HIV Legal Network; Émissaire; Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers’ Action Project; Maggie’s Indigenous Sex Work Drum Group; PEERS Victoria; Projet L.U.N.E.; Prostitutes Involved Empowered Cogent Edmonton (PIECE); PACE Society; Rézo, projet travailleurs du sexe; Safe Harbour Outreach Project (S.H.O.P); SafeSpace London; Sex Workers’ Action Program Hamilton (SWAPH); Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC); Sex Workers’ Action Network of Waterloo Region (SWAN Waterloo); Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Coalition (SWWAC); Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV); Shift Calgary, HIV Community Link; Stella, l’amie de Maimie; Stepping Stone; SWANS Sudbury; and SWAP Yukon.