SEX WORKER HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS LAUNCH CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGE
PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 30, 2021 – The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform — an alliance of 25 sex worker rights groups across the country led predominantly by and for sex workers — along with several individual applicants, have filed a Notice of Application seeking to strike down the sex work prohibitions against impeding traffic (s. 213(1)), public communication (s. 213(1.1)), purchasing (s.286.1(1)), materially benefiting (s. 286.2(1)), recruiting (s. 286.3(1)), and advertising (s. 286.4) in the Criminal Code, because they violate sex workers’ constitutional rights to security, personal autonomy, life, liberty, free expression, free association, and equality.
“We have been patiently waiting on the empty promises of parliamentarians to uphold the rights of sex workers who are increasingly experiencing the impacts of these laws, and the heavy hand of law enforcement,” says Alliance National Coordinator Jenn Clamen. “This government has spent five years paying lip service to human rights and to feminism, and it’s time for them to act.”
In 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled three prostitution prohibitions in criminal law to be unconstitutional because they caused harm to sex workers and contravened sex workers’ rights to liberty and security. This was the federal government’s opportunity to recognize sex workers’ rights and well-being by decriminalizing sex work. Instead, the government of the day created a set of laws under the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) that reproduce those same harms.
Despite its title, PCEPA does anything but protect communities and exploited persons. It reproduces and legitimizes the harmful impacts of the previous sex work offences declared unconstitutional in Canada v. Bedford and adds new offences that make sex workers vulnerable to human rights violations. Individually and taken together, these laws cause numerous harmful impacts to sex workers, notably by prohibiting sex workers from:
- communicating and negotiating conditions and establishing consent to sexual activity;
- obtaining relevant and identifiable information from clients and engaging in other screening practices that are vital to sex workers’ safety;
- working in non-isolated, collective and indoor workspaces; and
- establishing important working and safety relationships with managers, receptionists, drivers, interpreters, partners, peers, and security, and with other sex workers who join together to pool resources, services, and knowledge.
All of these provisions force sex workers to work in a criminalized context where sex workers are isolated from supports, made vulnerable to exploitation, eviction, and subpar working conditions, and targeted for violence. Migrant sex workers are also vulnerable to loss of immigration status and deportation.
Claims that PCEPA “decriminalizes sex workers but criminalize clients” are false; sex workers are directly and indirectly criminalized and experience constant fear, stigma, discrimination, and other deleterious consequences of criminalization that prevent access to health, social, and legal services. The criminalization of all elements of sex work also invites unwanted and unsolicited police presence in the lives of sex workers – particularly for Black, Indigenous, migrant and trans sex workers, and sex workers who use drugs, who are regularly profiled and targeted.
As long as the criminal law regulates sex workers’ lives and working conditions, sex workers will continue to try to avoid detection by law enforcement, live and work in precarious conditions, not seek help or report crimes against us, and will remain surveilled, policed, and more vulnerable to targeted violence and exploitation.
As long as the government’s objective remains the elimination of sex work, sex workers will continue to be excluded from labour protections and social programs, and will continue to be targeted by aggressors with impunity.
“I’m tired of hiding and of running from the police,” one of the individual sex worker co-applicants expressed. “I hope that my participation in this challenge will show the world that we cannot keep condoning the violation of sex workers’ human rights.”
Sex workers from all sectors of the industry have been asking for the full decriminalization of sex work as a vital first step towards ending the stigma, violence and exploitation in our lives; we need the full protection of the Charter, and a commitment from the government to improve our safety and quality of life.
For interviews with the Alliance or one of our member groups contact:
Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform
email@example.com, Tel : 514.916.2598
Alliance member organizations include: Action santé travesti(e)s et transsexuel(le)s du Québec (ASTT(e)Q) (Montreal); ANSWERS Society (Edmonton); BC Coalition of Experiential Communities (BCCEW); Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Work Support Network (Toronto); HIV Legal Network; Émissaire (Longueuil); Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers’ Action Project; Maggie’s Indigenous Sex Work Drum Group; PEERS Victoria; Projet L.U.N.E. (Québec); Prostitutes Involved Empowered Cogent Edmonton (PIECE) (Edmonton); PACE Society (Vancouver); Rézo, projet travailleurs du sexe (Montreal); Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP) (St John’s); 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) (Vancouver); Shift Calgary, HIV Community Link; Stella, l’amie de Maimie (Montreal); SWANS Sudbury; SWAN Vancouver; and SWAP Yukon (Whitehorse).