150 Canadian Social Justice Organizations Demand Sex Work Decriminalization this Election
Monday, September 30, 2019 – Over 150 organizations across Canada are asking the next government of Canada to support sex workers’ rights, including the full decriminalization of sex work as a first step.
In 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that criminalizing sex work promotes violence and violates sex workers’ human rights. Yet no action has been taken to repeal the laws and regulations that place sex workers at risk every day. The statement demonstrates unprecedented and widespread support for sex workers’ rights from social justice-seeking organizations across Canada.
On the federal level, both criminal and immigration laws contravene the safety of sex workers safety and create a hostile context with law enforcement. Since the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act came into force in 2014, sex workers have reported increased antagonism with law enforcement, targeted violence and fear of reporting, unwanted and unsolicited police interactions, and targeting of Indigenous, Black, trans, and migrant sex workers, as well as sex workers who use drugs.
Criminalization has increased surveillance of sex workers, clients, and third parties, and resulted in the same human rights violations underscored in the Bedford decision. Much of this enforcement is also due to the conflation of sex work and human trafficking, and the law enforcement responses to both.
“Every aspect of sex work is criminalized, which means that sex workers are unable to access social, legal, and health supports, should they need them,” says Sandeep Prasad, Executive Director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. Adding that, “sex workers have made clear that they can’t and won’t report violence against them when they risk continued surveillance, arrest, detainment, deportation, and discrimination.”
“The conflation of sex work and human trafficking has emboldened law enforcement to misuse and overuse human trafficking laws to target sex workers, clients, and third parties,” says Jenn Clamen, National Coordinator of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform. “This creates a context where sex workers experience unwanted contact with law enforcement and are isolated as a result. This isolation contributes to targeted violence and lack of access to important services.”
Over 150 organizations have signed onto the statement of solidarity asking the federal government of Canada to take measures towards a first step in a process of decriminalizing sex work—a commitment to the repeal of Criminal Code and Immigration Law provisions (IRPA) that threaten sex workers’ health and safety, as well as a push to center sex workers in related policy and law reform processes.
“Ultimately, decriminalization is a first step to ensuring sex workers’ safety and dignity, which means creating spaces where they can work in a way that they feel safe and not isolated,” says Prasad.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
- The statement and list of signatories is publicly available here: https://secure.actioncanadashr.org/solidarity-sex-workers-rights
Solidarity Statement for Sex Workers’ Rights
Sex workers—people who exchange sexual services for money or goods—are criminalized, disproportionately surveilled, overpoliced, and denied their fundamental rights. Sex workers who live intersecting discriminations due to poverty, their visible presence in public spaces, their racial and social positioning, and their gender identity are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement and institutional, legal and societal violence. Much of this treatment results from the stigmatization of sex work itself and a lack of recognition for the agency that sex workers exercise in their daily lives.
Various human rights organizations, UN bodies and courts have concluded that criminalization of the sex industry creates conditions for exploitation and violates sex workers’ human rights. In 2014, a landmark legal challenge (Attorney General v Bedford) found that the laws in Canada that address sex work violate sex workers constitutional right to safety and all such laws were struck down. However, in spite of this, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) was enacted in 2014. The PCEPA defines all sex work as exploitation and frames all sex workers as victims and all clients and third parties as criminals. A primary objective of the legislation is to eradicate prostitution. The new laws include provisions that directly criminalize sex workers, as well as provisions that criminalize virtually all elements of the sex industry.
Since PCEPA came into force, sex workers have reported increased antagonism with law enforcement, targeted violence and fear of reporting, unwanted and unsolicited law enforcement of Indigenous, Black, trans, migrant, drug using sex workers, and detainment and deportations of Asian and migrant sex workers. Police misuse and overuse human trafficking laws to target sex workers and clients, creating increasingly unsafe and marginalized conditions for sex workers.
Protecting and respecting the human rights of sex workers requires a holistic response. Decriminalization—the removal of criminal and immigration sex work specific laws—is a first and necessary step. A holistic plan for sex work law reform includes concrete measures to address discrimination and inequality in all forms: poverty, inadequate housing, inadequate healthcare, lack of access to safe transportation, inadequate access to legal aid, over-criminalization and overincarceration, and ongoing problems with youth protection systems. This further includes access to basic labour and occupational safety protections.
STATEMENT OF SOLIDARITY
We are opposed to federal, provincial and municipal laws that disproportionately regulate and criminalize bodily autonomy, sexuality and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
We call upon the government of Canada for the total decriminalization of sex work as a first step to protecting and respecting the human rights of all sex workers—this begins with the removal of criminal and immigration laws that criminalize sex work.
We call for the recognition of sex work as meaningful and valuable work that provides economic opportunity for people selling and trading sex.
We call for equal and non-discriminatory access to health, education, occupation, housing, and economic opportunities and rights.
We affirm that sex workers are not criminals to be stigmatized, but rather members of an often exploited and under-protected working class.
We stand in solidarity with sex workers demanding rights, the recognition of sex workers’ agency and decision-making capacity and safe working conditions.
We, the undersigned organizations, pledge to promote the rights of sex workers and to create spaces for sex workers to take leadership and be centered in sex work law reform discussions.
Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
Alberta Society for the Promotion of Sexual Health
Amnesty International Canada
Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
Canadian AIDS Society
Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs (CAPUD)
Canadian Association of Social Workers
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
Canadian Treatment Action Council
Families of Sisters in Spirit
FIRST Decriminalize Sex Work
i2i Peer Support
Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development
International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto Faculty of Law
Marie Stopes International
Migrant Workers Alliance for Change
Radical Access Mapping Project
Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC)
The Naked Truth
Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights
Adult sex work
HIV Community Link
Prostitutes Involved Empowered Cogent Edmonton (PIECE)
Shift, HIV Community Link
Afro-Canadian Positive Network of BC
BC Coalition of Experiential Communities
Coalition Against Trans Antagonism
Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre
Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society (SWUAV)
HUSTLE at Health Initiative for Men
Law Students for Decriminalization and Harm Reduction
Pacific AIDS Network Society
Pivot Legal Society
Providing Alternatives, Counselling and Education (PACE) Society
Saige Community Food Bank
SFSS Women’s Centre
SOLID Outreach Society
Supporting Women’s Alternatives Network (SWAN)
UVic Gender Empowerment Centre
Victoria Sexual Assault Centre
WAVAW Rape Crisis Center
West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals (WCCSIP)
WISH Drop-In Centre Society
YouthCO HIV & Hep C Society
Manitoba Harm Reduction Network
Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Coalition
Newfoundland and Labrador
Bay St. George Status of Women Council
Corner Brook Status of Women Council
Planned Parenthood Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Health Centre
Safe Harbour Outreach Project (S.H.O.P.)
St. John’s Status of Women’s Council/Women’s Centre
St. John’s Womxn in Music
Sexual Health Centre Lunenburg County
Stepping Stone Association
The South House Sexual and Gender Resource Centre
AIDS Committee of Ottawa
AIDS Committee of Windsor
Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention
Barton Village Business Improvement Area
Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Network
Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter
CUPE Local 3906
DUAL-Drug User Advocacy League/OICH
Gender Studies & Feminist Research Program, McMaster University
Guelph Resource Centre for Gender Empowerment and Diversity
Hamilton Burlesque Society
HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario
Industrial Workers of the World – Hamilton GMB
Maggie’s Indigenous Sex Workers Drum Group
Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project
Migrant Sex Workers Project
No One Is Illegal-Toronto
Parkdale Community Legal Services
Planned Parenthood Toronto
POWER (Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau Work, Educate and Resist)
Safer Gigs Hamilton
Sex Workers Advisory Network of Sudbury (SWANS)
Sex Workers’ Action Network of Waterloo Region
Sex Workers’ Action Program of Hamilton
Showing Up for Racial Justice Toronto (SURJ TO)
Willow’s Drop-In – Ottawa-Vanier
Women & HIV / AIDS Initiative
Women and Gender Equity Network
Women’s and Gender Equity Centre at University Toronto-Mississauga
Work Safe Twerk Safe
Workers’ Action Centre
Action Santé Travesties et Transexuel(le)s du Québec (ASTTeQ)
Centre for Gender Advocacy
Clinique Droits Devant
Coalition des organismes communautaires québécois de lutte contre le sida (COCQ-SIDA)
Coalition LGBTQ youth groups
Conseil québécois LGBT
École de travail social UQAM
Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ)
Les Hébergements de l’Envol
L’R des centres de femmes du Québec
Native Women’s Shelter
PACT de rue
Projet d’intervention auprès des mineur.e.s prostitué.e.s (PIaMP)
Solidarity Across Borders- Montreal
Spectre de rue Inc.
Stella, l’amie de Maimie
The Open Door / La Porte Ouverte Montréal
TOMS Table des organismes communautaires montréalais de lutte contre le VIH/sida
Saskatoon Sexual Health