April 23, 2018– Member groups of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform are pleased to see the adoption of the resolution on decriminalizing sex work at the Liberal National Convention in Halifax this past weekend. Reforming Canada’s sex work laws requires immediate action to counter the human rights violations and violence that have ensued since the enactment of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Actin 2014.
We encourage this government to act swiftly – sex work law reform cannot wait until after the next election: sex workers continue to be directly and indirectly criminalized under current Canadian law and as a result are socially and racially profiled, overpoliced, targeted for violence and exploitation, underprotected, and continue to avoid police and mainstream social services at every cost.
A truly feminist response to sex work law reform recognizes that the blunt use of criminal law isolates and marginalizes people in our community, particularly racialized, Indigenous, Black, migrant, trans and drug-using sex workers that are already overpoliced. A human rights response to sex work law reform recognizes that that the systemic inequalities that sex workers face cannot be addressed — and in fact are exacerbated — by law enforcement.
While decriminalization alone cannot overcome all of the injustices that many sex workers face, it is a first and necessary step to respect, protect and fulfill sex workers’ rights, including the Charter right to security of person.
Our member groups support the principal of decriminalization that underpins the adopted resolution. But a plan for decriminalization needs to go further to:
- Recognize the danger to sex workers of criminalizing any and all aspects of sex work, as recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in Canada v. Bedford;
- Commit to the total decriminalization of sex work – removal of all criminal laws around sex work, including those targeting or capturing sex workers, clients, and the third parties we hire, work for, or work with;
- Recognize that criminal prohibitions on sex work encourage the overpolicing and underprotection of sex workers – particularly Indigenous, migrant and racialized sex workers, and communities that are racially and socially profiled;
- Recognize that the criminalization of sex work-related activities makes sex workers, our clients and third parties fearful of law enforcement and unlikely to report crimes against sex workers, including exploitation and trafficking. This is especially true for those who are migrant, Indigenous, racialized, drug-using or otherwise overpoliced. The criminal law contradicts the human rights of these communities;
- Recognize that sex workers and sex worker led human rights organizations are best placed to provide insight and leadership for legislation that concerns sex work, and also best placed to provide evidence-based direction on legislative and regulatory regimes that comply with Charter provisions and human rights legislation and are supported by evidence-based research; and
- Promote the human rights and safety of people who work in the sex industry and not be guided by desire to eliminate sex work.
We encourage a holistic understanding of decriminalization and invite you to read through our detailed recommendations for sex work law reform in our report: Safety, Dignity, Equality: Recommendations for Sex Work Law Reform (link below).The recommendations address federal criminal and immigration laws as well as the provincial/territorial arenas of employment standards, occupational health and safety, youth protection services and public health.
Importantly, a plan for decriminalization recognizes that the removal of criminal laws is only a first — but necessary – step to address the human rights of sex workers. Law reform must be accompanied by a holistic set of measures to address health, social and legal services, poverty, housing, education and other forms of systemic inequality.
As you engage in reform, you will continue to hear from many people positioning themselves as stakeholders in this conversation. We encourage you to proportionately weigh different perspectives, and to place people working in the sex industry squarely at the center of those discussions, as we are the ones currently and most affected by sex work laws. People who are overrepresented in prison populations and those of us who continue to be criminalized are rarely centered in discussions of law reform, yet it is our communities that suffer the brunt of numerous laws and their enforcement.
We look forward to continued work on improving and lives and well-being for sex workers.
The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform is an alliance of sex worker led human rights and allied groups across Canada working towards sex work law reform and the health and well-being of our communities. In 2016, Alliance member groups produced a set of recommendations that outlines legal, social, health and other reforms necessary to respect and protect sex workers’ rights.
Our report, entitled titled Safety, Dignity, Equality: Recommendations for Sex Work Law Reform, can be found here: http://sexworklawreform.com/recommendations/