PARLIAMENT SET TO HEAR THE HUMAN RIGHS VIOLATIONS CAUSED BY CANADA’S SEX WORK LAWS
Parliamentary review getting underway was meant to be completed by 2019
PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 7, 2022 – Ottawa, ON – The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform — an alliance of 25 sex worker rights groups and allies across the country — will detail the harms that sex workers across the country have endured since the Protection for Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) was passed in 2014. At that time, Parliament was tasked with a five-year review of the law, meant to be completed in 2019. Hearings for the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights now begin Tuesday, February 8th and are expected to last four weeks.
Sex workers and allies across the country are appealing to the Committee to centre sex workers in these discussions, as those most impacted by current, misguided sex work legislation. “We have been patiently waiting on the empty promises of parliamentarians to uphold the rights of sex workers who are increasingly experiencing the harmful impacts of these laws,” says Alliance National Coordinator Jenn Clamen. “This government has spent seven years paying lip service to human rights and to their version of feminism, and it’s time for them to publicly recognize the dangers of the current sex work legislation, and to hear it from the people bearing the brunt of these law — sex workers themselves.”
Despite its misleading title, PCEPA does not in fact protect communities and exploited persons. Instead, it has reproduced the Charter violations fueled by the previous sex work laws, which the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously declared unconstitutional in Canada v. Bedford. PCEPA has also added new offences that make sex workers more vulnerable to human rights violations. Individually and taken together, these laws have caused 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 secure and shard 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 a criminalized context, 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 criminalizes clients” are lies; sex workers are directly and indirectly criminalized and experience constant fear, stigma, discrimination, and other disastrous consequences of criminalization that prevent access to health, social, and legal services. PCEPA has emboldened police to maintain a constant presence in the lives of sex workers — particularly for Black, Indigenous, migrant, and trans sex workers, and sex workers who use drugs, who are all regularly profiled and targeted. This presence has increased fear and mistrust, and increased isolation for sex workers.
Members of the Alliance are concerned that the committee hearings, like others before it on sex work, will simply air judgements and opinions about sex work itself, rather than fulfil its mandate of studying the impacts of PCEPA. The PCEPA hearings in 2014 were biased and derogatory towards sex workers, and included numerous witnesses who were merely opposed to sex work on ideological grounds. Clamen adds, “Meaningful participation in the review of law means centering the experiences of people most affected by those laws. We hope that this committee doesn’t waste its time with anti-sex work ideologues, rather than prioritizing the evidence of real-world impacts of these laws.”
Sex workers from all sectors of the industry have been asking for the full decriminalization of their work as a vital first step towards ending the stigma, violence and exploitation in their lives.
In 2021, the Alliance launched a constitutional challenge to sex work laws in Canada because they violate sex workers’ constitutional rights to security, personal autonomy, life, liberty, free expression, free association, and equality. That case is currently making its way through the courts. In the meantime, sex workers desperately need a commitment from the government to improve our safety and quality of life, and a recognition that criminalizing sex work has wreaked havoc and danger in sex workers’ lives and work.
For interviews with the Alliance or one of our member groups contact:
Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform
firstname.lastname@example.org, 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).