Amendments to the Expungement Act: Liberals Once Again Pay Lip Service to Equality
March 8, 2023 – On the day before International Women’s Day, this government yet again failed to recognize this country’s most marginalized women working in the sex industry. Yesterday, Public Safety Canada announced that it was making amendments to the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act, which came into force in 2018 and created a procedure for the expungement (permanent destruction) of historically unjust records of convictions. The Schedule to the Act was expanded to include abortion-related, bawdy house, and related indecency-based offences as eligible for expungement. As the government claimed, this move is an “important step towards righting historical wrongs.”
However, the amendments explicitly exclude people charged with these laws in the context of prostitution and the exchange of sex for money, even though the bawdy house laws for the purposes of prostitution (then section 210 of the Criminal Code) was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2013. These prostitution offences disproportionately impact women.
The exclusion of sex workers from this equality-seeking remedy is a direct contradiction to the concern that this government feigns for sex workers. The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCPEA) is based on claims that sex workers are victims, and that these laws shelter sex workers from the effects of criminalization, including the harmful impacts of having a criminal record. Current and past governments have acknowledged the harms of having a criminal record, including the inability to obtain employment, restrictions on mobility, keeping women in poverty, and, they claim, in prostitution. Yet, this move to exclude women with prostitution-related charges from expunging their criminal records is the exact thing that continues to limit mobility and economic and employment options for sex workers.
2SLGBTQ organizers agree. Long-time queer activist and author of the Canadian War on Queers, Gary Kinsman states, “This is a major discriminatory exclusion against all sex workers and people accused of or associated with sex work in terms of bawdy house charges. It is an attack on sex workers and an attempt to break the major coalitions between queer and trans activists and sex workers!”
Historian and researcher Tom Hooper adds, “The Liberals went out of their way to exclude sex workers, and in the process, they excluded all the men arrested in the bath raids. None of them will qualify for record expungement. Sex work was part of the allegations police made in the baths.”
This government needs to get its story straight: either they are concerned about sex workers’ ability for social and economic mobility, or they simply want to find every opportunity to curb and disrespect sex workers’ human rights.
Cherry-picking which communities are entitled to record expungements is a classic Liberal move to maintain certain communities in disadvantage. Blatantly excluding sex workers from this effort to free people from the discrimination that results from criminal charges attached to these laws – laws deemed unjust by the country’s highest court itself – highlights the hypocrisy of this government when they claim they want to protect and liberate people working in the sex industry.
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