Press Release: Sex Workers Denied Day in Court: The Injustice of Litigating Sex Work Law Without Sex Workers

May 28, 2024 – For immediate release – The Supreme Court of Canada has rejected sex workers’ request to intervene and participate in Kloubakov v Canada, a case concerning the constitutionality of sex work laws based on sex workers’ Charter rights. The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform (CASWLR) is a coalition of 23 leading sex workers’ rights organizations across Canada, the majority of which are led by and for sex workers. This decision highlights the ways the Supreme Court excludes those most directly affected — and whose Charter rights underpin all the legal questions before the Court — in its consideration of important constitutional issues.

Members of our coalition have been collectively litigating the constitutionality of criminal sex work laws for many years. Our member groups are led by and serve sex workers, including migrant sex workers, Indigenous sex workers, trans sex workers, Black sex workers, sex workers who use drugs, and sex workers living with HIV. Sex workers represented in our coalition have diverse identities, experiences and locations, including experiences of violence, coercion and other abuse — who can attest firsthand to the impacts of the sex work offences. This means the only organization representing those most immediately impacted by these provisions has been barred from bringing this unique and essential perspective before the Court.

While an appeal of our own 2021 constitutional challenge is pending, Kloubakov is a separate constitutional challenge brought by non-sex worker third parties engaging only two of the sex work offences in the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. CASWLR, along with many other organizations, sought leave to intervene. In our intervention application, we referred to our litigation as well as our law reform efforts, which ground our expertise in precisely the issues at stake. Yet, we have been denied leave to intervene on the basis that our involvement would “have the effect of expanding the case,” despite our deep and extensive experience with the challenged provisions.

The constitutional arguments being advanced by the accused in Kloubakov — who are not themselves sex workers —are grounded in how the sex work offences violate sex workers’ Charter rights. Once again, the Supreme Court will hear from people speaking about and for sex workers, without sex workers’ voices actually being present.

The Alliance represents, by far, the largest group of sex workers in Canada, with longstanding, collective knowledge of constitutional issues related to the sex work offences. Sex workers bear the most immediate, harmful and numerous impacts of these laws, yet the Supreme Court is silencing the very intervener that is in the best position to assist it in determining their constitutionality.

Also denied leave were the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, and Pivot Legal Society — who were highlighting the interests of Indigenous, racialized and migrant sex workers currently working under criminal sex work laws.

We are appalled that our lives and realities are being determined by third parties who are not sex workers debating sex workers’ Charter rights. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will recognize this grave error and reverse its decision by granting us leave.


Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform