November 24, 2022
RE: Response to government response to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights report entitled, Preventing Harm in the Canadian Sex Industry: A Review of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Act
Dear Minister Lametti:
We read, with surprise and deep disappointment, your response to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights report Preventing Harm in the Canadian Sex Industry: A Review of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.
While we hope it is unnecessary at this point to introduce ourselves and our member groups, it is important to remind you that we represent diverse sex workers with a wide range of experiences selling sexual services. The need to repeal the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) is a primary concern of the most marginalized among us, those who have few options besides sex work, those who have experienced violence or exploitation, those who are targeted by police and those who are living in poverty. Those are the sex workers you need to be accountable to first and foremost. It is deeply dehumanizing to read your response where those voices are ignored and replaced with the voices of those who want to eradicate and speak for sex workers.
Despite the testimony of numerous anti-sex work witnesses who had little or no experience working with sex workers, the Committee recommended that “the Government of Canada recognize that protecting the health and safety of those involved in sex work is made more difficult by the framework set by the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act and acknowledge that, in fact, the Act causes serious harm to those engaged in sex work by making the work more dangerous.” (Recommendation 2).
Yet, your response fails to respond to this and many of the report’s other recommendations that focus on the safety of sex workers. Rather, your government’s response erroneously claims that all sex workers are protected from prosecution for the sale of their own sexual services and fails to acknowledge any harms caused by PCEPA, including those fueled by the prohibitions on purchasing, communicating, material benefit, procuring, and advertising. Additionally, it fails to recognize the ways in which these laws fuel and further stigma against sex workers which has direct consequences on sex workers’ safety and health.
The response also fails to recognize the role and responsibility of the Justice Minister to fulfill Recommendation 3, “That the Government of Canada amend the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act by introducing legislation to repeal sections 213 and 286.4 of the Criminal Code.” In fact, your response goes so far as to deny that the sale of sexual services is an offence under section 213, for which there is no immunity for prosecution, stating “selling sexual services is not an offence in Canada.” Moreover, the entirety of the letter ignores the context of criminalization in which sex workers are forced to work. Even in a context where sex workers in Canada may be immune in some circumstances to prosecution, there is an abundance of evidence, from sex workers, empirical researchers, social service providers, and others that demonstrates the impacts of working in a criminalized industry – evidence that was provided to the Parliamentary Committee that produced the report.
Assessing the impact of the existing legislative framework
To monitor the impact of sex work provisions in the PCEPA, you refer to a report by Juristat entitled Crime related to the sex trade: Before and after legislative changes in Canada, a Justice Canada report A Review of the Measure to Address Prostitution Initiative (MAPI), and an upcoming contracted report with Voice Found, an organization that addresses “child sex abuse and sex trafficking.” Each of these monitoring mechanisms are not merely problematic at their core but they disregard the evidence and testimony of the sex workers before the Standing Committee and of the Alliance members who have met with Justice Canada over the years: that sex work and acts of violence and other abuse (e.g., sexual assault, human trafficking, extortion) are not the same thing. It is concerning to see this conflation in this way in 2022, especially by the institution responsible for the laws that criminalize these acts as separate offences.
The Juristat article uses Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) data as explained on the first page: “This Juristat article uses data from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey and the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS) to examine crimes related to the sex trade before and after the PCEPA legislative changes came into force in December of 2014.” The UCR Survey that Justice Canada continues to monitor and rely on can be a helpful tool to understand crime; however, these data alone cannot provide a complete picture of crime rates and the effects of law, a fact that is well documented in the criminological literature. UCR data does not provide a comprehensive overview of crime rates and the effects of laws because it only includes police-reported crimes. We know that the effects of laws and policing go far beyond police-reported crimes. For example, the 2019 Perils of Protection report (https://www.hivlegalnetwork.ca/site/the-perils-of-protection/?lang=en) demonstrates an increase in visits to sex workers by police but this is not captured in UCR data. An increase in police harassment without commensurate increase in arrests should be a very concerning red flag for human rights abuses. Sex workers have reported very disturbing interactions with police which will never be counted in any Juristat report. Additionally, other critiques of UCR data commonly mounted by criminologists relate to:
Reporting practices: Many serious crimes are not reported by victims to the police and do not become part of the UCR which means that they are “report sensitive.” Criminologists often look to self-reported victimization surveys to measure crimes not reported to police. Crimes of a sexual and/or violent nature are among the least reported (i.e. the Juristat report cites that 5% of sexual assault victims report to police, and 26% of women who were physically assaulted report), while property crimes are the most frequently reported. Sex workers may be concerned that they will not be taken seriously by police, or that they may themselves be subject to increased surveillance, and in some cases arrested. In a criminalized context, reporting violence to police can lead to losing one’s income, shutting down or being evicted from one’s work place, or seeing one’s colleagues arrested. In a recent study of 200 sex workers in five Canadian cities, 31% reported “being unable to call 911 if they or another sex trade worker were in a safety emergency due to fear of police detection of themselves, their colleagues or management.” (Crago et al. 2021) For these reasons, it is important to underscore that the data presented in the Juristat article are limited to crimes reported to and by police, which do not reflect the scope or number of human rights violations inflicted upon people who sell sexual services.
Law enforcement practices: Some crimes are “police sensitive.” This means the ways in which police departments enforce and record criminal activity also affect the validity of UCR statistics. There are many criminological studies which show that factors such as a police department wanting to improve its public image or how police interpret the definition of a crime can. impact police-reported incidents of crime. The ways in which police enforce the laws also affects crime rates. If police have massive resources to investigate alleged cases of human trafficking and fewer resources to investigate harms faced by sex workers, there will be more documented cases of human trafficking and fewer documented cases of offences against sex workers.
- Methodological problems: Methodological issues also raise concerns about the validity of UCR statistics. According to the Juristat report, there was a change to reporting practices in 2018. What were previously considered unfounded incidents could be considered to be founded. This methodological change (and not PCEPA) was responsible for 42% of the increase in accused between 2018-2019.
The MAPI report is biased, methodologically flawed and fails to provide a picture of the experiences of people selling sexual services in a criminalized context under PCEPA. In particular:
- The report acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy: the objective of the funding is to exit people from prostitution, so the measure is exit from prostitution. This means the questions from which the analysis is conducted are focused on exiting, rather than other priorities and needs for people selling sexual services.
- The report does not recognize that people accessing services may not be there to “exit”, thereby making assumptions about reasons for accessing services. The questions do not focus on WHY people are accessing services, which may be for reasons other than exit. “Exit” is the measure for the project, but it is not necessarily the goal of the person seeking services. This bias can be demonstrated in the criteria for evaluating the funding goals found at page 30 of the report, regarding “reason for seeking help to exit prostitution.” This measure alone is a skewed and therefore flawed way of understanding why people have come to these services. People may not access the services because they want to exit prostitution, despite the funding objective or the organizational objective being “exit”. To explain further, at least two of our Alliance members (PACE and ASTTeQ) received this same MAPI funding from Justice Canada and would not describe their interactions with sex workers as “people accessing their services to exit prostitution.” This same measure, therefore, would look different depending on the questions asked of the funding recipients.
- The report does not provide a full picture of funding recipients and their services, nor does it provide any details of the funding recipients that are included. On page 6, the report indicates that the funding was allocated to 23 organizations, but this report is based on results from 13 organizations. It is important to know all the funding recipients and their objectives. If their objectives are to exit those working in prostitution, then this requires close scrutiny and challenge about how they present their findings, what they are seeing on the ground, and the framework from which they work.
- The report attempts to draw false conclusions. One example of a misleading analysis of the data is an attempt to draw conclusions about MAPI recipients based on only a portion of MAPI recipients, as 10 of 23 recipients were not included, e.g. “Many (67%) of the MAPI clients had been physically and/or psychologically coerced by others into providing sexual services.”
- The report reflects findings from organizations that need to justify the use of the funds in order to access more funds in the future. This is the nature of government funding, and organizations need to demonstrate that their funds were used in accordance with their objectives, despite what the results may be. These types of reports are usually completed with a strict template based on the objectives of the agreement (e.g. “exiting” sex workers) and the organization has no room to deviate from it. The funder then prepares their own report to justify further funding and to show the public that money is being spent wisely. While such reports have some value as internal documents to evaluate funding, it is inaccurate and inappropriate to cite them as data on the sex industry or on the impacts of the law.
The contract that has been established with Voice Found is deeply disconcerting. For this government to provide funds to an organization whose mandate is to address “child sex abuse and sex trafficking” to “undertake qualitative research with a number of former and current sexual service providers to develop a better understanding of their lived experiences” starts the analysis off on the wrong foot. “Child sex abuse” and “sex trafficking” are distinct from sex work and the conduct captured by the sex work provisions (PCEPA) which do not require any element of exploitation. To pretend that this provides insights into the impacts of laws established to eradicate sex work is manipulative and disingenuous, at best. Additionally, organizations such as Voice Found, that are not deeply rooted in communities of people working in the sex industry, will not have access to people currently working in the sex industry. How then could this study possibly capture the experiences of sexual service providers who continue to work within a criminalized context? Sex workers have a voice and do not need anti-sex work ideologues finding it for us. We need you to listen to sex workers directly.
“Strengthening the criminal laws’ response to violence and exploitation”:
Your response refers to Bills C-452 and S-224 as ways to strengthen laws on trafficking in persons and to “[s]trengthen the criminal law’s response to violence and exploitation.” But Bill S-224 is deeply problematic in its attempt to remove the one measure (fear of safety for failing to provide a service) that distinguishes between people exercising agency in deciding to sell sexual services, from those that are experiencing human trafficking. This Bill defines trafficking in overly broad terms that makes it more likely to capture non-exploitative behaviour and further exposes those who bear the brunt of criminalization, such as migrant sex workers and those who support them, to more risk.
“Supporting sexual service providers”
Despite the Parliamentary Committee report’s emphasis on the safety of sex workers, and your reference to the importance of “supporting sexual service providers,” you only refer to a series of government-funded projects that solely focus on “exiting” people from sex work, or funding law enforcement to create an environment so dangerous that they think it will encourage people to stop selling sex regardless of their preferences, circumstances or needs. Sex workers, sex worker rights organizations, and sex worker support services all spoke to the Parliamentary Committee about the ways in which the government could meaningfully support sex workers and yet, you have not acknowledged any of that expert knowledge.
Minister Lametti, we believe you and your colleagues in the Ministry of Justice are keenly aware of the division between anti-sex work activists, including those who rely on anti-trafficking discourse, and sex worker rights organizations. Yet your response erases the realities of those who are directly affected by the PCEPA. This government knows very well that many people working in the sex industry will continue to work in the sex industry, and the evidence is clear that the current legislative framework contributes to risks of exploitation and violence. Yet, the only measure that this government provides as examples of support are organizations and funding that specifically support people to exit or stop sex work. This leaves sex workers who continue to work in a context of criminalization (and are consequently denied access to employment and occupational health and safety protections) without supports.
In 2014, members of the Liberal party voted against PCEPA and stated in 2015 that they recognized the harms of PCEPA, yet this government has done nothing but support the Conservative agenda to erase sex workers and our realities from the conversation and continue forcing sex workers to live and work under what you know to be harmful and dangerous laws. Your response to the Parliamentary Committee report omits the needs and realities of people continuing to work in the sex industry, who experience the dangers of doing so in a criminalized context. The voiced needs of people working in the sex industry were presented in abundance to the Parliamentary Subcommittee and many times in the past. This government needs to do better than pretend we do not exist.
We request a direct meeting with you, Minister Lametti, to discuss our above concerns. The fact that the PCEPA is before the courts does not preclude you from meeting with us, to discuss the clearly-demonstrated harms of PCEPA – which the Parliamentary Committee acknowledged. We welcome also meeting you with your staff, but urge you not to send them in your absence, as has been the case in the past.
We look forward to hearing from you to schedule a date.
On behalf of our 26 member groups: Alliance member organizations include: Action santé travesti(e)s et transsexuel(le)s du Québec (ASTT(e)Q); ANSWERS Society; BC Coalition of Experiential Communities (BCCEW); Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Work Support Nework; HIV Legal Network; Émissaire; Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers’ Action Project; Maggie’s Indigenous Sex Work Drum Group; PEERS Victoria; Projet L.U.N.E.; Prostitutes Involved Empowered Cogent Edmonton (PIECE); PACE Society; Rézo, projet travailleurs du sexe; Safe Harbour Outreach Project (S.H.O.P); 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); Shift Calgary, HIV Community Link; Stella, l’amie de Maimie; Stepping Stone Halifax, SWANS Sudbury; SWAN Vancouver; and SWAP Yukon.