Canada After Bedford – What Now? Part 2


On December 20th, 2013 the Supreme Court of Canada struck down three laws surrounding sex work finding that they were unconstitutional.  The court gave the Canadian government a year to come up with alternate laws.

Last week the new suggested laws were announced.  Many folks had issues with them…

From Pivot Legal’s amazing blog post explaining the potential new laws:

This cynical, dystopic model does not resolve the problems that were created by Canada’s existing prostitution laws, which the Court held to be unconstitutional in Bedford, and adds new ones such as the prohibition on buying sex and advertising sexual services. The Charter rights engaged by this proposed law include life, liberty, security of the person, freedom of expression and equality. Arguably all are breached.

Prostitutes of Ottawa/Gatineau Work, Educate and Resist (POWER) created some briefing notes on the with both a legal analysis and a social science analysis:

The social science evidence from Canada and throughout the world indicates that, if this Bill becomes law, it will force the sex industry further into the shadows, restrict sex workers’ access to important safety strategies and have significant and profound negative consequences on sex workers’ health, security, equality and human rights.

From POWER’s June 4th press release:

“Frankly, this response is heartbreaking,” said Emily Symons, Chair of POWER’s Board of Directors. “The Minister had an opportunity to work with sex workers and other concerned parties to develop a solution that supports the safety and human rights of sex workers. Instead, he has chosen to import an approach that will reproduce the harms of the current prostitution laws and won’t stand up to a constitutional challenge. The Supreme Court of Canada made a clear, unanimous statement that the health, safety and lives of sex workers must be prioritized. It is deeply disappointing that the Government of Canada does not share these priorities.”

A Toronto Star editorial points out that the new laws will put sex workers at even more risk than the old laws did:

Why is Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government bent on making the sex trade even riskier by criminalizing it?

That’s exactly what Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and the entire Supreme Court did not have in mind last year when they voted — unanimously—to strike down Canada’s major prostitution-related laws because they exposed sex workers to unacceptable dangers.
At the time the Supreme Court reminded us that “it is not a crime in Canada to sell sex for money.” Or to buy it, for that matter. But government had so hemmed in the sex trade with legal restrictions that prostitutes were forced to work in unacceptably “dangerous conditions” that “heighten the risks” of plying their trade, the court found. That violated their basic Charter right to security of the person. The court said that existing laws barred prostitutes from working in “fixed” indoor locations which are safer than the streets; from hiring receptionists, drivers or security staff to screen customers and provide protection; and from being able to benefit from safe health practices.

The new law considers all sex workers as victims and at the same time takes away lots of ways that sex workers are able to increase their safety – working indoors, screening clients:

Scream argues that most people in the sex trade are consenting adults and not victims.

“Not everyone working is a victim and not all clients are rapists,” she said.

Removing a sex worker’s ability to screen clients is one of the most dangerous parts of the bill for sex workers, Scream says. Ideally, a sex worker would be able to screen a client either in person, by phone, or online to assess the risk of taking him or her on. A frank discussion can then also take place about the client’s expectations and what the sex worker is willing to do, she says.

The proposed law would criminalize clients of sex workers.  Pivot Legal did a survey of sex workers on Vancouver’s Lower East Side and found:

– Law enforcement targeted at clients does not make sex work go away.

– Sex workers do not want their clients arrested for trying to purchase sexual services. They do want their clients arrested when they are violent, abusive or exploitative.

– When police target clients of sex workers, sex workers experience a range of serious harms to their health and safety including displacement to dangerous and isolated areas of the city, lack of time to negotiate and screen clients and lack of access to police protection.

Sex workers are speaking out against the proposed Bill C36.  From Vanessa D’Alessio’s opinion piece in the Toronto Star:

No matter what brings someone to sex work, be it poverty, choice, sexism or force, any kind of criminalization of this trade, including the criminalization of our clients, will put us in danger.
As a sex worker and advocate, I stand with sex workers the world over to call for the full decriminalization of our industry, and a focus on long-term programming (like child care and a higher minimum wage) that will offer options to anyone struggling to put food on their table.


stop bill c36 hamiltonMaggie’s – a Toronto sex worker advocacy group – has called a National Day of Action on Saturday, June 14 to speak out against Bill C36. Events are taking place in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Hamilton, Winnipeg, and Halifax.

In Hamilton, Big Susie’s is organizing an event at the corner of James and King Streets.

At SACHA, we support the full decriminalization of sex work.


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