Canada’s New Anti-Sex Worker Legislation

Following breaking news last December of the Bedford v. Canada decision, new Canadian legislation was announced today the has sex work communities everywhere up in arms. The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act has been introduced, which would criminalize the purchase of sex, communication with the intention of selling sex, gaining material goods from selling sex work, and advertising sexual services.

“This cynical, dystopic model does not resolve the problems found by the Court in Bedford to be unconstitutional, and adds new ones such as the prohibition on advertising. The Charter rights engaged by this proposed law include life, liberty, security of the person, freedom of expression and equality. Arguably all are breached.” Writes Peter Wrinch, of Pivot Legal. According to media backlash and criticism, this new legislation falls under a new kind of Canadian-made law that is not in line with either the Nordic Model nor the Canadian version of the Nordic Model. The law proposes to make sex work even more stigmatized, dangerous, and inaccessible than it was before the December ruling.

The legislation in Bill C-36 is seen by many to actually be completely contrary to Bedford decision, and proposes penalties similar to those enforced for human trafficking. The original decision that was reached in the December ruling was widely considered to be a radical win for sex workers everywhere, in the fact of historic injustice, harmful working conditions, and institutionalized racism and transphobia. However, Bill C-36 threatens to upend that progress. “If clients are criminalized, people are worried about their livelihood,” said Jean McDonald, executive director of the organization Maggie’s- Sex Workers in Action. “Criminalizing clients also means that street-based sex workers get pushed out of the strolls [which are established areas known to clients, workers, and police] and into isolated areas,” she continued. McDonald said that this could be especially dangerous for trans women, since there are established strolls which are known to clients as trans areas. If trans women are working elsewhere, clients could pick them up not knowing that they are trans, and potentially react violently once they find out.”

The bill would not only damage the progress, as mentioned above, but also create potentially lethal working conditions for people of color, transwomen, undereducated and homeless folks—the majority of whom make up the sex working community in Canada. “We need education that promotes health, safety, and human dignity as opposed to the continued policing of bodies, which is an ongoing form of colonial violence” said Cortney Dakin, a social service provider in London, ON. Furthermore, Bill C-36 makes problematic assumptions about the nature of sex work that blur the lines between consensual and nonconsensual sex; in an article on KWE Today entitled “Why Bill #C36 is Like Working At MacDonald’s (If Purchasing Burgers Were Criminal)”, the bill “assumes that consensual sex between adults is inherently violent and degrading. It adopts the “End Demand” approach to prostitution as opposed to the harm reduction model (ie/ reducing harms and making it safer for sex workers).”

The problems that would arise from the passing of Bill C-36 run even deeper than safety and economic concerns. Critics of the Bill state that the new legislation would further stigmatize workers and make it difficult for them to obtain social services such as housing, child care, custody, and welfare. This could be especially problematic for women of color and indigenous women, who already experience disproportionate rates of child apprehension.

For now, many say that the answer is to keep fighting. ““One thing that’s promising is that this bill is blatantly against the Bedford decision, and blatantly unconstitutional. It will definitely go back to courts” said Bella Clava, a Toronto-based sex worker and harm reduction activist. “Out of this, from coast to coast, we’ve created a really strong movement. Whatever laws get put in place, we’re going to be researching their effects and challenging any negative implications they carry for sex workers. But in the mean time, people are going to die. My friends are going to die, and people who I work in my harm reduction advocacy are going to die. It took almost a decade for the Bedford decision to go through, and how many people died during that time?”

Details of the proposed Bill can be found here, with special interest to exploitation and sex trafficking on page 14.

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