The Government of Canada must immediately repeal the laws that criminalize sex work.
Over the last thirty years, researchers have thoroughly demonstrated the negative effects of criminal law on the health and safety of sex workers. The criminalization of sex workers, their clients and third parties are key contributors to violence experienced by sex workers, among other repercussions including stigma and discrimination. Various human rights organizations, UN bodies and courts have affirmed this research and concluded that criminalization of the sex industry supports exploitation and other human rights abuses, including the Supreme Court of Canada in Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford (Bedford). However, despite this extensive body of research and growing consensus among human rights bodies of the harms associated with criminalizing the sex industry, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) was enacted in 2014, replicating the harms of the former laws that the Supreme Court of Canada found violated sex workers’ Charter right to security of person.
While many may perceive criminal laws as a mean to effectively protect women, youth or 2SLGBTQIA+ people and prevent violence and promote healthy sexual and reproductive conduct, they are often ineffective at protecting individuals and changing conduct. In fact, they may have the unintended effect of harming the very individuals whose rights they intended to protect. In Canada, sex workers risk criminal offence when they take actions to protect their own health and safety. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that criminalization of sex work promotes violence and violates human rights; yet, the government has not repealed the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), the dangerous legislation that is placing sex workers at risk every day.
WHAT CANADA CAN DO RIGHT NOW TO RESPECT SEX WORKERS’ RIGHTS AND RIGHTS OF PEOPLE LIVING WITH HIV:
- Repeal all the Criminal Code sections that individually and as a whole threaten sex workers’ health and safety.
- Include sex workers in policy and law reform processes as the human rights principles of participation, transparency, and accountability require that sex workers must have a say in modernizing the laws and policies that affect them. This includes COVID-19 recovery policies and programs.