The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that criminalizing sex work promotes violence and the violates human rights of sex workers, and yet no action has been taken to repeal the dangerous legislation that is STILL placing sex workers at risk every day.
In Canada, sex workers risk criminal offence when they take actions to protect their own health and safety, including carrying condoms and lubricants (which can be used as evidence of sex work) and an unwillingness to see health care providers for fear of police entrapment.
- Fear around legal consequences or harassment if sex workers carry condoms and lubricant, which can be used as evidence of sex work.
- Reduced ability to negotiate safer sex with clients.
- A negative impact on relationships with service providers (such as those providing condoms and harm reduction supplies) for fear of being identified as sex workers, which could lead to police entrapment.
- Heightened STI and HIV risks
The legislation known as the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act is especially alarming for immigrants. Canada’s sex work laws do not explicitly address migrant sex workers but the objective to “ensure consistency between prostitution offences and the existing human trafficking offences” means that human trafficking is being confused with prostitution. Because migrant sex workers are often identified as “trafficked victims” and because their work is often referred to as “sexual exploitation,” laws and policies that criminalize sex work and migration specifically target sex workers who are racialized and people of colour. This puts already vulnerable populations at higher risk of criminalization and violence.
The criminalization of the purchase of sexual services means sex workers will not seek police protection and support services when they need them, thereby decreasing their ability to report violence to police and take care of their health. It also prevents sex workers from using simple safety strategies like working in pairs, working in familiar areas, or having the time to consult “bad date lists” to help protect themselves against violent or abusive clients.
What Canada can do right now to respect sex workers’ rights
- Decriminalize sex work by repealing Criminal Code sections that threaten sex workers’ health and safety.
- Include sex workers in policy and law reform processes. To truly ensure the health and safety of sex workers, it’s vital to follow the human rights principles of participation, transparency, and accountability, which require that sex workers have a say in modernizing the laws and policies that affect them.