TORONTO -- It’s been more than a year since 150 human rights organizations came together to demand the decriminalization of sex work in Canada, and in spite of minimal political progress since then, advocates continue to raise awareness about the human rights abuses that sex workers face.
March 3 is International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. Advocates say the annual celebration commemorates the day in 2001 when thousands of sex workers rallied together for a public festival in Kolkata, India. The event was organised by a local group that fights for the rights of sex workers.
Since then, human rights organizations across the globe have subsequently celebrated March 3, and have used the opportunity to highlight the ongoing discrimination and violence that sex workers experience.
Advocates in Canada say federal laws that make it illegal for anyone to purchase sexual services continue to put sex workers in a vulnerable position, where their health and safety are at risk.
“The federal government has expressed repeated and full support for bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive rights but continues to uphold harmful legislation that Prime Minister Trudeau himself voted against in 2014,” Sarah Kennell, director of government relations at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, said in a statement. “We are asking Prime Minister Trudeau and the Federal government to take action and decriminalize sex work.”
Kennell notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate negative impact on the health and rights of sex workers across the country. She says sex workers have been left out of financial support initiatives and forced to put their health concerns aside in order to earn money for their survival.