Action Canada stands in solidarity with the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform and individual applicants in their launch of a Charter challenge to laws that criminalize sex work in Canada.
In December 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada delivered a unanimous landmark decision in the case of Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford; Canada’s highest court ruled that three provisions of Canada’s Criminal Code violated sex workers’ right to security of the person protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All three laws were struck down because they imposed dangerous conditions for those engaged in sex work and were unconstitutional. In response to this historical victory for human rights, the Government of Canada introduced the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act in December 2014, which re-enacted many of the same violations found in the previous laws.
Despite the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act’s stated aim of protecting vulnerable people from exploitation, its ban on purchasing sex, communicating for the purposes of selling or purchasing sex, managing and providing supports to sex workers, and advertising sexual services, replicate many of the harms identified in Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford.
To this day, under the laws introduced in 2014, sex workers continue to live and work in unsafe conditions; they face predatory and state violence, immigration raids, deportation, surveillance, and arrest as well as see their human rights consistently violated.
Sex workers who are Black, Indigenous, Asian, racialized, trans, migrant, and/or poor, and those who work in public spaces and/or use drugs face additional and disproportionate targeting by police and experience more violence.
Despite repeated demands from sex workers and their advocates, no action has been taken since 2014 to repeal the laws and regulations that put sex workers at risk every day and fail to comply with the Charter.
Meaningful sex work law reform in Canada is long overdue. The move toward decriminalization is backed by thousands of pages of evidence and expert testimony from the 2013 Supreme Court decision as well as decades of government sponsored commission reports and research, relentless activism from grassroots organizations, and rulings from UN human rights bodies and policies advanced by UN agencies and global human rights organizations.
Governments have an obligation to show due diligence in the protection of sex workers’ human rights, including their right to equality, personal autonomy, freedom of association and expression and freedom from violence. We are in full support of the Charter Challenge and welcome these concrete steps toward the decriminalizing sex work in Canada. We urge the federal government to take swift action to decriminalize sex work in Canada by striking relevant sections of the criminal code and removing immigration regulations that put migrant sex workers at risk of violence, detention and deportation.