Report: Canada’s Sex Work Laws Have Led to Sweeping Criminalization of Sex Workers

New report from Pivot Legal Society finds that legislation introduced two years ago threatens the physical and economic security of sex workers, fails to protect women from violence

Rights not rescue

Vancouver, B.C., Coast Salish Territories [December 6, 2016]— Canada’s sex work laws violate the Charter rights of sex workers, failing to protect them from violence and exploitation, and should be repealed, according to a new report from Pivot Legal Society.

The report was released on the second anniversary of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) coming into law. On December 6, 2014 the PCEPA replaced three Criminal Code provisions related to prostitution after they were struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in Canada (Attorney General) v Bedford in 2013. The Court found those provisions violated the liberty and security of sex workers, and were therefore unconstitutional.

In response, the federal Conservatives introduced new legislation which, for the first time in Canadian history, outlaws paying for sex. The PCEPA, a modified form of the so-called “Nordic” model, additionally makes it illegal to communicate to exchange sexual services, profit as a third party from someone else’s sexual services, procure someone to provide sexual services, and provide third party advertising for sexual services.

The report’s analysis of these Criminal Code provisions in the PCEPA found that the legislation has resulted in sweeping criminalization of the sex industry, threatening the physical and economic security of sex workers, even though they are immunized from prosecution in certain circumstances.

“When the Supreme Court of Canada delivered its decision in Bedford, the previous federal government had the choice to remove the unconstitutional provisions or introduce new criminal laws,” said Brenda Belak, report author and sex work campaigner at Pivot Legal Society. “They chose the latter, to disastrous and tragic effect. Our new federal government now faces their own choice: repeal these laws or fight to protect them when a constitutional challenge is launched.”

According to the report, the PCEPA violates sex workers’ rights to freedom of expression and association, security of the person, and equal treatment under the law. In addition, the report concluded that under PCEPA, sex workers:

  • continue to fear arrest
  • focus on avoiding detection instead of on safety
  • fear law enforcement, inhibiting their access to the justice system
  • cannot legally negotiate consent to conditions of sexual services
  • face barriers to working indoors and working collectively
  • are excluded from workplace protection regimes
  • continue to experience stigma and discrimination

The report urges lawmakers and police to work with sex workers to repeal laws that criminalize sex work and use existing laws to prosecute perpetrators of violence.

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About Pivot Legal Society

Pivot Legal Society is a leading Canadian human rights organization that uses the law to address the root causes of poverty and social exclusion in Canada. Pivot’s award-winning work includes challenging laws and policies that force people to the margins of society and keep them there. Since 2002 Pivot has won major victories for sex workers’ rights, police accountability, affordable housing, and health and drug policy.

For additional information or to schedule an interview, please contact:

Brenda Belak
Lawyer, Sex Workers’ Rights Campaigner
(604) 537-0680
brenda@pivotlegal.org