Decriminalization of sex work in Canada
Pivot recently celebrated two landmark victories at the Supreme Court of Canada. The first was in Canada v. SWUAV/Kiselbach, where Sex Workers United Against Violence and Sheryl Kiselbach won the right to challenge Canada's harmful prostitution laws. This case was not only a win for these two plaintiffs, but on a broader level, it significantly improved access to justice and Charter protection for marginalized people who want to bring human rights claims before the courts.
The second decision was the case of Canada v. Bedford, Lebovitch and Scott, where the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously held that three criminal laws that prohibit various aspects of adult prostitution are unconstitutional because they violate sex workers' right to security of the person. The Court’s declaration that the laws are invalid is suspended for one year to give the federal government time to consider whether or not new laws should be enacted.
The following video captures SWUAV, PACE and Pivot's journey to Ottawa to intervene in this monumental case:
Pivot is now analyzing the post-Bedford context and will continue to work with sex workers to provide guidance to government on what laws should be in place (at the federal, provincial and municipal level) in order to ensure sex workers' safety and human rights. In addition, Pivot continues to work closely with sex worker organizations to improve the quality of policing by the Vancouver Police Department and monitor their compliance with VPD policy that says that sex work involving consenting adults is not an enforcement priority.
Advocating Against Unconstitutional Criminal Laws – In 2013, Pivot lawyer Katrina Pacey represented Pivot, Sex Workers United Against Violence and PACE Society in an intervention in the Canada v. Bedford litigation at the Supreme Court of Canada (and in 2011 at the Ontario Court of Appeal). Our coalition focused on bringing the voices of street-based sex workers to the Court, arguing that for this community, these laws are a matter of life or death. A unanimous Supreme Court of Canada agreed with our position that the prostitution laws unjustifiably infringe on the constitutional right of sex workers to be safe and secure. The Court struck down the laws that prohibit communicating in public about prostitution, living on the avails of prostitution and working indoors. This decision was an incredibly important win for sex workers across Canada, and will be an important precedent for future human rights cases.
Documenting Sex Workers’ Experiences - Pivot has published two foundational reports on Canada’s prostitution laws. In 2004, Pivot released Voices for Dignity: A Call to End the Harms Caused by Canada’s Sex Trade Laws, based on the affidavits of nearly 100 sex workers. The affidavits outline the expert opinions of sex workers and their experiences working within the current legal framework. They highlight the many ways in which Canada’s prostitution laws worsen the already harmful conditions under which sex workers live. In 2006, Pivot worked with sex workers from all segments of the industry to produce Beyond Decriminalization: Sex Work, Human Rights and a New Framework for Law Reform. This report remains one of the only studies to explore the question of how to effectively regulate the Canadian sex industry in a decriminalized environment. Both reports were entered into evidence on in the Bedford constitutional challenge to prostitution laws.
Sex Workers Share their Expertise with Parliament - In 2005, Pivot lawyer Katrina Pacey presented the affidavits collected for Voices for Dignity to the Parliamentary Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws. Katrina travelled to Ottawa to present to the Subcommittee, and then set up a private meeting for the Subcommittee with Vancouver sex workers in the Downtown Eastside. No media were invited and sex workers had an opportunity to appear as witnesses before the Subcommittee in a safe and accessible environment.