Rights not rescue

When adult sex work is criminalized, sex workers experience decreased control over the conditions of their work and they are subject to increased violence and discrimination. Pivot’s commitment to the decriminalization of adult sex work is informed by our work with sex workers across Canada. Decriminalization is a necessary step to protecting the safety and rights of sex workers by ensuring that they have full access to health, safety and human rights. In addition to law reform, Pivot is also committed to challenging oppressive social conditions that constrain women's economic options. All sex workers deserve to have their choices respected and be able to work safely, without fear of violence, discrimination and social stigma.

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Past Victories

Bedford Supreme Court victory

Pivot represented Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV) at the Supreme Court of Canada in an intervention in the 2013 case of Canada (Attorney General) v Bedford, Scott and Lebovitch. This constitutional challenge ultimately led the Supreme Court to strike down three key provisions in Canada’s prostitution laws that criminalized sex work. The Court unanimously held that criminal laws prohibiting aspects of adult prostitution were unconstitutional because they violated sex workers’ right to security of the person.

“Know Your Rights” for sex workers

In 2013, SWUAV and Pivot released a series of “Know Your Rights” cards to inform sex workers which of the activities related to their work were illegal under Canada’s prostitution laws. After the federal government introduced Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, we published new rights cards providing information about the changes and explaining which sex work related activities are illegal under the current laws. The cards have been distributed in multiple languages to sex workers in Vancouver and across Canada, with the hope that can help sex workers stay safe until the laws are changed. 

Access to justice for marginalized litigants

In 2007, Pivot filed a constitutional challenge to Canada’s prostitution laws on behalf Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV), a group run by and for street-based sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, along with Sheryl Kiselbach, a former sex worker who provides safety training to street-based sex workers. Before the case could go to trial, the federal government argued that the applicants did not have the right to challenge the laws, because neither Sheryl as an individual nor SWUAV as an organization were at risk of being charged criminally under the laws in question. The BC Supreme Court refused to grant Sheryl and SWUAV standing to bring the case, but the BC Court of Appeal partially reversed the decision. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately determined that SWUAV should be able to challenge Canada’s prostitution laws and modified the test for granting public interest standing to make it easier for groups to bring cases on behalf of their members. The decision makes justice more accessible for all marginalized people seeking to bring human rights claims before the courts and ultimately, to enjoy the protections of the Charter.

Police enforcement guidelines

The Vancouver Police Department created guidelines in consultation with Pivot and other community groups that require officers to prioritize sex workers’ safety over law enforcement. The guidelines direct police to not harass, target, arrest, or intimidate sex workers. Pivot and SWUAV have asked other municipal police departments and the RCMP to adopt similar policies.