Decriminalization of sex work in Canada
The Government of Canada is appealing the Ontario Court of Appeal decision overturning the "bawdy house" provision of the Criminal Code of Canada and the reading down of the "living on the avails" provision of the Code. The plaintiffs are cross-appealing on the issue of the communications provision. We will be asking for leave to intervene in this case which is expected to be heard at the Supreme Court of Canada in June 2013. The Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV) case, here in Vancouver will be on hold pending the SCC decision in Bedford. Even with a legal victory, there remains a possibility that government may replace the existing laws related to adult prostitution with an equally problematic model, such as the “Nordic Model” which makes it illegal to buy sex. In order to prepare for that possibility, we will be releasing a report in fall 2013 looking at the impacts of criminalizing clients for street-based sex workers.
Regulatory framework for the province and the municipality
Given the Bedford decision in Ontario and the possibility that it could become binding on BC, this is an important time for moving forward on the framework Pivot developed in 2006 for Beyond Decriminalization, a report that looked at legal and regulatory issues that provincial and municipal governments would have to address in a decriminalized environment. We are currently working with sex workers as part of the City of Vancouver Sex Work Task Force to recommend bylaw amendments to regulate a decriminalized sex industry in Vancouver. In the process, we are gaining a deeper understanding of municipal bylaw regimes in other contexts.
Policing and enforcement
The Vancouver Police Department has adopted a formal policy of prioritizing sex worker safety over enforcement and arrests among street-based workers in the DTES. In 2013, we will be raising awareness among sex workers through a new rights card and will be monitoring compliance with the policy. We will also focus on the recommendation in the final report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry that other municipalities take a similar approach to Vancouver in order to push for similar policies across the province.
Documenting Sex Workers’ Experiences - Pivot has published two of the 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 sex trade 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 report 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.