Vancouver, BC [November 6]—The federal government’s new prostitution legislation will put their lives in danger, according to a coalition of sex workers in Vancouver.
Bill C-36 received royal assent on Thursday morning. Tabled in response to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) striking down the country’s sex work laws last year, the new legislation places restrictions on sex work by criminalizing aspects of the sex trade including the purchase of sex by clients, advertising, working with others, and communication in specific public places.
Sex workers from across Canada, including those with FIRST, a national coalition of feminists that advocates for the decriminalization of sex work, argue that the new bill will replicate the harms created by the prostitution laws that were struck down in the SCC’s Bedford decision last December.
“Canadians need to understand that this new law will not protect sex workers or communities. Instead, C-36 will impoverish them and deepen their vulnerability to exploitation and violence,” says Kerry Porth, a former sex worker and board chair of Pivot Legal Society. “Sex workers will suffer and their lives will be needlessly endangered as a result of the Harper government’s vindictive response to the Bedford decision.”
Sex workers warn that the new laws will put them in harm’s way by limiting their ability to negotiate with clients, communicate about the nature of their services, work with others, and establish safer indoor venues. All of these measures were found by the SCC to enhance sex workers’ safety.
The Conservatives have argued that the new legislation is meant to protect sex workers by aiming to abolish prostitution.
“I am not a victim and I am not a criminal. The government is lying when they say this law is about protecting me or other sex workers,” says Susan Davis, a sex worker in Vancouver. “Bill C-36 treats all sex workers as victims in need of rescue, and then makes the conditions of our work more dangerous. We want the right to work safely, not to be rescued from our jobs.”
Sex workers also argue that the Conservatives have intentionally conflated sex work with trafficking.
“Peter MacKay says this bill will prevent trafficking despite the substantial evidence demonstrating that criminalization of sex work does the exact opposite,” says Alison Clancey, executive director with SWAN, which provides outreach programs for migrant sex workers. “Bill C-36 will push indoor sex workers underground. Legitimate operators will flee the industry while paving the way for unscrupulous actors, including organized crime. This bill will invite trafficking and more than anything, extinguish the rights of the people the law is meant to protect.”
Upon receiving royal assent, Bill C-36 will become law in 30 days.
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FIRST is a national coalition of feminists that advocates for the complete decriminalization of sex work for both sex workers and clients. FIRST believes that Canada’s prostitution laws rob sex workers of their livelihood and prevent them from creating safe and empowering working conditions. www.firstadvocates.org
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