On Thursday, December 3, Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV) and Pivot Legal Society launched a series of “Know Your Rights” cards to inform sex workers which of the activities related to their work are illegal. The cards will be distributed to sex workers in Vancouver and across Canada, with the hope that can help sex workers stay safe until the laws are changed.
Below is a statement from SWUAV board members DJ Joe and Chili Bean on the release of the cards on the eve of the one-year anniversary of new federal laws criminalizing sex work.
Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.
We are here today representing the Sex Workers United Against Violence Society. We are thrilled to be here with Pivot and SWAN to launch these Know Your Rights cards about the latest laws in Canada relating to sex workers, third parties and clients.
Our members know firsthand what a rollercoaster it has been over the past many years as we have gone to court and then spent countless months watching and waiting for court decisions that have had such a huge impact on the lives and livelihoods of sex workers. To say we were all devastated by the previous federal government’s enactment of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act is an understatement.
With all of the ups and downs and changes to the legal framework for sex work in the last few years, SWUAV felt it was important to develop a short and sweet explanation of the new laws to help clarify things for sex workers. It is our hope that these cards and the information in them will be a source of empowerment for sex workers, and help them to feel less intimidated when confronted by police.
The second card being launched today is an updated version of an older Know Your Rights card explaining some of the specific policies of the VPD when it comes to the enforcement of laws relating to sex work in Vancouver. Again, we felt it important to get the message about these guidelines and what the police have promised out to the people most directly affected – sex workers themselves.
While we appreciate the efforts that have been made at a policy level within the VPD to create safer environments for sex workers, SWUAV members know all too well that decisions made at higher levels in the police department do not always translate to changes on the street. So, we also want sex workers to know that SWUAV and other organizations are committed to making sure that the police are held accountable for these promises to not harass or prosecute sex workers under these laws.
Finally, we would just like to say that we wish it was not necessary for us to launch these Know Your Rights cards. It was abundantly clear in the Bedford decision that sex workers are entitled to equal protection under the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms, and that includes not being put in harm’s way by dangerous laws. We feel it was a hostile and aggressive action on the part of the federal government to pass the new law, and we call on the new government to repeal the PCEPA immediately. We really would rather not go through the whole court challenge process again – but we absolutely will if we don’t see action on this from the federal government that recognizes that sex workers rights are human rights!