The fight for sex workers’ rights is not over - make your voice heard

The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to strike down three of Canada’s harmful prostitution laws marked an incredible moment for human rights in Canada. However, the battle for safety and dignity for sex workers is far from over. The Supreme Court’s ruling included a 12-month window for Parliament to decide whether to enact new laws that criminalize adult prostitution.

The Federal government has indicated that they intend to introduce new criminal laws and will do so quickly. After decades of grassroots struggle, and seven years in the courts, the hard work of the sex workers’ rights movement could be undone if the proposed law re-criminalizes sex work. It is no wonder that members of the movement are describing this next phase as the “fight of our lives.”

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Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.

The government has opened up an online consultation to hear from Canadians. Sex workers need your help. We are calling on Pivot’s community of supporters to take a few minutes to tell the government that Canada’s laws must promote health, safety and human rights for individuals in the sex industry.  We know from talking to sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and across the country that criminalizing sex work, whether focused on prohibiting the buying or selling of sex, will recreate the egregious harms that sex workers have experienced in the past - the same harms that resulted in the current laws being struck down.

The Federal government needs to hear from everyone in Canada who supports sex workers’ rights in order to protect the gains we have made with the Bedford decision. In order to have your say, you can share your views on Canada’s public consultation website. It is in both official languages: English and French. The consultation includes six questions, which we have posted below. It only takes a few minutes to fill out, and the outcome could be a matter of life or death for Canadian sex workers.  

To share your views in English - click here:

To share your views in French - click here: 

Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to talk to sex workers, women’s equality organizations and human rights advocates across the country about these questions. Everyone I have spoken to is clear that decriminalization is necessary in order to support sex workers’ safety and dignity.

Here is a synopsis of what sex workers have told me in response to the government’s questions:

1. Do you think that purchasing sexual services from an adult should be a criminal offence? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.

Criminalizing the purchase of sexual services is ineffective and harmful because it drives the industry underground where sex workers experience increased violence and decreased access to police and support services. Instead of targeting adults who are purchasing sex, police should focus on supporting sex workers’ safety through the enforcement of laws that prohibit violence and abuse (such as assault, harassment and threatening).

2. Do you think that selling sexual services by an adult should be a criminal offence? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.

Sex workers are saying the same thing they said all the way through the Bedford case - criminalization of sex workers places them at extreme risk of violence, abuse, stigma, discrimination and incarceration. The evidence that criminalization leads to violence and even death is clear, leading the Supreme Court of Canada to unanimously strike down three of Canada’s prostitution laws.

3. If you support allowing the sale or purchase of sexual services, what limitations should there be, if any, on where or how this can be conducted? Please explain.

It is time for Canada to shift away from criminalization of sex work and instead develop a legal framework that is consistent with sex workers’ health, safety and human rights. Non-criminal laws that regulate the working conditions and other aspects of the sex industry must respect and protect the human rights of sex workers, and should be developed in consultation with communities and sex workers themselves.  

4. Do you think that it should be a criminal offence for a person to benefit economically from the prostitution of an adult? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.

Sex workers, like other Canadians, enter into all kinds of business and financial relationships. Benefiting economically from sex work should not be a criminal offence because sex workers should be allowed to establish business relationships that will improve their safety. The criminal laws that prohibit various forms of abuse can be used when sex workers are in need of protection.
5. Are there any other comments you wish to offer to inform the Government's response to the Bedford decision?

I will be telling the government that I wholly support the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to strike down the three major prostitution provisions and it is time for Canada to make the transition to full decriminalization in order for Canada’s laws to be consistent with the health, safety and human rights of sex workers.

The final question asks: Are you writing on behalf of an organization? If so, please identify the organization and your title or role:
If you feel comfortable identifying yourself, we encourage you to do so.