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Repeal the Laws That Criminalize Sex Work

Recommendation 1: The PCEPA is an unconstitutional set of laws that imposes more danger and more criminalization on sex workers and leaves them with fewer safe options. We recommend repealing all criminal laws that prohibit the purchase or sale of sexual services by adults and that limit adults selling sex from working with others in non-coercive situations. This includes the PCEPA and provisions such as Section 213(1)(a) and (b), which were not constitutionally challenged in Bedford.

Use Existing Laws to Prosecute Acts of Violence

Recommendation 2: The best way to eliminate exploitation is not to create a highly stigmatizing set of laws that set sex workers apart from the rest of society, but rather to use existing Criminal Code provisions to punish perpetrators of violence and exploitation and ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal access to police and labour protections that are theoretically available to everyone in Canada. (See Appendix 2, Existing)

Don’t Conflate Trafficking and Sex Work

Recommendation 3: The trafficking provisions found in the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act should be maintained as laws of general application and applied in all situations of labour exploitation. Sex work (the consensual exchange of sexual services for money) is not trafficking, and trafficking laws should not be used as a reason to investigate sex workers and sex work businesses unless there is compelling evidence of debt bondage, violence, deprivation of liberty, or similar exploitation.

Create Appropriate Provincial Laws and Municipal Bylaws in Consultation with Sex Workers

Recommendation 4: Decriminalizing sex work would not necessarily mean that there are no restrictions on sex work – however, the boundaries on sex work should be developed with sex workers, who are the true authorities in their lives and work. Ensuring that sex workers have access to the protections afforded all other workers by provincial employment standards and occupational health and safety legislation, along with other laws regulating provincial businesses, could help to eliminate workplace injustices. Using municipal bylaws created through community dialogue processes that prioritize a human rights approach to when and where sex work takes place is essential, because using criminal sanctions only serves to reinforce stigma.

Invest in Non-Judgmental Support Services for Sex Workers

Recommendation 5: When introducing the PCEPA, the federal government also announced that $20 million in funding over five years would be made available to support grassroots organizations dealing with “the most vulnerable,” including “those who want to leave this dangerous and harmful activity”, referring to sex work. Despite the promise of funding for programs that can help individuals transition out of sex work into other work, most sex worker led and sex worker support organizations across the country that applied were denied funding. In the intervening year, at least one organization (Big Susie’s in Hamilton, ON) had to close its doors. Many others have struggled through major funding cutbacks. Funding to support “exiting” programs should never be prioritized above funding to meet sex workers’ current needs. Harm reduction mechanisms, including bad date lists and provision of safer sex supplies and secure working spaces reduce the risks experienced by sex workers. Evidence from Sweden has shown that when social service provision is contingent upon sex workers exiting the sex industry, harm reduction activities are curtailed. This undermines sex workers’ access to information and safer sex supplies, and reduces contact between sex workers and service organizations, making it much harder to identify those in situations of exploitation. Researchers also found that the prohibitionist narrative underpinning the prostitution laws has informed the attitudes of service providers, resulting in increased stigma and isolation for sex workers who do not wish to transition out of sex work. In short, when exiting is prioritized, crucial non-judgmental services and resources are unavailable to those that require them the most.

Invest in Supports for Low Income Sex Workers – Whether They Want to Do Sex Work or Not

Recommendation 6: It is often said that leaving sex work is not an event but rather a process that requires adapting the skills learned in sex work to other work environments, overcoming social prejudice, and explaining gaps in work history. For those who do wish to transition out of sex work, the $20 million fund nationally is not nearly enough. More funding should also be made available to support transitioning and skills training programs run by current or former sex workers, who best understand the challenges.

Recognize the Complex Realities of Indigenous People Who Sell and Trade Sex

Recommendation 7: Across Canada, funding for education and supports for Indigenous people onand off-reserve are grossly inadequate. Provincial systems for youth in care, also disproportionately Indigenous, often do not meet their needs. As a result, Indigenous youth often struggle to support themselves when they try to escape abusive circumstances. The federal government should increase broad-based supports, including through funding to Indigenous communities for self-administered education, vocational training, housing programs, income assistance, employment programs, and health and addictions services, based in Indigenous traditions. This would position Indigenous people to decide whether they want to participate in the sex industry, and if so, under what conditions.

Recommendation 8: Because New Zealand has a unitary legal system that is different from Canada’s federal system, (which divides law-making powers between the federal and provincial governments) decriminalization in Canada would necessarily look somewhat different. Furthermore, care would need to be taken to ensure that municipalities do not enact bylaws that replicate the harms of the criminal laws. Any law reform program should only be undertaken with the direct involvement and input of sex workers, who are the experts in their own health and safety.

Work on Undoing the Stigma That Surrounds Sex Work, Through Law Reform and Education Programs

Recommendation 9: The greatest commonality between sex workers in Canada is the stigma they face. Most sex workers live in fear that their work will be revealed to family and neighbours. This stigma perpetuates conditions that have allowed predators to murder, rape, and abuse sex workers with impunity, because police failed to investigate and prosecute these crimes. Education is also needed to dismantle negative stereotypes about sex workers, but law reform is essential. Changing the law would be a first step towards undoing the stigma and accepting sex work as an occupation and people who do sex work as full members of our communities.

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