A Closer Look: The Battle to Decriminalize Sex Work in Canada

Painting by ErinMarie Tankupine
Painting by ErinMarie Tankupine

The question of decriminalization of sex work in Canada has been a hot button issue ever since the recent Canadian Supreme Court decisions in Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society et al. v. Canada (Attorney General) 2012 SCC 45 and the 2013 Canada (Attorney General) v Bedford case. As a result of Bedford, on December 20th, 2013 the Supreme Court of Canada struck down three anti-prostitution laws:

1. Bawdy house law – which banned sex workers from hosting clients at an indoor location.

2. Living on the avails – which banned sex workers from working with anyone else (drivers, security personnel, call-bookers, etc.) if that person was being paid.

3. Communicating – Criminalizes any sex worker communicating for the purpose of sex work in a public place near parks, schools, playgrounds or daycares.

In agreement with the sex workers who brought this charter challenge, the Supreme Court found that these laws were harmful to “the health, safety and lives of prostitutes” & that they were unconstitutional. They gave Parliament one year to come up with new legislation -should it choose to do so.

In response to the Court’s decision, on December 6th, 2014 the majority Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper introduced into law Bill C-36, formally called the Protection of Communities & Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA). In essence, PCEPA attempts to legislate sex work out of existence. Justice minister Peter Mackay has stated that this law aims to abolish prostitution.

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