My Work Should Not Cost Me My Life: The Case Against Criminalising the Purchase of Sex In Canada

Pivot Legal Society, Sex Workers United Against Violence, Gender and Sexual Health Initiative
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On December 20, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a landmark decision that substantially reshaped Canada’s legal framework regarding adult sex work. The case of Bedford v. Canada resulted in the striking down of three provisions of the Criminal Code: the communication, bawdy-house and living on the avails laws. The Court found that these three provisions violate section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter”) given their negative impact on sex workers’ security of the person. The declaration of invalidity of the laws did not, however, take effect immediately. The Court gave the government one year to contemplate whether new prostitution laws should be enacted. The question remains: will Canada shift away from the criminalisation of adult sex work? Or will the government continue to criminalise sex work in other ways? The Canadian government has indicated its interest in the approach taken in Sweden, which enacted a law in 1999 prohibiting the purchase of sexual services. Given the active debate that is occurring in Canada and around the world regarding Sweden’s approach to criminalisation, it is an important time to examine and evaluate the evidence regarding the impact of this model.

This report – being the result of collaboration between a number of organisations - aims to deliver the above task. It relies on the experiences and voices of street-based sex workers interviewed in Vancouver by the Gender and Sexual Health Initiative (GSHI) and which can be summarized as follows:

-          Law enforcement targeted at clients does not make sex work go away.

-          Sex workers do not want their clients arrested for trying to purchase sexual services. They do want their clients arrested when they are violent, abusive or exploitive. 

-          When police target clients of sex workers, sex workers experience a range of serious harms to their health and safety including displacement to dangerous and isolated areas of the city, lack of time to negotiate and screen clients and lack of access to police protection.

Pivot then has taken this evidence to conduct a constitutional analysis whether a law that prohibits the purchase of sex, if enacted in Canada, would violate sex workers’ right to security of the person, as protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There is a strong case that it would. Given the robust evidence that such a law creates the same dangerous conditions for sex workers that the Supreme Court of Canada said were created by the existing laws, and given that such a law would be both overreaching in its scope and create risks for sex workers rather than protect them, it is their view that it would not stand up to constitutional scrutiny and would be struck down if challenged. 

You can download this 28 page document above. This resource is in English.