Bill C-36 and the views of people involved in the Canadian sex industry

Chris Atchison, Dr. Cecilia Benoit et al.
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On June 4th, 2014 Justice Minister Peter MacKay introduced Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. The draft legislation proposes a legal frameworkthat criminalises communication in public for the purpose of prostitution, the purchase ofsexual services, material benefit, and the advertisement of sexual services.

In this brief the authors focus on the findings from their recent national study funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Their research program has drawn together a multi-sectorial team of knowledge users, collaborators, scholars and trainees, many of whom have worked for over two decades to raise public awareness. The team has worked collaboratively to: a) identify key factors that are systematically linked to violence and vulnerabilities in the Canadian sex industry; b) estimate the impact of gender and sexuality on violence-related links between sex workers, clients, romantic partners, supervisors, regulators, and service providers; c) ensure that useful knowledge generated by the research program informs policies and practices aimed at improving the safety and health of sex workers and those they relate to at work and in their personal lives.

The results of the national research, the largest of its kind in Canada, indicate that the main provisions of Bill C-36 will impede the use of safety strategies employed by sex sellers. It is based on false assumptions regarding the makeup of the sex industry in Canada and the experiences and motivations of sellers, their intimate partners/spouses, buyers, and managers. Currently, people involved in the Canadian sex industry are reluctant to contact the police if in danger. Only 22% of the sellers who reported any incidents of victimisation while working in the sex industry in the previous 12 months ever contacted the police and only16% filed a police report in connection with their victimisation. The proposed legislation will make sellers feel even more wary about asking the police for help. The authors of the study recommend instead treating the sex industry as any other industry and regulating it through existing human rights legislation, labour laws, and municipal regulations as a better alternative to the current proposed legislation. They also recommend, as others have internationally, harm reduction and health promotion policies that improve health, safety and wellbeing.

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