Advocating For The Rights Of Sex Workers

1971 words - 8 pages

As a citizen who is extremely concerned with the protection of sex workers’ safety and rights, it is my pleasure to submit this document with my recommendations as to what changes should be made to Canadian law in the wake of the Bedford v. Attorney General of Canada decision. I am pleased to have seen so many organizations that I support (Pivot Legal, Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence, and the PACE Society) were recognized as interveners in the case that preceded this public consultation process and thus able to argue for the rights of sex workers. This is why I am shocked and saddened to see that the discussion paper and consultation questions being used as part of this process do not frame this conversation in a manner that is consistent with the Bedford decision. By focusing questions on whether purchasing and selling sex should remain criminal offences, it is clear that the focus remains on whether prostitution should be legal. This is simply unacceptable.
By striking down three sections of the Criminal Code (s. 10, s, 212(1)(j) and s. 213(1)(c)) because of their violation of the right to security of person under s. 7 of the Charter, the Supreme Court of Canada sent a clear message that the laws criminalizing prostitution were unconstitutional and unacceptable. There is no better example than the Chief Justice’s own comments in the Bedford decision that: “the prohibitions at issue do not merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate. They go a critical step further by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky—but legal—activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risk.” (para 60) It appears from this ruling that the conversation must revolve around how to take this decision into account and use it to formulate laws that protect the rights of sex workers; as opposed to allowing them to be denied in a different form, even though this is unfortunately an option.
As has been astutely pointed out by Pivot Legal time and time again, this begins with recognizing that sex workers are in the best position to identify problems they face under current laws and propose legislation that better protects them from these issues. In fact, this leads to be better policy, as can be demonstrated based on the differences between prostitution law and its impacts in Sweden as opposed to New Zealand. In New Zealand, sex workers were actively consulted prior to the Prostitution Reform Act passed in 2003. It was through this process that sex workers were able to identify concerns and have them included in legislation, which meant that industry standards, occupational regulation, and the right to unionize were all included in the Act. Key to this was framing sex work as labour and dismissing moralistic concerns about sex work that see it, and those who are employed by it, as lesser citizens. Interestingly, New Zealand’s government only becomes involved in prostitution when clients...

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