Sex workers challenge criminal laws in court


David Fraser, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — New laws governing sex work in Canada promote stigma, incite targeted violence and prevent safe consent, an alliance of sex worker rights groups argued Monday at the opening of a constitutional challenge to federal provisions.

The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the country’s ban on prostitution in 2013. Lawyers then successfully argued that the federal provisions were disproportionate and overbroad. The Supreme Court also held that these provisions endanger sex workers by forcing them to practice their activities underground.

To comply with the Supreme Court ruling, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government had new provisions adopted in 2014: federal law now criminalizes the purchase of sexual services rather than the offer, but it still prohibits the advertising and pimping.

It is these new provisions that the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform is challenging this week in the Ontario Superior Court in Toronto.

Lawyers representing the Alliance argued Monday that the new provisions are more restrictive than what they replaced, and in fact continue to criminalize sex work in Canada.

Michael Rosenberg argued in court that articles that prohibit advertising or communicating about the purchase or sale of sexual services pose “unacceptable risk” to sex workers, in particular because they prevent checks health and safety, or meaningful consent conversations.

The Alliance, which includes the Montreal organization Stella and Quebec City’s Project LUNE as members, also believes that the new provisions violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to security.

Jenn Clamen, co-ordinator of the Alliance, says her organization has a solid case of evidence to present in court during the four days of hearings this week.

« Our record demonstrates the harms (of the new provisions) to all sex workers, » she said in an interview Monday. The most marginalized sex workers suffer, but all sex workers, even the most privileged, are harmed by the current legislative regime.”

Ms. Clamen also argues that the laws force sex workers, and those around them in their practice, to work in a context of criminalization.

“It means that sex workers, clients and third parties (…) try all the time to avoid detection by law enforcement and the police. This means that sex workers are currently forced into solitary confinement due to the constant risk of criminalization.

The Alliance believes that there should be no criminal laws specific to sex work, and it has developed dozens of recommendations to create a decriminalized, but more regulated, industry.

The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform, created in 2012, has 25 groups across Canada, including Montreal-based organizations Rézo and Action Santé Travesti(e)s et Transsexual(le)s du Québec, as well as the Longueuil Émissaire organization.


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