A coalition of s3x workers and s3x work advocacy groups is fighting in an Ontario court to have an anti-s3x-work law repealed in Canada.
Public hearings took place last week in Ontario Superior Court in downtown Toronto over a lawsuit filed by the Canadian Alliance for S3x Work Law Reform (CASWLR), comprising 25 s3x worker-led groups representing thousands of s3x workers in Canada. The group is challenging the constitutionality of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), passed in 2014 by the then-Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
PCEPA was created in response to a 2013 Canadian Supreme Court decision that struck down several criminal prohibitions on s3x work as unconstitutional, on the grounds that they were harmful to s3x workers and infringed on their rights to liberty and security.
The Conservative government skirted this by decriminalizing the selling of s3xual services but criminalizing the purchasing of those services, following what is known as the “Nordic Model.”
The current CASWLR court case challenges this premise, backed by substantive research and evidence that the criminalizing of clients under the Nordic Model ultimately harms s3x workers.
“PCEPA criminalizes communicating to sell s3xual services in public, communicating to purchase s3xual services in any context, facilitating or receiving a benefit related to the purchase of someone else’s s3xual services, and advertising s3xual services,” CASWLR told Canadian public broadcaster CBC. “S3x workers are criminalized, stigmatized and discriminated against under PCEPA.”
According to CASWLR National Coordinator Jenn Clamen, the government misrepresented the effects of the 2013 law.
“When you criminalize the purchase of s3x, s3xual services, you are putting s3x workers in a context of criminalization at all times,” Clamen told Global News.
Canada’s Minister of Justice’s take
Canadian Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti told Global News through a rep that he “will always work to ensure that our criminal laws effectively meet their objectives, keep all Canadians safe, and are consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
“With respect to the current laws, the five-year parliamentary review of the former Bill C-36 was an appropriate forum for parliamentarians to examine the full range of effects that this legislation has had since its coming into force,” the government rep continued.
The justice minister is reportedly currently reviewing the findings of that committee to formulate a response.
Lametti is a member of the Liberal Party minority government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. At the time PCEPA was passed, the then-opposition Liberals voted against it in the House of Commons and vowed when campaigning to reform the law upon taking office — a promise CASWLR says they’ve reneged on.
Jelena Vermilion, executive director of coalition member S3x Workers’ Action Program, told the CBC that the government has mechanisms to change the law if it wants to, but has declined to do so.
“There’s also the possibility of a federal member bringing forth a member’s bill proposing the decriminalization of the s3x trade and nobody has had the courage to do so, so s3x workers are taking the government to court to fight for their rights,” Vermilion said.