Sex Workers Sue Canadian Government Over Disastrous, Wrong-Headed PCEPA

Oppressive present-day laws in Canada make it impossible for sex workers to make a living without severe discrimination because of the criminalization of their clients.

The current constitutional challenge against the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) differs from Canada’s Bedford case in a crucial ways.

As reported in Chateline,

Jane Li supported her family through sex work for more than a decade, and after retiring, she helped other sex workers with administrative tasks—answering the phone, setting up dates, posting advertisements. But most importantly, she helped them reject rude or dangerous clients.

Until several years ago, that is, when Li was arrested and charged for sex work-related crimes. The sex workers she was helping were either deported or forced to stop working, while Li was put in prison.

“The police took my phone and all my money. I have lost my apartment and became homeless without income. I can’t even afford to pay for my food,” Li says. “I do not force anyone to work. I do not exploit anyone. There are so many nights I want to end my life because of this injustice.”

Li is not alone. Her experience encapsulates why a group of sex workers are suing the Canadian government (again) over the laws that criminalize their work. The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform and six individual applicants are challenging Canada’s sex work-specific criminal offences and are seeking to strike them down on the basis that they violate sex workers’ constitutional rights.

Earlier this fall, the Alliance, which is made up of 25 sex worker rights groups from across Canada, argued in the Ontario Superior Court that the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA)—which is the current legislation on sex work—subjects sex workers to targeted violence, harassment, police profiling, surveillance and arrest.

PCEPA criminalizes most aspects of sex work—including communicating to obtain sexual services, placing advertisements, renting work space to sex workers, working for sex workers, and managing or hiring sex workers. While these provisions are in place, sex workers will continue to be criminalized for their work.


Canada’s shifting legal landscape

The Labaye decision in 2005 had restricted the definition of indecency in Canada’s “bawdy house laws” to acts that cause serious harm.

In 2007, Terri-Jean Bedford, Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch took the government to court to challenge three sex-work related criminal offenses, also on the basis that the laws violated their constitutional rights. After the case wound its way through the courts for years, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a unanimous judgment in 2013 that the laws under consideration contravened sex workers’ right to liberty and security. The justices ordered the Stephen Harper government strike down the three criminal offenses, including the section that dealt with sex work in a bawdy house, and gave parliament one year to enact the changes.

With the PCEPA, Canada adopted the “Nordic model” of regulating prostitution.

As reported by the wonderful Elizabeth Nolan Brown in Reason:

Essentially, the Nordic model re-creates all the problems of full criminalization but gives anti-prostitution campaigners a progressive veneer.

Sex workers in the current case—brought by … CASWLR  and several individuals—` is also unconstitutional.

These laws cause “serious and repeated breaches of sex workers’ Charter rights to life, liberty, and security of person, equality, freedom of expression, and freedom of association … without protecting communities or exploited persons,” they argue.

Read more about (PCEPA) here

737360cookie-checkSex Workers Sue Canadian Government Over Disastrous, Wrong-Headed PCEPA

Sex Workers Sue Canadian Government Over Disastrous, Wrong-Headed PCEPA

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