Criminal laws violate charter rights of sex workers, advocates say in court challenge

·2 min read

OTTAWA — An alliance of 25 sex worker rights groups is asking the Ontario Court of Justice to strike down several sections of the Criminal Code as unconstitutional.

The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform said the provisions violate sex workers’ charter rights to security, personal autonomy, life, liberty, free expression, free association and equality.

Group co-ordinator Jenn Clamen says sex workers increasingly experience the heavy hand of law enforcement as a result of the criminal provisions.

“We have been patiently waiting on the empty promises of parliamentarians to uphold the rights of sex workers," Clamen said.

“This government has spent five years paying lip service to human rights and to feminism, and it’s time for them to act.”

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2013 that three prostitution prohibitions were unconstitutional because they caused harm to sex workers and contravened their rights to liberty and security.

The alliance said the Conservative government of the day missed an opportunity to make things better for sex workers and instead brought in new provisions under the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act that have had negative effects.

It said the measures prohibit sex workers from:

— negotiating conditions and establishing consent to sexual activity;

— obtaining relevant information from clients and engaging in other screening practices vital to safety;

— working in non-isolated, collective and indoor workspaces;

— and establishing important working and safety relationships with managers, receptionists, drivers and interpreters, as well as other sex workers who pool resources, services and knowledge.

NDP justice critic Randall Garrison said there has been no action from the Liberal government to protect the rights of sex workers.

He urged the government to complete a scheduled legislative review of the law passed under the Conservatives.

Sex workers have spent the last five years in a precarious position where they remain stigmatized and vulnerable to violence, he said.

"Unfortunately, there has been no action and instead advocates have had to start a court challenge to force the government to act."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press