Thank you so much.
Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to address you today.
The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform is a coalition of 28 sex worker and allied organizations from across the country advocating for law reform that advances the rights and safety of people who sell or trade sex. Our member groups have expertise regarding the impact of criminal law on the lives and well-being of sex workers, so it's on those grounds that we submit our response to Bill C-75.
I'm going to be really frank and say that we are very disappointed and frustrated that the Criminal Code provisions targeting sex workers and their personal and work relations are not slated for repeal or meaningfully addressed in Bill C-75. The Liberal and NDP parties of Canada voiced staunch opposition to the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, or PCEPA, when it was introduced. In 2015, the justice minister declared that she was “definitely...committed to reviewing the prostitution laws”, yet this review has stalled.
This isn't just a matter of principle or a matter of promises unkept. Each day that passes, sex workers' rights, safety and dignity are violated through the individual and collective impact of laws prohibiting the communication for, purchase of, material benefit from, procuring of and advertising of commercial sexual services. We are past the time for review, and we need action.
We believe that excluding the repeal of PCEPA from Bill C-75 was a gross missed opportunity, given the overall alignment of many the bill's principles and elements with those of sex work law reform.
First, Bill C-75 rightly repeals several Criminal Code provisions ruled unconstitutional by Canadian courts. In 2013, the Supreme Court found in Bedford that several criminal prostitution laws caused harms that violated sex workers' charter right to security of the person. The subsequent Criminal Code provisions enacted by PCEPA replicate these harms, and their constitutionality is similarly impugned.
Second, Bill C-75 rightly repeals the offences of anal intercourse and abortion that targeted sexual or reproductive activities and autonomy and that disproportionately impacted LGBTQ2S communities and women respectively. Prohibitions on sex work activities similarly undermine the rights to liberty, autonomy and security of the person and disproportionately impact women, indigenous and migrant communities, and other marginalized groups.
Third, Bill C-75 correctly proposes to attend to the discriminatory treatment and overrepresentation of indigenous and marginalized peoples in the criminal justice system. Sex workers and/or personal and labour relations reflect the diversity and inequality of social locations in Canadian society. For many, sex work prohibitions represent the criminalization of their poverty and perpetuate the over-policing and over-incarceration of indigenous and black peoples.
Sex work laws continue to be employed and enforced in a racist and colonial manner. Indigenous women are over-policed and under-protected. Asian migrant workers are targeted for investigation and deportation, and young black men who happen to be boyfriends or associates of sex work workers are labelled and prosecuted as pimps.
We recognize that most of the PCEPA laws have been absented from Bill C-75 and thus cannot be repealed or otherwise altered through committee amendments. We note, however, that clause 111 reclassifies the material benefit offence as a hybrid offence and that clause 112 amends the sentencing provisions of the advertising offence. Because these two offences are addressed within the bill, if it's a procedural possibility, we strongly urge amending the bill to repeal these Criminal Code provisions in their entirety. By criminalizing the act of materially benefiting from another party's sex work, section 286.2 restricts sex workers' capacity to engage in supportive work relationships that enhance our safety and improve our work conditions. In fact, this provision reproduces the harms of the prior “living on the avails” offence that was struck down by Bedford for violating our section 7 charter rights.
Any proposition that the listed exceptions to the offence satisfy Bedford are false. All but one simply codifies jurisprudence that predates the Supreme Court's decision. Then there are exceptions to the exceptions, which further repress sex workers' autonomy and security. For example, paragraph 286.2(5)(e) prohibits a liability exception in the context of a commercial enterprise. This captures all escort agencies, massage parlours and any other sex work business that creates safe, structured indoor work environments.
While we appreciate that the exceptions may allow a worker to hire, say, a bodyguard or a receptionist, we are mindful that only a tiny number of highly privileged workers have the resources to do so. Instead, many of us seek out parlours and escort agencies because they offer services such as screening, secure venues and advertising without the upfront costs and overhead of independent work.
It is often the most marginalized and under-resourced workers, such as indigenous, poor, or migrant workers, who benefit from working for someone else. However, these same laws that prevent sex workers from ensuring our safety and rights are upheld, because we work for businesses, do so, ironically, because they effectively preclude us from accessing basic labour, occupational health and safety, or human rights protection. To make it worse, material benefits arising from the context of a commercial enterprise is considered an aggregating factor upon sentencing.
As with the former “living on the avails” provision, the material benefit sanction imposes an evidentiary presumption on anyone who lives with or is in the habitual company of a sex worker. In addition to reinforcing the false assumption that people, particularly women, who sell or trade sex can't be legitimate objects of affection, the threat of presumed criminality disrupts the security and autonomy of our personal relationships.
I will make a final comment on the material benefits offence. Although when we discuss it we typically describe it as benefiting from another party's sex work, the provision itself does not specify a third party benefit. Under the letter of the law, sex workers are ourselves captured in the material benefits provision. We are only granted immunity from prosecution via section 286.5. This is a clear illustration that PCEPA does indeed continue to construct those of us who sell or trade sex as criminal.
We therefore recommend that clause 111 of Bill C-75 be amended to call for the repeal of the material benefits provision, as a first step towards a more comprehensive sex work law reform.
Next I'm going to turn to Criminal Code section 286.4, which prohibits advertising paid sexual services. As with the prohibitions on communicating and purchasing, this provision undermines the safety benefits that sex workers derive from openly communicating terms and conditions with their clients, and establishing boundaries in advance of in-person contact.
Prohibiting advertising creates significant barriers to working indoors, which the evidentiary record in Bedford demonstrates is much safer than working on the street. Since the enactment of the advertising provision, many websites and newspapers will no longer publicize sex worker services. Those that do have often discontinued their virtual lounges that allowed workers to share safety and other valuable information with each other.
With these points in mind, we recommend that clause 112 of the bill be amended to call for the repeal of the Criminal Code section 286.4.
Bill C-452 introduced an evidentiary presumption that living with or being in the habitual company of an alleged trafficking victim is proof that the accused exercised control, direction or influence over the alleged victim's movements for the purposes of exploitation. Given the ongoing conflation of third party involvement with sex work and trafficking, we are concerned that, as with the reverse onus provision for material benefit, this presumption will further alienate sex workers from police and social services, as we continue to actively avoid implicating our colleagues and loved ones as traffickers.
We do support the bill's removal of consecutive mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking offences. However, like others who have responded to Bill C-75, we are perplexed as to why mandatory minimums have not been repealed across the board.
Other Criminal Code offences that are insufficiently addressed in the bill are the bawdy house, indecent acts and vagrancy sections. These have traditionally been used to condemn individuals and communities based on their sexual activities, relationships and identities, including people who sell or trade sex. The Prime Minister's 2017 apology to LGBTQ2S people should be buttressed by the repeal of these sanctions.
The alliance doesn't have a current position on the bill's Criminal Code amendments regarding intimate partner violence. However, we will note that intimate partner violence impacts our communities, not simply because sex-working women, like other women, experience intimate partner violence, but also because such instances of violence are often mislabelled and prosecuted as materially benefiting, procuring and trafficking. If criminal sanctions related to intimate partner violence were used instead of third party sex worker trafficking laws, where appropriate, we might be able to express support. However, we're concerned that they would be used as add-ons.
Additionally, we have potential concerns about increased sentences and reverse onus bail provisions, because we know only too well the effect of heightened criminalization and its disproportionate impact on the most marginalized among us. However, we have no specific recommendations on these points.
Finally, on a general note, we are concerned that elements of Bill C-75 will impede access to justice and fair treatment for people in and associated with the sex trade who come in conflict with the law for any reason, and who are further marginalized by their social or structural locations.
Increasing the maximum sentence for summary convictions risks the continued over-incarceration of marginalized peoples, both through the increased maximum sentence itself and by restricting access to agent representations.
Permitting the written admission of routine police evidence risks undermining trial fairness by complicating defence access to cross-examinations that can expose cases of police error, impropriety or actual abuse, and which are especially vital to protect the rights of indigenous and black defendants.
Those are our thoughts and concerns. Thank you for taking the time to hear them.