My name is Naomi Sayers. My group is South Western Ontario Sex Workers, which is a member of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform. I am an indigenous woman from northern Ontario and a former sex worker with experience in working both in northern and southern Ontario. I will elaborate on how Bill C-36 negatively impacts indigenous women, and will finish with recommendations for moving forward.
We make it clear from the outset that we do not support Bill C-36 or the use of criminal laws that target sex work. We propose, instead, a process that meaningfully includes people who work in the sex industry, and that includes labour and regulatory measures that prioritize safety.
Canada's greatest social injustice is the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. Other witnesses will argue that the criminal laws against clients and third parties will protect indigenous women from going missing and murdered. We argue the opposite. Not only does this flawed argument ignore the fact that not all missing and murdered indigenous women do not work in the sex trade, it also ignores the fact that they experience institutional and systemic violence as indigenous women, especially the state's role in making a sex worker vulnerable to violence, such as Chief Justice McLachlin highlighted in her decision.
Wally Oppal, in his missing women inquiry report, also recognizes this when he states that the marginalization of women is due to the “retrenchment of social assistance programs, the ongoing effects of colonialism, and” —I emphasize—“the criminal regulation of prostitution and related law enforcement strategies.”
The Chief Justice reiterates the harmful effects of criminal regulation of prostitution when she states that the criminal laws not only impose conditions on how prostitutes operate but also the laws “go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution”. This reminds us to respect the spirit of the Bedford decision and that our objectives need to prioritize the health and safety of people working in the trade, not the elimination of the industry.
The criminalization of clients, in Bill C-36, has devastating impacts for indigenous women who rely on income generated from prostitution, particularly in the context of inadequate housing, social services, or education. Indigenous women will seek out clients in more dangerous areas, and clients will rush negotiations, putting women at risk. The isolation and inability to screen clients for safety contributes to the rising violence against sex workers. Indigenous women are already targeted by aggressors, as seen for over 20 years in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. The Chief Justice wrote, “If screening could have prevented one woman from jumping into Robert Pickton's car, the severity of the harmful effects is established.”
Trafficking has also been raised in the discussion of the bill. While exploitation happens in the context of trafficking, Bill C-36 does not distinguish between exploitation and prostitution. It assumes that prostitution is exploitation. The Chief Justice highlighted that the old laws were overbroad and that conflating prostitution with human trafficking does an injustice to the victims of exploitation.
The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, an organization that prioritizes trafficking victims, highlights that criminalizing clients diverts precious resources from protecting victims of trafficking who urgently need help into a politically contested and futile anti-prostitution campaign, and that criminalizing clients ignores the structural issues that cause forced labour, thereby distracting from the government's responsibility to victims of exploitation.
Consequently, we argue for the use of current existing criminal laws that address exploitation rather than reframing prostitution as exploitation, itself. More importantly, Bill C-268 made further amendments to the Criminal Code to combat human trafficking related to children. This bill received assent on June 29, 2010. As the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women asserts, conflating exploitation with prostitution ignores structural issues contributing to forced labour and diverts resources away from victims of exploitation and toward a highly politicized and futile anti-prostitution campaign.
We argue that we need to adopt a model respecting Canadian values entrenched within the charter. We recommend adopting a rights-based approach, like the New Zealand model, to protect the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in society. In 2003 prostitution was no longer regulated by criminal law in New Zealand. The trade is regulated through labour laws and occupational health and safety standards. New Zealand's sex workers find it easier to report incidents of violence to police, with police taking reports of violence seriously. Additionally, since 2004 New Zealand maintains their tier 1 ranking status, the highest and most favourable status for combatting trafficking, as reported by the United States' 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report.
We should focus on investing into resources, social supports, and sex worker-led organizations that work directly with sex workers to protect the safety of sex workers. The goal should be to ensure the safety and protection of all women in the trade by utilizing already existing Criminal Code sections.
Despite what people may feel about prostitution, the reality is that people will continue to work in the sex trade. In the context of Bill C-36, they will be at risk of more violence. Bedford demonstrated this risk. We hope the government will recognize this and prioritize health and safety.