Jane Doe is an author, lecturer and feminist activist.
Among other things, I am the woman in the civil case Jane Doe v the Toronto Police Force. In 1998, after an 11-year court battle, I successfully sued them for negligence and gender discrimination in their investigation of my rape, and of sexual assault generally.
The position I effectively argued was that under the Canadian Charter, women have the right to live free from violence, or the threat of violence in their lives. A right that applies to all women, including sex workers.
When Bedford v Canada entered the legal system I convened the Feminist Coalition to ensure that all feminist voices were part of the legal and social dialogue on sex work. Our membership is national and consists of 23 sexual assault/rape crisis centres, women’s shelters and other anti-violence organizations. Our affidavit and leave to intervene in Bedford at the Supreme Court are public documents which contain a full list of our membership.
It is our opinion, as reflected in those documents, that former and proposed prostitution legislation does not work in women’s equality interests and promotes –even causes – violence against sex workers. We are concerned that Bill C-36 does not reflect the policies and opinions of the majority of front line anti-violence agencies. Instead, Justice Minister Peter MacKay relies solely on opinions of the umbrella group members of the abolitionist Women’s Coalition, which purports to represent all of us.
Bill C-36 supports the spurious concept that prostitution causes sexual assault and other violence against women. Sexual Assault is about power and dominance and is not caused by sex work. Certainly mine was not. Nor is there any qualified thought, research or lived experience to say otherwise. Most grievously, the bill ignores the systemic nature of violence against all women. Feminist battles against systemic discrimination resulted in the right to equal wages, fair labour practices, and protection from gendered violence against all women. Except, according to the bill, for women who are sex workers.
We hold that accordance with the bill will result in an increase of sex workers seeking support from our centres and shelters and in particular for aboriginal, racialized, trans and street-based sex workers who are most impacted by violence. Forcing women to work in isolated areas where they cannot screen clients, prohibiting indoor workers to advertise or work with security, inducing clients to resist engaging in the very forms of communication that the Supreme Court ruled as critical to sex workers safety, will turn the legislation itself into a form of gender violence.