Canada’s latest attempt to regulate the sex trade opens up debate over employment law protections for sex workers
Bill C-36, Canada’s proposed new law regulating the sex trade, may not be a long way from the street. (It was at the report stage in the House of Commons at press time.) But largely ignored by the government in its efforts to replace the prostitution laws struck down following the Supreme Court’s Bedford ruling last year is how the sex-worker industry would be regulated from an employment perspective.
Ever since Bedford, much of the debate surrounding a new legal regime for sex work has revolved around whether Canada should adopt a Nordic approach — making prostitution a crime but targeting only the buyers of sex — or draw inspiration from the Dutch, and decriminalize it. Parliament has opted for the former.
But there are lawyers who anticipate that Bill C-36 is nevertheless condemned to the constitutional dustbin because it unfairly erects barriers to sex workers who seek employment protection. Katrina Pacey, legal director at Vancouver-based Pivot Legal Society, is among them. “C-36 will have the effect of continuing to make the conditions of sex workers lives and their work more dangerous,” says Pacey. “The spectre and reality of criminalization will mean that they continue to have a lack of access to the supports and services they need — whether those be legal supports, or equal and full access to social supports.”