On June 4, Justice Minister Peter MacKay tabled an anti-prostitution bill that he claimed was not anti-prostitute. According to the minister, the target of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Person Act, Bill C-36, was “the perpetrators, the perverts, [and] the pimps.” But don’t be fooled, if this bill becomes law, sex workers will face arrest, violence and violations of their human rights.
A step backward
The law would criminalize communicating for the purposes of selling sexual services in public, or buying, advertising or benefitting from the sale of sexual services. These provisions won’t protect sex workers; they will do the opposite, and they violate their right to security of person and freedom of expression. Criminalizing communication will disproportionately target Aboriginal, poor, and transgender women working on the streets for arrest. It will also severely limit sex workers’ abilities to take life-saving measures such as screening clients. Last year in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court recognized this concern, saying that “communication is an essential tool that can decrease risk.”
Criminalizing clients will also harm sex workers, forcing them to work in more dangerous and isolated locations. In 2012, the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, which Human Rights Watch has criticized for procedural shortcomings, rightly said that fear of police harassment or arrest “denies the sex worker the time to innately sense whether a client is a ‘bad trick’,” and that moving to a darker, isolated area “puts her in a more dangerous environment.”
Criminalizing clients will also make it impossible to open safe refuges for sex workers to take clients to, such as Grandma’s House, opened in Vancouver by the Aboriginal sex worker Jamie-Lee Hamilton. Again the Supreme Court was clear: “For some prostitutes, particularly those who are destitute, safe houses such as Grandma’s House may be critical.”