Justice Minister Peter McKay tabled a new prostitution bill yesterday which Canadian sex workers, allies, and advocacy groups have criticized as unconstitutional and will endanger the physical safety and well being of sex workers.
The legislation in Bill C-36 is seen by many to fly in the face of the Bedford decision of December 20th, 2013, in which the Supreme Court of Canada struck down criminalization of purchasing and living off the avails of prostitution, as well as brothel keeping, on the grounds that these stipulations present additional dangers for vulnerable women.
The new bill prohibits the purchase of sex, materially benefiting from the selling of sex, communicating for the purposes of purchasing and selling sex in areas where persons under the age of 18 may be present, and conflates ‘prostitution offences’ with existing offences relating to human trafficking. Penalties for all violations will include escalating mandatory minimum fines of $500 to $4,000, for first and subsequent offenses, and can include up to 5 years in jail.
“If clients are criminalized, people are worried about their livelihood,” said Jean McDonald, executive director of the organization Maggie’s- Sex Workers in Action. “Criminalizing clients also means that street-based sex workers get pushed out of the strolls [which are established areas known to clients, workers, and police] and into isolated areas,” she continued.
McDonald said that this could be especially dangerous for trans women, since there are established strolls which are known to clients as trans areas. If trans women are working elsewhere, clients could pick them up not knowing that they are trans, and potentially react violently once they find out.
Fallon Cunning, a transsexual sex worker in London, ON said that the new legislation “will impact indoor work, outdoor work, this will impact it all. As someone who works from home, not being able to properly screen clients results in there always being this underlying stress and fear. That prevents me from being able to enjoy the legitimate clientele that I have.”