Sex workers expect court decision on Charter challenge to criminal prostitution laws

The Ontario Superior Court is expected to release its decision Monday morning on a constitutional challenge launched by an alliance of groups advocating for the rights of sex workers.

The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform argued in court last fall that Canada’s prostitution laws violate the industry workers’ Charter rights.

They say the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act brought in by the former Conservative government is fostering stigma, inviting targeted violence and preventing sex workers from obtaining meaningful consent before engaging with clients.

That law was passed in 2014, about a year after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down previous anti-prostitution laws after lawyers argued existing provisions were disproportionate, overbroad and put sex workers at risk of harm.

Even though prostitution was legal under the previous laws, nearly all related activities — such as running a brothel, pimping, and communicating in a public place for the purposes of prostitution — were against the law.

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The executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, Jennifer Dunn, told Global News in October last year that if decriminalizing the sex trade were to happen, it would be harder to hold traffickers accountable.

“A lot of trafficking in sexual exploitation is really fuelled by organized crime, and so what does that look like if all of a sudden this is all completely decriminalized? I know there are specific laws for trafficking, and this is the law specific to prostitution, but they do work hand in hand at some point,” Dunn said.

“If prostitution is completely decriminalized, it’s going to lead to more issues with sexual exploitation and trafficking, which, really, then we will see an increase in child sexual exploitation as well.”

The sex work advocates argue that prostitution-related offences brought in under former prime minister Stephen Harper moved closer to criminalizing prostitution itself by making it against the law to pay for sexual services and for businesses to profit from it, as well as making communicating to buy sexual services a criminal offence.

The federal government maintains those new statutes do not prevent people selling sex from taking safety measures and says they are meant to reduce both the purchase and the sale of sexual services.

The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform argued in October that the new laws are more restrictive than what they replaced and force sex workers, and people who work with them, to operate in the context of criminalization.

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The alliance says there shouldn’t be any criminal laws specific to sex work and has dozens of recommendations to create a more regulated industry.

— with files from Global News’s Sawyer Bogdan

&copy 2023 The Canadian Press

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