Ontario turning its back on sex workers

NOW signs on with more than 10 organizations urging the government not to enforce new sex work laws and to develop new policies that promote health, safety and human rights


In response to Premier Kathleen Wynne’s statement today saying that Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur has not found the new sex work laws unconstitutional, NOW Magazine has joined a network urging the Ontario government not to enforce them.

Please find the statement below:

While Ontario Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur has not yet publicly released her review of Canada’s new, misguided sex work law, we understand – according to a reported statement today by Premier Kathleen Wynne – that this review has found “no clear unconstitutionality” in the so-called Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. We disagree with this conclusion, and are profoundly disappointed that the province appears to be turning its back on sex workers and Ontarian communities, despite Premier Wynne’s own “grave concerns” with the new sex work law.

This finding flies in the face of the December 2013 ruling in R. v. Bedford, in which the Supreme Court of Canada rightly upheld the human rights of sex workers. The new law is extremely similar to the old one, which was struck down by the Court as unconstitutional, and even further criminalizes sex work in some respects. More than 190 lawyers from across Canada have gone on record expressing their concerns with the law’s constitutionality (or lack thereof). It should also be noted that the Attorney General chose not to meet with sex workers and their allies while her review was underway, preferring not to hear from those on whose backs these laws will be tested.

Canada’s current sex work law replicates – and is even worse than – the failed “Nordic” model for sex work. The model chosen targets sex workers’ clients, their means of advertising their services, and even preserves much of the unconstitutional prohibition on any communications about sexual services, including by sex workers themselves. It continues to surround sex work with a web of criminality. Sex workers have consistently articulated the many ways in which criminalizing them, their clients and their work settings does nothing to protect them, but instead undermines their ability to control their conditions of work to protect their health and safety. The law ensures that harms to sex workers will continue, and is a terrible step backwards.

Even if the Ontario Attorney General has concluded the law is “not clearly unconstitutional,” this is hardly an endorsement of the law – and certainly doesn’t remove the fact that the new provisions will contribute to the risks of harm faced by sex workers. The Government of Ontario must not enforce this misguided law. We will continue to fight for the development of laws and policies that promote health, safety and human rights for all Canadians.

Signed by NOW Magazine, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network), COUNTERfit Women’s Harm Reduction Program (South Riverdale Community Health Centre), Families of Sisters in Spirit, the Feminist Coalition in Support of Full Decriminalization and the Labour and Human Rights of Sex Workers, Maggie’s – Toronto Sex Workers’ Action Project, Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies (University of Toronto), POWER (Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau Work Educate & Resist), Sex Work Advisory Network Sudbury (SWANS), South Western Ontario Sex Workers, Sex Professionals of Canada, STOP The Arrests Sault Ste Marie, STRUT, Women in Toronto Politics, and Jane Doe (Sexual Assault Activist),Terri-Jean Bedford and Nikki Thomas

Here is more information about the new sex work laws:

news@nowtoronto.com | @nowotoronto

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