Canada's Conservative government's callous anti-prostitution bill passed third reading in the Senate on Tuesday and requires only royal assent to become law.
The government had wanted to get the bill through the legislative process by the middle of this month, so it could become law by December. That would meet the deadline imposed by the Supreme Court of Canada when it struck down existing laws as
unconstitutional last year.
The court found the laws violated the charter rights of sex workers because they were criminally prohibited from taking measures to keep themselves safe. Now they will be prevented from taking measures to keep themselves safe by their customers
fearing prosecution and so requiring more secretive and remote locations.
The Sex Professionals of Canada says the new set of laws won't improve things and will ensure violence against sex workers continues in Canada. In a statement on its website, the group says keeping criminalization in place will continue the
stigma and social exclusion of sex workers. The group also said it plans to continue to fight for rights for sex workers, saying this isn't over!
Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, was signed into Canadian law last week.
The law nominally legalises the sale of sex. Interactions and communications between prostitutes and customers, however, remain illegal. And so has become the purchase of sex.
Unfortunately for sex workers, because their customers are criminalised, the men will resist such basic safety measures such as providing ID just in case of trouble. Fearful customers will also sensibly insist more anonymous locations so as to
minimise the risks of being discovered.
Ontario's premier has entered the debate over Canada's repressive new prostitution law a day after it took effect, adding her voice to a growing number of groups concerned for sex workers' safety.
Kathleen Wynne issued a statement Sunday saying she has a grave concern that the new rules dealing with prostitution won't be any better than the old system when it comes to protecting prostitutes from harm.
I am not an expert, and I am not a lawyer, but as premier of this province, I am concerned that this legislation (now the law of the land) will not make sex workers safer.
Wynne said she has asked the province's attorney general to advise her on the legislation's constitutional validity in light of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling quashing the old law, and for options in case its Charter
compatibility is questioned, but stopped short of saying the province wouldn't follow the new rules:
We must enforce duly enacted legislation, but I believe that we must also take steps to satisfy ourselves that, in doing so, we are upholding the constitution and the Charter.
Meanwhile Vancouver Police don't seem impressed by the new law
Newly appointed Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has set her sights on repealing Canada's anti-sex work laws. Maclean's reports that Canada's new anti-sex work laws are one of three major priorities for the Minister.
The current law is called the Protecting Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA). It came into effect in December 2014 as a result of the Supreme Court's Bedford decision scrapping previous legislation. Unfortunately the replacement was
PCEPA brought back several laws found unconstitutional in the Bedford decision. It also created a new anti-advertising provision that bans ads for sexual services. The laws were created as a Canadian version of the Swedish Model. The Canadian Bar
Association has stated that PCEPA would also likely be struck down by the Supreme Court, according to The Tyee . More information on the harms associated with the Swedish Model can be found in NSWP's Advocacy Toolkit .
The Justice Minister has stated that she will be consulting directly with sex workers in her review of the anti-sex work laws. I definitely am committed to reviewing the prostitution laws, and sitting down with my officials to assess the best
options, and with those they affect directly, Wilson-Raybould told The Tyee . In an interview with Maclean's, she went on to say that the safety of the workers is fundamentally important.
Canadian Parliament resumes on December 3, 2015. It will be the first Parliamentary session of the newly elected Liberal government. A throne speech the following day may gives further clues as to the agenda of the new government. Sex workers and
their allies hope to hear the Liberal promise to repeal PCEPA included.