In 2015, the federal Greens, Liberals, and NDP all supported the repeal of Bill C-36, which effectively maintained the criminalization of sex workers and sex work.
This law followed the Supreme Court's 2013 decision to strike down earlier laws that endangered sex workers. C-36 completely disregarded the ruling by further criminalizing sex work, which in fact does more harm than good.
In 2018 - about five years later - it goes without saying that little progress has been made to actually support sex workers in law or in practice. Continued crackdowns happen, and workers are forced underground and are being targeted every day.
Recently the United States has been cracking down on Backpage.com and other online advertising platforms that sex workers utilize for work. This has threatened the livelihoods of many people in sex work, including those in Canada who use these sites. For all of the criticisms of the Backpage, at least it was giving people the power to conduct business on their own rather than running through a third party.
Criminalization doesn't work. Any person who works in the trade will tell you that, but so will countless academics and researchers. Some countries have varying models of “legal” sex work (legalization and decriminalization are two different things), such as decriminalization in New Zealand or more regulatory models like The Netherlands, to varying degrees of abolitionist laws and flat out criminalization. It’s time Canada have a serious conversation about a new model because our model isn’t working.
If we truly want to “protect” sex workers, we should be crafting our laws with them. And since science is on their side, and so are many agencies (UNAIDS, WHO, and Amnesty International, to name a few), it seems that the goal should be towards decriminalization.
The Liberals have been in government for three years and still have not tackled C-36, and in fairness, no party has really raised the issue. Until now. The 2018 Liberal Policy Convention has closed and has adopted some historic policies (for the Liberals, anyway), including support for decriminalization. Clearly, there is growing support for this policy among policy-makers and voters, and this is an issue that can’t wait any longer.
Sex workers deserve action, especially with all these recent crackdowns. So I hope parliamentarians are watching closely, because with just over a year until the next election they still have a chance to make a difference.
Brandon Rhéal Amyot