Decriminalizing Sex Work in Canada: A Look at the Current Landscape in 2023
Sex work has been a highly controversial and divisive issue in Canada for decades. While sex work is not illegal in Canada, many aspects of it are criminalized, including communication for the purpose of prostitution, operating a brothel, and living off the avails of prostitution. These laws have been highly criticized by sex workers and advocates, who argue that they place sex workers in danger and limit their ability to work safely and without fear of persecution.
In recent years, there has been a growing movement in Canada to decriminalize sex work and provide better protections and support for sex workers. This movement has been driven by sex workers themselves, who have been vocal and active in advocating for their rights and dignity.
The Canadian context
Canada's laws surrounding sex work have a long and complicated history. Until 1972, sex work was illegal in Canada, and sex workers faced significant legal and social stigma. In 1972, the federal government introduced new legislation that legalized some aspects of sex work, while criminalizing others. The result was a highly confusing and contradictory legal framework that left many sex workers vulnerable and exposed to exploitation and violence.
In 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada's existing laws surrounding sex work, ruling that they violated sex workers' constitutional rights to safety and security. The court gave the federal government one year to come up with new laws that would better protect the rights of sex workers.
In 2014, the federal government introduced new legislation that criminalized the purchase of sex, but not the sale of it. The law also criminalized the advertising of sexual services, as well as many aspects of sex work-related activities, such as operating a brothel. The new laws were highly controversial and were widely criticized by sex workers and advocates, who argued that they would do more harm than good.
The case for decriminalization
Proponents of decriminalization argue that it is the only way to ensure the safety and wellbeing of sex workers. Criminalizing sex work forces it underground, making it more dangerous and putting sex workers at greater risk of violence, exploitation, and abuse. By decriminalizing sex work, sex workers can work safely, access healthcare, and seek support without fear of prosecution or persecution.
Decriminalization also allows for better regulation and oversight of the industry. Without criminalization, the government can work with sex workers and advocates to develop laws and regulations that promote safety and protect the rights of all parties involved. It also allows for greater transparency and accountability in the industry, making it easier to identify and address issues of exploitation and abuse.
The case against decriminalization
Opponents of decriminalization argue that it would lead to an increase in the number of sex workers and the prevalence of sex work-related activities, such as trafficking and exploitation. They argue that decriminalization would send a message that sex work is a legitimate and acceptable profession, and would encourage more people to enter the industry. They also argue that decriminalization would make it harder for law enforcement to combat trafficking and exploitation, as it would be harder to distinguish between consensual and non-consensual sex work.
However, there is little evidence to support these claims. In fact, research has consistently shown that criminalization of sex work is associated with higher levels of violence, exploitation, and abuse. Decriminalization, on the other hand, has been associated with lower levels of violence and abuse, as well as better access to healthcare and support services.
The Canadian experience
In 2020, the government of Canada began a review of Canada's sex work laws, with the goal of developing new legislation that better protects the rights and wellbeing of sex workers. The review is ongoing, but it has already sparked a fierce debate among sex workers, advocates, and opponents of decriminalization.
Proponents of decriminalization argue that it is the only way to ensure the safety and wellbeing of sex workers and that current laws and policies criminalize and marginalize sex workers. They advocate for full decriminalization of sex work, which would mean repealing laws that criminalize communication for the purpose of prostitution, operating a brothel, and living off the avails of prostitution.
As of 2023, the Canadian government has yet to make any significant changes to the country's sex work laws. However, the issue remains a hot topic of debate among politicians, activists, and sex workers themselves.
In 2021, a coalition of sex worker-led organizations and advocates launched a campaign calling for full decriminalization of sex work in Canada. The campaign, called "Decrim Canada," aims to raise awareness about the harms of current laws and policies, and to mobilize support for decriminalization among the public and policymakers.
Meanwhile, some provinces and cities in Canada have taken steps to provide better protections and support for sex workers. In 2022, the city of Vancouver launched a pilot program that allows sex workers to operate out of designated indoor locations, with support from social workers and other service providers. The program aims to provide a safer and more supportive environment for sex workers, while also reducing the impact of sex work on residential neighborhoods and public spaces.
Despite these efforts, however, sex workers in Canada still face significant barriers to safety and wellbeing. Many continue to work in dangerous and exploitative conditions, without access to healthcare, legal support, or other essential services. As the debate over decriminalization continues, it remains to be seen whether Canada will adopt more progressive and supportive policies towards sex work in the coming years.