4.11.2 Protecting rights of sex trade workers

In a landmark ruling in the Bedford case in December 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canada’s current prostitution laws violated the Charter rights of sex trade workers. The horror of the serial killing of prostitutes on Vancouver’s streets, with a trail leading to the Pickton pig farm that should have been found years earlier, woke up many Canadians to the severity of the problem.

Canada’s laws drove sex trade workers into the shadows. Prostitution was not illegal but living on the avails of prostitution was. That strange formula meant it was not legal for sex trade workers to set up screening for clients through others, nor to have security or to operate a safe and health-conscious brothel. The Supreme Court ruled that the laws undermined the rights of sex trade workers to be secure from violence, and it gave Parliament one year to find a solution before striking down the status quo laws.

Too many women and men become involved in the sex trade due to human trafficking and we are also systematically failing the most marginal in our society who are drawn into the sex trade due to poverty. But when arguments about prostitution become conflated with issues of human trafficking the result is to fail both issues. Human trafficking is already illegal. Finding and liberating those held under conditions of indentured servitude, whether in sweat shops or by pimps, is a priority. More resources are needed. But attempting to make prostitution illegal will not help find and protect those victim to human trafficking.

It is recognized that a Basic Income, as recommended under our poverty elimination program, would provide an economic alternative to those being lured into the sex trade. We also recognize that some people have chosen, absent coercion or disadvantage, to be sex trade workers. There is a reason it is called the ‘world’s oldest profession.’ Stamping out prostitution through harsher laws is a recipe for disaster. It is also unlikely to survive a Charter challenge.

Forcing sex work further into the shadows is not a solution.

We need to undertake legal reform in Canada with a focus on harm reduction, and we can learn a lot, both positive and negative, from countries that have decriminalized prostitution so that the safety of sex trade workers is improved.

The Green Party of Canada has advocated for comprehensive Criminal Code reform that removes criminal sanctions and develops regulations for legal prostitution between consenting adults.

Green Party MPs will:

  • Repeal C-36 (the so-called ‘Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act’) and pass legislation that makes sense based on the New Zealand model;

  • Protect the rights of sex trade workers and ensure their safety;

  • Enhance the fight against human trafficking;

  • Provide greater investment in addiction counseling;

  • Provide more robust funding for social services to help those driven to prostitution by economic deprivation;

  • Provide enhanced counseling and educational services to assist people trapped in the sex trade through poverty or addiction;

  • Provide financial assistance for sex trade workers who want to find different employment.