In a report released today, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network called for the federal government to decriminalize the practice of prostitution and ensure that the health, safety and human rights to which all people in Canada are entitled are also shared by sex workers.
The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network is Canada's leading advocacy organization working on the legal, ethical and human rights issues raised by HIV/AIDS. The Network promotes the human rights of people living with and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, in Canada and internationally, through research, legal and policy analysis, education, and community mobilization.
"Having sex for money is legal in Canada, but sex workers can't do their jobs legally or safely because of this country's outdated criminal laws," said Glenn Betteridge, Senior Policy Analyst and principal author of the report. "These laws, and the way in which they're enforced, push sex workers into situations that put their health and safety at risk, and leave them open to stigma and discrimination, violence, and possible exposure to HIV."
Currently, the criminalization of prostitution puts sex workers under constant threat of arrest, meaning they often have less time to assess the risk of taking a particular client or to negotiate terms (like insisting on safe sex). Criminalization also pits police and sex workers against each other, effectively alienating sex workers from the protective services of police if, for example, a client becomes aggressive or violent.
"We need to respect sex workers, not persecute them, and we need to focus on improving their living and working conditions," said Claire Thiboutot, Executive Director of Stella, a Montréal-based support and information group organized by and for sex workers. "This report explains why the laws have to be changed and why the changes need to be based on solid evidence, including evidence from sex workers themselves."Among the 10 recommendations in Sex, work, rights: reforming Canadian criminal laws on prostitution, the Legal Network is calling on the federal government to:
- Protect sex workers' rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international human rights law by repealing the four Criminal Code sections that make "communicating," "bawdy-houses" and "living on the avails" illegal;
- Recognize sex work as work under employment standards and occupational health and safety laws; and
- Include sex workers in the policy and law reform process. Sex workers must have a say in modernizing the laws and policies that affect them.
The report is the culmination of a two-year project on criminal law, prostitution, and the health and safety of sex workers in Canada. It included consultations with sex workers, sex worker organizations, public health and social science experts, and community-based organizations.