The CCLA recently filed its written argument in Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform v Canada. The case is a constitutional challenge launched by an alliance of sex worker organizations and current and former sex workers. It argues that the Criminal Code provisions that address the commercial exchange of sexual services violate sections 2(b), 2(d), 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Some background on the case: in 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down three Criminal Code provisions which restricted certain activities related to sex work in Bedford v Canada (keeping a common bawdy house, public communication and living off the avails of prostitution). The provisions in Bedford were struck down on the basis that they violated section 7 of the Charter (the right to life, liberty and security of the person). In response, the federal government enacted the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA). Under this new legal regime, the exchange of sexual services for consideration was made, for the first time, a criminal offence, although the law targets the purchasers of sexual services by immunizing those who sell their own sexual services from prosecution in a number of cases. While the law purports to treat sex workers as victims in need of protection, it also criminalizes some of their activities and makes it harder for them to work safely. Indeed, many of the same harms that the Court found existed in Bedford have been replicated by virtue of the new scheme. The applicants in the current case are claiming a section 7 violation once again. They also argue that certain restrictions on sex workers working together, on public communication for the purposes of selling or purchasing sex, and on other criminal offences related to sex work violate the right to equality under section 15, the right to freedom of association under section 2(d), and the right to freedom of expression under section 2(b).
The CCLA’s arguments in the case are focused on the 2(b) claims and in particular the offences that prohibit advertising and communication for the purposes of offering or purchasing sexual services. We have argued that sex workers’ need to communicate effectively in order to protect and promote their personal safety and autonomy. The criminal prohibitions limit this communication in a way that is unreasonable. We have also pointed out that while these provisions are generally not being used to prosecute sex workers, they are operating as a tool for law enforcement to stop and question sex workers in a manner they perceive as harassing. You can read CCLA’s factum here.
The Ontario Superior Court will hear the case the week of October 3, 2022. More information about the case and the organization that launched it is available at www.sexworklawreform.com
About the Canadian Civil Liberties Association
The CCLA is an independent, non-profit organization with supporters from across the country. Founded in 1964, the CCLA is a national human rights organization committed to defending the rights, dignity, safety, and freedoms of all people in Canada.
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