Decriminalizing sex work in Canada is an important and necessary first step to realizing the full rights and agency of sex workers, says the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF).
LEAF has published a position paper proposing an evidence- and human rights-based approach to sex work law reform in Canada. In it, LEAF calls for the full decriminalization of sex work done by adults in Canada.
Currently, Canadian law criminalizes many aspects of sex work, including the purchase of sexual services and materially benefitting from someone doing sex work.
“LEAF is concerned about the impact of criminalization on sex workers, many of whom are gendered and racialized and face other intersecting systemic barriers, such as transphobia, ableism, and poverty,” said Pam Hrick, Executive Director & General Counsel of LEAF. “Evidence shows that criminalization and the targeting resulting from it can lead to loss of housing, custody, and income supports for sex workers. The harms resulting from law enforcement’s interventions are especially pronounced for Black, Indigenous, and racialized sex workers.”
LEAF is also concerned about the conflation of sex work with trafficking in the current laws. This conflation is widely criticized by experts as being harmful to both sex workers and trafficking victims/survivors.
In this context, LEAF supports and amplifies longstanding demands from sex workers and sex workers’ rights organizations for decriminalization. LEAF recommends that Canada repeal all sex work-specific provisions in the Criminal Code applicable to sex work done by adults and repeal immigration laws that prohibit temporary residents and foreign nationals from working in the sex industry. Fully decriminalizing sex work is an important first step for sex workers to exercise their rights – including their rights to autonomy, dignity, and equality.
In addition to criminal and immigration law reform, LEAF also makes several other recommendations, including that governments must:
- Ensure that social supports – including income supports – are accessible and barrier-free for sex workers;
- Meaningfully consult with sex workers about laws and policies (including their implementation) that directly impact their lives; and,
- Improve access to gender-affirming healthcare and services.
Historically, LEAF has not taken a position on sex work and has abstained from intervening in litigation or making law reform submissions on sex work. Not having a position has prevented LEAF from engaging in meaningful action or solidarity work with the sex work community.
With the publication of this position, LEAF commits to further connecting with sex worker movements and organizations and adopting law reform recommendations and advocacy positions that are guided by and for sex workers, by evidence, and by human rights-based policy.
LEAF will be hosting a panel on April 28 at 3pm EST to discuss the impact of Canada’s sex work laws on sex workers and gender equality. The panel will feature Elene Lam (Butterfly: Asian and Migrant Sex Worker Support Network), Jenn Clamen (Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform), Monica Forrester (Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project), and Pam Hrick (LEAF), and will be moderated by Rosel Kim (LEAF). More details about the panel (including links to register for free) can be found here.
For inquiries, please contact:
Executive Director & General Counsel, LEAF
416-595-7170 ext. 2002