Bill C-36 analysis

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How will sex workers be affected by recent legislation?

lauren neumann

Bill C-36 will address sex workers and the reality of their environment. / Emily Wright

Bill C-36 will address sex workers and the reality of their environment. / Emily Wright

Sex. We like it, we like to think about it, and we like to talk about it. What we’re sometimes more reticent to talk about, however, is the world’s oldest profession – prostitution. However, for workers in Canada’s sex industry, talking about sex has become crucial in challenging current legislation that is putting sex worker rights up for debate, Bill C-36.

To summarize, this bill criminalizes those who “buy sex” or “obtain services,” and anyone who profits from the sale of sexual services other than their own, like pimps or drivers. The bill also criminalizes the advertisement of others’ sexual services, as well as public advertising by sex workers.

Under Canada’s previous prostitution laws, both selling and buying sex was legal, though the means of doing so were heavily regulated through the banning of brothels, advertisement and middlemen. In December 2013, the Supreme Court was challenged by sex workers unable to continue their work due to these laws and the Court found these laws to be unjust, dangerous and constricting, which led parliament to revisit them. The new criminalization of clients – those who pay for sex – seems to be an attempt to minimize the desire of clients to seek out the services of sex workers, and thus, weaken the sex industry.

On paper, this new legislation gives the sex workers a degree of agency to independently continue their work, as they retain some ability to advertise their services themselves, as well as engage in and profit from their services.

However, the targeting of the other players that enable the sex industry to function may create a more dangerous industry for the workers themselves.

The sex workers’ rights group, Stella, has made its grievances over the harmful effects of this legislation heard. Based out of Montreal, members of this organization have been attending recent hearings in Ottawa, and have been discouraged by the government’s approach to their livelihood and their safety in the streets.

Yet, the consequences of the Bill that prostitutes will see seem to be apparent. When the middleman is removed, sex workers may become more vulnerable to dangerous situations such as rape and violence. It disrupts the entire system that makes the industry function and, though sex workers are still free to continue their services, they become more exposed to situations that they cannot always handle themselves.

Criminalizing third parties that advertise on behalf of sex workers, as well as sex workers being unable to promote their own services in public settings, will further marginalize prostitutes. This may lead them to resorting in selling their services directly to clients in settings that are out of the public view, leaving them susceptible to possible dangers that would not be present had there been a more effective, indirect or broad daylight communication for their services.

The government’s intention to hinder the accessibility and livelihood of the sex industry seems to take priority over the situations that sex workers will face when their connections and protections are removed. Whether the workers are in the industry by choice or not, it is clear their security from the potential consequences of the Bill C-36 need to be taken into deep consideration and be acted upon accordingly.

The industry will remain, regardless of its legal status. Yet, its future and the wellbeing of its workers are dependent on laws that reflect the reality of the industry, a reality the workers want you to hear.

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