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Sex worker groups question constitutionality of new legislation

Advocacy groups send open letter to attorney general


(Canadian OH&S News) —  Two sex worker groups in Toronto have asked Ontario’s Attorney General to stop the enforcement of new sex work legislation.

In an open letter to Madeleine Meilleur on Feb. 9, STRUT and Maggie’s: The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project asked the Attorney General to: advise Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne that the laws are likely unconstitutional; advise Crown attorneys against prosecuting charges laid under the new legislation as generally not being in the public interest; and hold a meeting with the two organizations.

Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), came into effect on Dec. 6 and amended the Criminal Code to make “purchasing sexual services or communicating in any place for that purpose” a criminal offence. Other amendments prohibit receiving a material benefit from sex work, advertising prostitution and communication in a public place for the purposes of selling sex services and equating prostitution offences with human trafficking ones. The bill was in response to a Supreme Court of Canada decision, which struck down a series of laws regarding prostitution.

“PCEPA is a set of laws that force people in the sex trade — whether they are there by choice, coercion or economic circumstance — into harm’s way,” the open letter said. “In substance, these laws reproduce most of the provisions that were struck down and go even a step further by adding new harmful provisions. These laws violate the constitutional rights of people in the sex trade,” the letter charged.

The letter added that sex trade workers themselves had expressed “serious concerns” that this legislation would not help sex trade workers who need assistance and that it would actually endanger those who are most vulnerable.

Françoise Boivin, an NDP MP for Gatineau, Que. who has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, said that the issue was one of health and safety. She said that she believed the new law was likely not completely constitutional or unconstitutional, noting that the NDP had proposed an amendment that would prevent sex workers from having a criminal record.

“Attorney General Meilleur’s decision is life or death for sex workers, and we’re not at a critical juncture where we could avoid more harm,” said Jean McDonald, director of Maggie’s, in a press release. “We cannot wait through years of legal wrangling as people in our communities experience more and more violence.”

The Ministry of the Attorney General could not be reached for comment.

To view the open letter, visit http://wearestrut.org/our-work/lobbying/open-letter-to-ontario-attorney-general/.