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Bill C-36 Blatantly Disregards Evidence-Based Research on Grave Impacts of Criminalization of Sex Work on Sex Workers' Health, Safety and Human Rights

November 6, 2014 - Vancouver, B.C. - A federal bill was signed into law today further criminalizing sex work, including the purchasing of sex and third parties, with grave consequences for the health, safety and human rights of the country's sex workers, say researchers from the Gender and Sexual Health Initiative (GSHI) of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE). Bill C-36 (Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act) blatantly ignores the Supreme Court of Canada decision to strike down the country's anti-prostitution laws in order to protect sex workers' access to safer working conditions.

"This is an extremely concerning law passed by the Canadian government and stands in blatant disregard of clear evidence on the detrimental effects of the criminalization of sex work," said Dr. Kate Shannon, director of the GSHI at BC-CfE and associate professor of medicine at UBC, who was recently named a Canada Research Chair. "We know all too well from two decades of missing and murdered women in Canada and extensive research by our team and others criminalizing any aspects of sex work has devastating impacts on sex workers' safety, health and human rights."

The legislation comes on the heels of a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) decision (Bedford vs. Canada) in December 2013 that the criminalization of sex work violates the right to "life, liberty and security of the person" under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The SCC decision was supported by community and legal experts, as well as Canadian and international research published in dozens of peer-reviewed journals.

Last June, the SCC heard from a coalition comprising the BC-CfE, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (Legal Network), and the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO), who provided evidence based on years of research. The research showed criminalization of sex work hinders access to security and protection, and increases risks to the health, safety and human rights of sex workers. As a result, the SCC decision struck down three key provisions in the Criminal Code - communicating for the purposes of prostitution, running bawdy houses and living off the avails of prostitution.

"The SCC decision provided a critical opportunity for the Canadian government to move towards an evidence-based and pragmatic policy approach to protect the health and safety of some of the most marginalized Canadians," said Dr. Julio Montaner, Director of the BC-CfE. "Instead, the Conservative government moved to introduce laws that further criminalized sex work, ignoring Canadian and international scientists and the Supreme Court of Canada. This not acceptable because Canadians deserve policies based on science and human rights, rather than ideology based agendas."

Research from the GSHI/BC-CfE has consistently shown criminalizing any aspect of sex work - including sex workers, clients and third parties - elevates stigma, harassment, violence and risks for HIV infection. A study released in July by GSHI/BC-CfE in the Lancet, a top medical journal, and shared with the Senate Justice Committee demonstrated decriminalization of sex work, as practiced in New Zealand and parts of Australia, could avert 33-46% of HIV infections over the next decade.

Criminalizing sex work, including the purchase of sex, disenfranchises sex workers and hinders their ability to screen prospective clients or negotiate the terms of transactions, such as condom use. It can also prevent sex workers from reporting violence to police.


About the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) is Canada's largest HIV/AIDS research, treatment and education facility and is internationally recognized as an innovative world leader in combating HIV/AIDS and related diseases. BC-CfE is based at St. Paul's Hospital, Providence Health Care, a teaching hospital of the University of British Columbia. The BC-CfE works in close collaboration with key provincial stakeholders, including health authorities, health care providers, academics from other institutions, and the community to decrease the health burden of HIV and AIDS. By developing, monitoring and disseminating comprehensive research and treatment programs for HIV and related illnesses, the BC-CfE helps improve the health of British Columbians living with HIV.

About the Gender and Sexual Health Initiative
The Gender and Sexual Health Initiative (GSHI, is a program of the BC-CfE with the overall mission to ensure research of the highest scientific and ethical standard informs evidence-based policy and practice in gender, sexual health and HIV/AIDS and reduces health and social inequities among marginalized populations in Canada and globally. GSHI, on behalf of the BC-CfE, was an intervener in the Canada vs. Bedford case at the Supreme Court of Canada.

For additional information or to request interviews, please contact:
Caroline Dobuzinskis
Phone: 604-682-2344 ext. 66536


Reproduced with permission - "B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS"

B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS

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