Canada's new sex-work laws ramp up risk for workers
by Gail Johnson on Dec 10, 2014
Bill C-36 came into effect on December 6, and already sex-work advocates and researchers are seeing negative effects on sex workers' health and safety. They say the federal Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, which criminalizes the buying of sex, is eroding sex workers'
access to safer working conditions.
"What we're seeing at these very early stages is that the focus has shifted from health and safety to ways to circumvent the new law,"
says Alison Clancey, executive director of Supporting Women's Alternatives Network (SWAN), which aims to make indoor sex work safer.
She says not all sex workers have heightened fears related to the new law, but those who do are especially vulnerable.
"As one example, over the past 10 years we've worked very hard to build relationships with women working in indoor sites, primarily
massage parlours. With the law, there's been some hesitancy to allow us access into those same sites. In a sense, women are thinking
that inviting us in is almost incriminating themselves.and at a more basic level, there's been more hesitancy to accept
harm-reduction supplies, mainly condoms, from us. They fear condoms are going to be used as evidence. That is very concerning for us."
The legislation will drive sex work further underground, Clancey adds.
"Women in massage parlours appreciate the safety a massage parlour provides. There's a receptionist and a manager; they're working with
others," she says. "So, say violence occurs: there is someone around..But now, with increasing fear of police, when violence actually
does occur, they're not going to be very inclined to report that to police. Whether or not you agree with sex work, I think we can
all agree that not reporting violence against sex workers is some-thing everyone in the community should be concerned about.
"We weren't in favour of the bill, but just the speed of the impacts and the heightened anxiety and fear before the law had even come
into effect has really negatively affected our work," she adds. "It's so disheartening, because there has been an incredible amount
of work done in the city of Vancouver.to protect the health and safety and well-being of individuals in the sex-work sector, and
this really takes us backward."
Ever since Bill C-36 was signed into law in November, health, legal, community, and sex-work experts have voiced strong opposition,
saying research shows that the criminalization of sex work hinders access to security and protection and increases the risks to the
human rights and health of sex workers. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Canada heard from a coalition consisting of the
B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and the HIV and AIDS Legal Clinic
Ontario, which shared evidence to support this view.
"C-36 will not only fail to protect sex workers but goes many steps further towards exacerbating the negative effects of criminalization
on sex workers' health, safety, and human rights," Dr. Kate Shannon, director of the Gender and Sexual Health Initiative at BC-CfE and
associate professor of medicine at UBC, tells the Georgia Straight . "Vancouver's recent enforcement-policy approach targeting clients
but not sex workers has already provided a clear cautionary tale of the continued harms of a policy approach criminalizing the
purchase of sex on sex workers' safety and health. As shown in our evaluation of this approach, rates of physical violence
and rape of sex workers went unchanged following this policy."
The new law comes on the heels of a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision in December 2013 to strike down the country's current
antiprostitution laws, purportedly to protect sex workers' access to safer working conditions. Shannon says that the law causes sex
workers to have to rush or forgo screening of prospective clients and negotiating the terms of transactions, including the use
of condoms, before having to jump in a car. Her team's research was published in the BMJ Open and presented to the current
government in May of this year.
"C-36 means sex workers will be forced to continue to operate in clandestine areas to avoid police and will severely limit sex workers'
access to critical police, health, and social services," Shannon says. "Unfortunately, the Conservative government continues to
blatantly disregard evidence and a unanimous decision by our highest court. After decades of missing and murdered women,
C-36 is a devastating policy disaster and a complete disregard of human rights of some of the most marginalized women,
men, and transgender individuals in our society."
If condom use is compromised, the bill could result in increased spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. According to
a November 2014 working paper by Cecilia Benoit and other researchers with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research's Institute of
Gender and Health, "buyers are reluctant to inform police when they see a sex worker being harmed, managers cannot easily make
condoms available in managed sex environments due to fear of being charged with running a bawdy house, intimate partners of
sex workers find it difficult to enhance their partner's safety for fear of being charged with contributing to
prostitution.health and social service organizations find it difficult to reach many sex workers who prefer
to remain hidden for fear of being.belittled."
Benoit's research also found that almost 40 percent of sex workers say their health-care needs were not met in the past year, compared
with about 12 percent of the general population. Twenty-nine percent of participants said they feared being judged.
Andrew Sorfleet, a former sex worker and the executive director of the Vancouver-based Triple X Workers' Solidarity Association of B.C. -the first
legally registered labour-focused sex-worker organization in the country-is also concerned about the bill's effects.
"We should not be fooled: Bill C-36 does not have a thing to do with protecting the rights of sex workers or the health and safety
of sex workers," Sorfleet says by phone. "Any laws which prohibit sex for pay, either buying or selling, force sex workers into
an environment of crime where their rights cannot be protected. There is lots of documented research about the negative
impacts on health and safety from social exclusion, and this law is all about social exclusion."
About the Georgia Straight
Canada's Largest Urban Weekly
No other city publication knows more about Vancouver than the Georgia Straight. Established as the lifestyle and entertainment weekly in Vancouver for over 40 years, the Georgia Straight is an integral part of the active urban West Coast lifestyle with over 804, 000 readers (2009 Angus Reid).
Every Thursday, the Georgia Straight delivers an award-winning editorial package of features, articles, news and reviews. www.straight.com
"Reproduced with permission - The Georgia Straight"
The Georgia Straight
For more HIV and AIDS News visit...
Positively Positive - Living with HIV/AIDS: