Responding to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice’s dismissal of a constitutional challenge against Canada’s criminal laws forbidding sex work, Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada (English-speaking section), said, “This ruling dismisses the lived experiences of sex workers who courageously launched this challenge and demonstrated the ways that criminalization leads to violations of their rights. We are disappointed that the court failed to recognize this reality and that sex workers – who already face intersecting forms of marginalization and discrimination – will continue to be endangered.”
Amnesty International was an intervener in the case and underscored a wide range of human rights concerns that result from the criminalization of consensual sex work. “The health, safety and dignity of sex workers will remain under threat as long as the ban is in place,” Nivyabandi said.
“We at Amnesty will continue to support and amplify the voices of sex workers bravely speaking out in defense of their rights and highlighting the harms of Canada’s outdated, harmful and discriminatory criminalization of sex work.”
The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform, along with five sex workers and one former owner of an escort agency, launched the challenge in 2021. They argued that Canada’s sex work laws are discriminatory and put sex workers in harm’s way.
Parliament enacted the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), in 2014 after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down earlier laws criminalizing certain activities associated with sex work. The PCEPA, however, criminalizes the purchase of sex and associated activities, including public communications to offer or provide sex work; advertising sex work; and receiving a material benefit from the purchase of sexual services.
Such criminal prohibitions jeopardize the security and safety of sex workers and further entrench discrimination and stigma against them. In its submission to the Ontario Superior Court, Amnesty International Canada argued that the PCEPA has caused negative impacts on sex workers’ right to life, liberty, and security of the person, as well as their right to equality under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“End-demand laws like PCEPA result in increased risk of harm to sex workers because they are less likely to access health care and police services,” Amnesty International Canada stated in its August 2022 factum.
“PCEPA captures a broad range of actions and personnel related to sex work, thereby severely constraining sex workers’ ability to hire personnel for administrative and security tasks. These constraints have an isolating effect, which creates dangerous circumstances for sex workers who are unable to hire individuals to support them in doing their work safely.”
“In particular, Indigenous, Black, racialized, 2SLGBTQIA+ and migrant sex workers, and those who experience disabilities, substance use, poverty or homelessness, are at greater risk of human rights abuses and harms exacerbated by the criminalization of sex work.”