Stop enforcing sex work laws during COVID-19, Amnesty, sex worker advocates say

Stop enforcing sex work laws during COVID-19, Amnesty, sex worker advocates say

Stop enforcing sex work laws during COVID-19, Amnesty, sex worker advocates say

OTTAWA — Canada’s sex work laws are creating undue harm and contribute to human rights violations during COVID-19, sex workers and human rights advocates say, which is why they’re now pushing Ottawa to stop enforcing them.

Amnesty International Canada has joined a number of rights and sex work advocates in a lobby effort asking federal Justice Minister David Lametti for a moratorium on prostitution laws.

“We need to make sure the existing laws on the books aren’t enforced,” said Jackie Hansen, women’s rights campaigner for Amnesty International Canada.

“Government has put them in a position where they won’t provide them income supports and yet will criminalize them if they work. That just needs to stop.”

They say decriminalizing sex work would help ease the burden workers have faced by taking away police surveillance of their work and their lives.

“Because sex work is not recognized as work, the labour standards and protocols that other industries are receiving right now are not available to the sex industry,” says Jenn Clamen, national co-ordinator of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform.

Businesses employing sex workers often operate in the shadows, so as they reopen they have no way to formalize and co-ordinate safety protocols or access supports for personal protective equipment, which are available to other industries, Clamen said.

These groups have also been raising alarm about how the criminalization of sex workers has caused them to remain ineligible to receive emergency income supports despite seeing their incomes disappear overnight when the pandemic hit.

There are provisions in Canada’s prostitution laws that make workers immune from prosecution, but not from arrest, which has led many workers to prefer to remain undocumented, their incomes undeclared.

This means they don’t have the necessary paperwork to prove eligibility for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit — a program being administered through the federal tax system.

“Criminalization is a direct barrier for accessing CERB and is a direct barrier for sex workers accessing other legal and social, medical supports in the community,” said Jelena Vermilion, executive director of Sex Workers’ Action Program (SWAP) Hamilton.

Vermilion, who is also a sex worker, says organizations like hers have been raising money through grassroots campaigns to provide aid to those who are struggling. But despite the relative success of some of these local initiatives, this aid has only been able to offer $50 or $100 gift cards and cash transfers to workers.

“That doesn’t pay rent at the end of the day,” she said.

“A lot of us are not surviving. It’s really pushing people who don’t have the option to access CERB into destitution, into further entrenched poverty. It’s going to cause people who were already on the margins, just surviving, to be ruined.”

The federal government has shovelled out millions in COVID-19 aid to shelters, sexual assault centres and a number of organizations that serve women and marginalized groups, including a $350-million investment to support charities and non-profit organizations serving vulnerable populations.

Clamen says these funds, while necessary, are not providing the help sex workers need.

Middle-class Canadians who lost their jobs are getting access to income supports, but sex workers are being helped by charities giving out gift cards, she said.

“The $100 grocery card that dictate where sex workers or people who don’t have income should shop or get their groceries is an extremely paternalistic response to people who actually need income supports,” Clamen said.

“The money needs to go into the hands of people.”

While they continue to push for more direct financial aid, Amnesty International Canada, the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform and other rights advocates say halting the enforcement of the laws that criminalize their lives would do much more.

“This is about the human rights of sex workers. When you are just furthering marginalization and you are furthering inequality, this is not where we want to be,” Hansen said.

“In a pandemic it can’t be a response that leads to some groups being disproportionately marginalized and impacted because government finds it hard to figure out how to handle this issue.”

In a statement Friday, Lametti’s office says officials are “aware of the specific concerns” that sex workers and advocates have highlighted but offered no comment on whether it is considering this legal move.

“We continue to engage with individuals and groups affected by the former Bill C-36,” the statement said, referencing the federal prostitution law brought in under the Conservative government of former prime minister Stephen Harper.

That law is up for its mandatory five-year review this year, which Lametti’s office says will provide “an appropriate forum for parliamentarians to examine the full range of effects that this legislation has had since its coming into force.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 4, 2020.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Just Posted

Member Terry Parsons’ custom built track vehicle.
Forestburg’s Area 53 Racetrack gears up for action-packed season

Site will also host a portion of the ‘Miles of Mayhem’ event in July

(Photo submitted)
PHOTOS: Ponoka Secondary Campus grad

Ponoka Secondary Campus held a drive-in graduation ceremony for their 2021 graduating… Continue reading

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported five additional deaths Wednesday due to COVID-19. (File photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer at 169 active cases of COVID-19

Province set to move into Stage 2 of reopening Thursday

t
How to tell if a call from ‘CRA’ is legitimate or a scam

Expert says it’s important to verify you really are dealing with the CRA before you give out any info

Grade 12 students at Wetaskiwin Composite High School took place in the annual water fight off school property on June 11, 2021. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Graduating students in Wetaskiwin throw water fight after being told it could result in suspension

Students were told their participation could result in them being barred from graduation ceremonies.

The arrest south of Winnipeg occurred before Bernier was to arrive at a protest in the city. (Twitter/Maxime Bernier)
Maxime Bernier arrested following anti-rules rallies in Manitoba: RCMP

He’s been charged with exceeding public gathering limits and violating Manitoba’s requirement to self-isolate

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives for the G7 Summit, at the airport in Newquay, United Kingdom, Thursday, June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Details on Canada’s vaccine sharing plan coming Sunday, up to 100 million doses

Canada’s high commissioner to the UK says details will come after the G7 summit

Conservative MP Tom Kmiec waves to the crowd during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Newborn daughter’s death inspires MP’s bill on bereavement leave for parents

Conservative MP Tom Kmiec says a day or two off not enough for some grieving parents

Victoria’s 2020 Canada Day celebration will not happen this year. (Black Press Media file photo)
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations backs cancelling Canada Day celebration

Statement made after Victoria cancels Canada Day event as a statement of reconciliation

United Nurses of Alberta is slamming Health Minister Tyler Shandro for suggesting staff vacations are causing emergency room problems. (Black Press Media files)
Physicians were suffering burnout and then the pandemic made it worse, UBC study finds

Burnout prevalent among 68 per cent of doctors – likely a reflection of issue globally, says researcher

Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020 in Ottawa. The federal government is bringing in a new coal policy saying new or expanded thermal coal mines create unacceptable environmental impacts.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Unacceptable environmental effects:’ New federal policy restricts thermal coal

Policy puts another roadblock in front of Coalspur Mines and its Alberta Vista mine expansion

Kawasaki City Institute for Public Health Director General Nobuhiko Okabe speaks during a press conference after a roundtable on COVID-19 countermeasures at Tokyo 2020 Games in Tokyo, Friday, June 11, 2021. A group of experts participated in a third roundtable on COVID-19 countermeasures proposed for audience-related infection control. (Franck Robichon/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics still undecided on fans — or no fans at all

Fans from abroad already banned from what is shaping up to be a largely made-for-television event

Most Read