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Canada: "We don't want to make life safe for prostitutes"

Right now, the Canadian Senate is hearing testimony from witnesses against and in favour of the Canadian government's overhaul of our anti-prostitution laws - Bill C36. The old laws that indirectly criminalized prostitution were struck down last December on the grounds of being unconstitutional. The main argument was that the laws designed to criminalize prostitution (without actually criminalizing sex for money) disproportionately endangered the lives of sex workers in order to prevent a public nuisance.

The government had one year to replace the laws or let them lapse; while many were hoping for no replacement (the result being decriminalization), no one really expected that. What we didn't expect was to end up with legislation that is even more unconstitutional and dangerous for sex workers. Let's say that one more time: the Canadian government replaced laws deemed dangerous for sex workers with laws that are even more dangerous for sex workers.

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In short, Bill C36 creates an "end demand" or Swedish/Nordic model of prostitution abolition, which focuses on the buyer instead of the provider. But Canada threw in some extras that still ended up criminalizing the sex worker for communicating in certain places, made it illegal for anyone to knowingly advertise for a sex worker, and the anti-"pimping" parts of the legislation are so murky that sex workers cannot in confidence hire drivers, security, work for third party managers, or otherwise involve other people in their business.

Explicitly, the government of Canada is trying to abolish prostitution, and there is no real way to do that without harming sex workers. So they're just going for it. But this time, instead of framing it in the interest of public nuisance, they're framing the whole thing around victims - being a sex worker is inherently victimizing, therefore it's worth victimizing some people to protect those victims. (I'm paraphrasing, but not by much.) And because the Conservative government has a majority, they can push through legislation however quickly they want to, which is exactly what they're doing.

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It's bad, it's really bad. Sex workers, sex worker advocacy organizations, and sex work researchers have not been hesitant to state that these new laws, if passed, stand a good chance of killing a lot of sex workers, particularly Indigenous women (who are the most likely to be in the riskiest sex work situations). The end-demand model alone has shown to be harmful to sex workers - since 'good' clients will be harder to come by, clients will need to be secretive and limit screening processes, sex workers can't report violence for fear of scaring away other clients, etc etc - but the Canadian additions add more nuances of potential harm.

I am waiting with bated breath for mainstream feminist organizations to pick this up and run with it the way they ran with Wendy Davis' filibuster, but maybe Canadian politics aren't flashy enough. In lieu of that, here are some of my favourite tweets covering the hearings right now - if you're interested in the live tweets (and they're really funny too), @CDNSWAlliance and @kady are doing excellent play-by-plays from the hearings.

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Image sources here, here, and here.

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