In 2014, the Government of Canada under Steven Harper and in a heavily biased process, a new set of laws governing sex work in Canada were confirmed into law. This effectively made sex work a criminal activity again with the purchase of sexual services being made illegal. There are also prohibitions against street sex work with clauses against being near schools or churches and communication for the purpose of sex work. These new laws are the same as the old laws which we, the BCCEC and other groups like PIVOT and SPOC fought for 7 years to bring down in a constitutional challenge.
This has been a disaster for sex working people in Canada with the same harms which initially brought down the laws being revisited through the new legal regime. We continue to fight in anyway we can to change attitudes towards sex work in Canada.
The following represents the current legal regime Canadian sex workers live with and is taken directly from the Government of Canada website;
1. This Act may be cited as the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.
And whereas the Parliament of Canada is committed to protecting communities from the harms associated with prostitution;
Working safely and legally?
Enforcement in Canada varies from province to province, region to region and city to city. This lack of balance in the policing strategies has created fear in some areas and lead to the migration of sex workers to areas where they perceive they will be protected from law enforcement intervention.
In Vancouver BC, sex workers worked hard to create a relationship with the Vancouver Police. Multiple presentations as a delegation to the Police Board and a sex work specific committee known as the Sex Industry Workers Safety Action Group finally resulted in a VPD policy of non-enforcement. In the city, "adult consensual sex work activities" have deemed "not a priority" by the police and there has not been an arrest of a sex worker for sex work related charges in over a decade. The police instead are focused on crimes against sex workers such as exploitation, robbery, assault and trafficking.
The VPD are working hard to build trust with sex workers and continue to work for the safety of sex workers as their priority.
You can see the full Guideline report here;
and a short video which explains the "spirit of the guidelines" here;
The VPD Counter Exploitation Unit are responsible for protecting sex worker safety and are also available to help you interact with other sections if you are the victim of a crime. The Unit also has an embedded victim's services worker who can work with you and support you even if you do not want to press charges against the person who committed a crime against you.
These processes and practices continue to evolve but this policy has lead to an environment in Vancouver where no sex worker has been murdered as a result of their job in a decade.
Sex workers continue to have fears about interactions with police and with good reason. Over the years the erosion of trust caused by enforcement tactics has left sex workers feeling nervous about taking the leap and trusting police when they are the victim of a crime.
This is slowly changing for the better in Vancouver.
The VPD style of "lowest level of enforcement" or non enforcement has been adopted across the entire province of BC. 45 Police Services and the E-Division of the RCMP have all signed on this enforcement style as a result of the positive impacts we are able to see emerging in Vancouver.
This being a relatively new policy among police means there are still issues in cases where police officers do not understand the "spirit" of the guidelines. The "spirit" was to protect sex workers and move away from "nuisance" based enforcement and was a recommendation of the "Missing and Murdered Women Commission's Report - Foresaken".
Confusion among police officers about who sex workers are and what sex workers need in terms of police support continue to create issues when sex workers are interacting with police. While the new enforcement policy aims to bridge the divide between sex workers and police, this is a process and will take some time. ( please see the Interactions with Police and Law Enforcement Section in this guide for more information)
If you have questions or concerns about contacting police or have had an interaction with police which has been negative or left you feeling like you weren't believed or where treated badly, please contact the BC Coalition of Experiential Communities and we will try to address the issue with the police on your behalf. Even if you do not want to address the issue with police directly, please report any issues to us so we can use your experiences in broad actions designed to ensure police treat sex workers fairly when we interact with them.
Other Regions of Canada
Police intervention and enforcement remain high in other areas of Canada under the guise of the fight against human trafficking and/ or exploitation of youth. The people who wish to abolish sex work remain the dominant voice on these issues with sex workers perspectives rarely being considered when plans for enforcement are being made.
If you would like to contribute to the fight for sex workers rights please see the resource section of this guide to find a sex worker organization near you. If there is no sex worker organization near you, we would be happy to support the formation of a new one!!!
If you are experiencing police intervention or harassment in any region of Canada please contact us for support. It can be frightening and we understand what you are going through.