Sex worker allies decry C-36 on the eve of its implementation

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Sex workers and their allies from the feminist and labour movements have taken to social media today to decry the December 6 implementation of Bill C-36, which they say will only increase the risks associated with sex work.

December 6 commemorates the Ecole Polytechnique Massacre, in which 14 women were separated from their male classmates, then shot and killed. In the 25 years since those shootings, December 6 has become a national day to acknowledge all female victims of violence.

Critics of the controversial new sex work legislation say that it is "sick and twisted" that Bill C-36 would come into effect on December 6, Canada's National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

"Dec. 6 should be a day to remember innocent victims of extremist misogyny, not to institutionalize further systemic violence," tweeted the coordinator of St. John's Safe Harbour Outreach Project.

Some unions have also voiced their opposition to the new Bill. In their December 6 statement, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Provincial Women's Committee has opposed the Bill, noting that it "puts the lives of sex workers at risk."

"The [Provincial Women's] Committee stands in solidarity with OPSEU Executive Board, sex workers, third parties and advocates in supporting the full decriminalization of sex work. The PWC believes that as long as sex workers' lives and working conditions are regulated by the Criminal Code, the protections and rights (i.e labour/human/legal) that all other Canadian citizens enjoy will continue to be denied thus perpetuating violence against sex workers and amplifying marginalization."

On December 20, 2013, as part of the historic Bedford v. Canada ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned three provisions of the Criminal Code relating to prostitution, ruling that the laws prohibiting brothels, living on the avails of prostitution and communicating in public with clients "cost the health, safety and lives prostitutes."

Parliament was given one year to design new legislation; Bill C-36, introduced by Conservative Minister of Justice Peter MacKay, is that new law. 

The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act will make it illegal to advertise or communicate for the purpose of buying or selling sex, while also criminalizing the purchase of sex.

Critics argue that in painting all sex workers as victims, the Bill actually pushes the sex trade further into the shadows, increasing risks associated with that work.

In an editorial in the National Post published in July, President of CUPE Ontario Fred Hahn criticized the Bill for denying sex workers access to labour and human rights protections, and reinstating some of the worst aspects of the overthrown legislation.

"If the Harper government's anti-prostitution legislation, Bill C-36, is passed, it will reproduce the harms and violence of the prostitution laws that were recently deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada," wrote Hahn, "It will drive sex work underground by removing any legitimate means of accessing labour protections and safety mechanisms." 

A coalition of sex workers and their allies have asked Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to refer the Bill back to the Ontario Court of Appeal and to instruct Crown prosecutors not to enforce it until its constitutionality can be determined again.

Also among the Bill's dissenters are 25 Toronto City Councilors from both sides of the political spectrum, who have signed a letter asking Premier Wynne to send the Bill to Ontario's Court of Appeal. 

Ella Bedard is rabble's labour intern. She has written about labour issues for and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People. She now lives in Toronto where she enjoys chasing the labour beat, biking and birding.

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