Canadian Work Laws Endangering Health, Lives of Commercial Sex Workers, Report Says
Canadian laws that ban most commercial sex-related activities put the health and lives of sex workers at risk and should be rescinded, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Toronto's Globe and Mail reports. Although being a commercial sex worker in Canada is not a crime, it is illegal to "communicate for the purposes of prostitution, to operate a bawdy house or to live on the avails of prostitution," according to the Globe and Mail. The laws are meant to prevent solicitation and allow law enforcement officials to arrest pimps (Blackwell, Globe and Mail, 12/13). However, the possibility of arrest under the laws often does not give sex workers time to assess their health risks with a particular client or negotiate safe sex, according to the report (Legal Network release, 12/13). Legal Network Senior Policy Analyst Glenn Betteridge, the report's lead author, said the laws also prevent commercial sex workers from obtaining legal and health protections available to other workers and "push the practice of prostitution into close proximity with other illegal markets like drug dealing and organized crime" (Globe and Mail, 12/13). The report recommends that the laws be repealed; that sex work be recognized under occupational health and safety provisions; and that sex workers be involved in reforming policies (Legal Network release, 12/13).
Libby Davies, a member of Parliament who served on a House of Commons subcommittee examining the laws, said committee members were close to finishing a report when a national election was called. Davies, a member of Canada's New Democratic Party, said that while she was unsure if most committee members favored decriminalization, there was "strong agreement that the status quo was not working and that the law itself is contributing to the risk and danger that street prostitutes face." Jeff Leiper, a spokesperson for the Hintonburg Community Association, a homeowners group in Ottawa, said, "In our community the presence of prostitution is linked to things like crack houses," adding that decriminalization of "communication" for commercial sex work would be a "short-term fix that will allow politicians to wash their hands of the problem without having to put in place the long-term commitments and financial resources to attack some of the social causes of drug addiction" (Globe and Mail, 12/13).