Indoor sex worker advocates say the federal government’s new prostitution laws will cause more harm than good.
They are especially concerned about Bill C-36’s prohibition on the advertisement of sexual services, which indoor sex work relies on due to its discrete nature.
The Supreme Court of Canada found that sex work is safest when practiced from a fixed indoor location. If these venues are shut down women will be forced to work on the street or in their homes.
“When you take away a person’s ability to advertise it leads to more violence because there is less communication,” said Alison Clancey, the executive director of SWAN (Supporting Women’s Alternatives Network).
SWAN has been providing outreach to largely Asian newcomer, migrant, and immigrant indoor sex workers in Vancouver for the past ten years.
Cutting off second line of defence
Outreach organizations like SWAN also use these advertisement spaces to connect with and give information and support to sex workers, providing a second line of defence.
If these avenues of access are shut down, “it will prevent us from reaching out, connecting, and supporting,” Clancey said.
As a preemptive response the organization has increased spending on advertising to raise their profile while these spaces are still open.
There are also legal concerns about the new legislation, particularly uncertainty about how they will be interpreted.
Lisa Kerr, a doctoral candidate in law at New York University, noted the ambiguity of the law, particularly in defining who can and cannot advertise.
The confusing nature of the legislation poses a challenge to publications that print advertisements for sexual services. Many publishers are unclear about which advertisements are considered legal and how the laws will be enforced.
“It’s a very dangerous precedent requiring newspapers to enforce the law,” stated John Hinds, the CEO of the Canadian Community Newspapers Association.
What’s more, he added, “the court is clear that prostitution is not illegal in this country and most legal services are able to advertise.”
It remains unclear how these laws will be interpreted or enforced as they leave a great deal of power to prosecutors. The law has passed its third reading and is anticipated to pass through the Senate within a month.
Lisa Kerr expects that if passed, the law will be immediately challenged by the highly organized sex work law reform community.
“They’re not going to wait one more minute where women’s lives are in danger,” she said.