The following is a joint statement by:
- Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation
- EVE (formerly Exploited Voices now Educating)
- Defend Dignity
- Persons Against Non-State Torture
- The EFC’s Centre for Faith and Public Life (see also the EFC's previous response to the court decision)
- Vancouver Collective Against Sexual Exploitation
As a national working group of survivors of prostitution, service providers, and advocates, we applaud the Ontario Superior Court of Justice’s ruling in Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform v Attorney General of Canada, released Sept. 18, 2023. Many of us intervened in the case in support of Canada’s progressive prostitution laws which seek to denounce and prohibit the purchase of sexual services, with the aim of reducing the demand for prostitution. This decision is a victory for the dignity, human rights and equality of women and girls in Canada.
This decision aligns with the many international agreements that Canada has committed to, most notably the Palermo Protocol[i] which names discouraging demand as an essential component to addressing sex trafficking and prostitution. This decision also respects the overall purpose of PCEPA (Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act) which is to “reduce the demand for prostitution with a view to discouraging entry into it, deterring participation in it and ultimately abolishing it to greatest extent possible.”[ii]
The purchasing offence, s. 286.1, takes direct aim at the demand that fosters all forms of sexual exploitation. One cannot underestimate the deterrent effect of criminalizing the purchase of sex as many more men would buy sex if the purchase of sexual services was decriminalized.[iii] This offence, clearly upheld as constitutional in this decision, demonstrates that Canada will not allow men to abuse their power and privilege by buying compliance to sexual acts.
As outlined in the preamble, PCEPA recognizes that prostitution is inherently exploitative and violent, and that the objectification of the human body and commodification of sexual activity causes social harm.
The decision reflects the reality that prostitution is a form of male violence which negatively and disproportionately impacts women and girls. Especially Indigenous women and girls, who have been targeted for sexual exploitation since colonization, and comprise the majority of prostituted women in Canada, even though they comprise just 4% of the population.[iv]
The court found that violence “is a feature not a bug of sex work.”[v] We agree. Violence – which often rises to the level of torture – is prevalent in the system of prostitution. This system must not be normalized or legitimized. Rather, as PCEPA intends, it must be dismantled.
Our laws must focus on both reducing the demand for sexual access to women and girls’ bodies and stopping traffickers from profiting from the exploitation of persons struggling for their existence. By upholding the third-party offenses of materially benefitting from, procuring, and advertising someone else’s sexual services, this ruling continues to prohibit exploitation while allowing individuals selling sex to enter into non-exploitive third-party relationships.
We commend this decision and call on the government of Canada to ensure consistent and proper enforcement of PCEPA in every jurisdiction in Canada. A law is only as good as it is enforced within the legal and judicial system consistently throughout Canada.
We also call on the government to implement the two other prongs of the Equality Model of law, after which PCEPA is modeled, by educating the public about the laws and their intent, and implementing significant, sustained financial support for exiting strategies in every area of Canada.
These actions are essential to ensuring Canada continues to be a leader in promoting justice and gender equality for women from coast to coast to coast.
[i] The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/ProtocolonTrafficking.pdf
[ii] Department of Justice Canada. (2014). Technical paper: Bill C-36, Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/other-autre/protect/p1.html
[iii] Demand Abolition. (2018). Who Buys Sex? Understanding and Disrupting Illicit Market Demand https://www.demandabolition.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Demand-Buyer-Report-July-2019.pdf
[iv] The Native Women’s Association of Canada. (2014). Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls: Literature Review and Key Informant Interviews https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2014_NWAC_Human_Trafficking_and_Sexual_Exploitation_Report.pdf
[v] CAFSWLR v. Attorney General of Canada, at par. 216. Goldstein J. used the term “sex work” throughout the decision. However, he clarified (in par. 14) that he did not mean to convey that sex work is no different from any other type of work. As a group, we do not accept that prostitution is work, and do not use the term “sex work.”