Letter on CASWLR to justice minister

28 November 2023

The Hon. Arif Virani
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Dear Minister,

We are writing to highlight the recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision in CASWLR v. Attorney General of Canada, which found all the provisions of Canada’s prostitution laws to be constitutional.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) acted as an intervener in this case in support of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA). We argued that buying sex is inherently exploitive and that the current laws protect human dignity and equality.

The objectives of PCEPA, as laid out in the Attorney General of Canada’s factum in this case, are to “reduce the demand for prostitution with a view to discouraging entry into it, deterring participation in it and ultimately abolishing to the greatest extent possible, in order to protect communities, human dignity and equality.”[1] In this decision, Justice Goldstein found the prohibition against purchasing sexual services, which is the lynchpin of PCEPA, to be consistent with the objectives of the law.

Justice Goldstein found that Parliament’s view of the harms of the sex trade is well grounded in the evidence (par. 384). He pointed to the evidence that significant numbers of sex workers come from marginalized and racialized groups – particularly Indigenous girls and women. He also pointed to evidence that sex work is highly gendered, with the overwhelming majority of sex workers being female and customers being male. And he found that violence and the threat of violence are present in the everyday lives of many sex workers.

The EFC has long argued that violence is inherent to the system of prostitution itself. Justice Goldstein found that “violence is a feature, not a bug of sex work” (par. 216). We do not believe that violence can be reduced to acceptable levels.

Justice Goldstein rejected the argument that PCEPA has led to an upsurge in violence against sex workers (par. 219). Rather, he pointed to the latest Juristat, which points to a significant decrease in homicide victims related to the sex trade after PCEPA came into force, despite overall homicides increasing.[2] It is simply not accurate to say that PCEPA has led to an increase in violence against sex workers.

Justice Goldstein also found that “there is a clear link between sex work and human trafficking. In fact, there is a considerable body of evidence that many sex workers are manipulated or coerced into sex work or trafficked while in it” (par. 179).

As the EFC and many others have consistently argued, while prostitution and sex trafficking are not the same, they are inextricably linked, and the demand for paid sex is the direct cause of commercial sexual exploitation of women and children.

The question of choice in the system of prostitution is not straightforward. It is for this reason that our laws and policies related to prostitution must focus on the one party in the transaction that is certain to be making a free choice – the sex buyer. In focusing its attention on the sex buyer and on those third parties who would profit from the exploitation of others, PCEPA recognizes and responds to the difficulty of assessing and ensuring voluntariness within the system of prostitution. It seeks to “denounce and prohibit the demand for prostitution”[3] because it is the demand for paid sex that funnels women into prostitution and fuels sex trafficking.

Our laws and policies must deal effectively with individual acts of exploitation, but also take into account the systemic nature of commercial sexual exploitation. The EFC has long argued prostitution is not merely a series of interactions between purchaser and purchased that exist independently of one another. Rather, prostitution is part of a system of exploitation that is based on structural inequalities and preys on vulnerabilities. While there are transactions within that system that may be consensual and non-coercive, these are nonetheless situated within a system of exploitation. PCEPA recognizes the systemic nature of prostitution and maintains that “the best way to avoid prostitution’s harms is to bring an end to its practice.”[4]

In a submission to the Justice Committee during its review of PCEPA, the EFC wrote that education about the law would have helped Canadians, law enforcement, crown attorneys and others within the justice system, as well as those who are being prostituted, to understand what is legal and illegal, and the overall intent of PCEPA.

The court noted there are significant misunderstandings about what the law allows and what it prohibits. Justice Goldstein found that:

the Applicants’ evidence, especially the expert evidence, betrays a basic misunderstanding and misreading of the challenged offences. … sex workers should understand that PCEPA, properly interpreted, does not prohibit them from accessing safety measures, working in association with each other, and accessing the services of non-exploitive third parties. ... Sex workers should also understand that when PCEPA is properly interpreted, they can seek police assistance without fear that they will be charged for selling their sexual services, receiving a material benefit from the own sexual services, communicating with customers in relation to their own sexual services, or advertising in relation to their own sexual services. (par. 11)

This misunderstanding of PCEPA is a failure of public education. One of the key elements of the Equality Model, after which PCEPA is modeled, is public education and awareness about the laws and their intent. We encourage the government to identify ways to raise awareness of PCEPA’s provisions.

Justice Goldstein concluded that, overall, he finds that “Parliament’s response to a pressing and substantial concern is a carefully crafted legislative scheme that prohibits the most exploitive aspects of the sex trade while immunizing sex workers from prosecution.”

As this case proceeds to the Ontario Court of Appeal, we urge your office to continue to vigorously defend the legislation. As well, we urge you to ensure consistent enforcement of PCEPA across Canada. We echo the Justice Committee recommendation that the government study how more consistent application of PCEPA could be encouraged across the country.

Finally, we strongly recommend the government implement the third key element of the Equality Model, that is, sustained and significant funding for exit supports and services for individuals wishing to leave prostitution.

Thank you for your work on behalf of all Canadians.

Julia Beazley
Director, Public Policy
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

[1] Factum of the Respondent, AG of Canada, in CASWLR v. Canada, at par.20 (a)

[2] “Crimes related to the sex trade: Before and after legislative changes,” Statistics Canada, June 21, 2021,