Canada’s Sex Workers Push Liberal Party to End Infamous Bill C-36

In 2014, the Canadian parliament, then dominated by the country’s Conservative Party, passed Bill C-36, which for the first time made paying for sex a crime—while legalizing the act of receiving cash in exchange for sexual acts. Until that time, Canada outlawed acts related to the sale of sex, but not the sale itself.

The new law also outlawed receiving a “material benefit” from the sale of sex, as well as the advertising of sexual service.

While the bill was fashioned as protection for sex workers, titled the “Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act,” the actual aim of the legislation was to serve as a first step toward stamping out sex work altogether in Canada.

But when the Liberal Party won a majority shortly after the bill took effect, the new government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to “review” the effects of the law after five years.

With 2019 coming to a close, that five-year wait is also up, and Canadian sex worker rights activists say that the Liberal government has done nothing to evaluate or reform the law—which they say has put sex workers’ lives at risk, and been a gift to sexual predators.

As a member of parliament, prior to becoming Canada’s prime minister, Trudeau opposed the PCEPA bill—but his Liberal government took no steps to address the bill’s drawbacks during Trudeau’s first term in office.

According to a VICE report on the law’s effects, Canadian sex workers now “can’t work in brothels, can’t hire security and can’t properly screen clients,” because those clients generally will not give their true identities for fear of arrest.

“Girls will say, I won’t screen you. I will do it for less money,” Ottawa escort Luxe Mulvari told VICE. “Girls who want to keep it safe, and screen their clients, it’s been harder.”

Even activists within the Liberal coalition have argued for a serious review of the sex work law. At the 2018 Liberal Party convention, the Young Liberals of Canada issued a statement saying that, “current prohibition of buying consensual sex work does not address the underlying issues that make sex work dangerous, but rather creates a climate that makes sex workers unlikely to work with the police and be involved with more serious crimes.”

But a spokesperson for Canada’s Ministry of Justice, in a statement this week, said only that the law mandates that a committee study the effects of Bill C-36, and that committee is now being formed.

Photo By Bojan Cvetanović / Wikimedia Commons