Canada’s New Justice Minister Moves to Review Anti-Sex Work Law

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Regional Correspondent North America and the Caribbean
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Newly appointed Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has set her sights on repealing Canada’s anti-sex work laws. Maclean’s reports that Canada’s new anti-sex work laws are one of three major priorities for the Minister. The law is called the Protecting Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA). It came into effect in December 2014 as a result of the Supreme Court’s Bedford decision. More about the historic Bedford decision can be found in NSWP’s Timeline.

PCEPA brought back several laws found unconstitutional in the Bedford decision. It also created a new anti-advertising provision that bans ads for sexual services. The laws were created as a Canadian version of the Swedish Model. The Canadian Bar Association has stated that PCEPA would also likely be struck down by the Supreme Court, according to The Tyee. More information on the harms associated with the Swedish Model can be found in NSWP’s Advocacy Toolkit.

The Justice Minister has stated that she will be consulting directly with sex workers in her review of the anti-sex work laws. “I definitely am committed to reviewing the prostitution laws, and sitting down with my officials to assess the best options, and with those they affect directly,” Wilson-Raybould told The Tyee. In an interview with Maclean’s, she went on to say that “the safety of the workers is fundamentally important.”

In her column for NOW Magazine, sex worker Fleur de Lit wrote, “I am optimistic about this, specifically about Wilson-Raybould's use of the word ‘workers.’” The shift in language is a major change for how politicians have spoken of sex workers in the past several years.

Wilson-Raybould, an Indigenous attorney, worked for many years in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The Downtown Eastside has been ground zero in debates over street-based sex work in Canada after it was found that police failed to stop a serial killer targeting Indigenous sex workers. She went on to tell The Tyee that her goal would be, “to reduce the incidence of violence against women.” And that she would be “listening to people who are impacted” by the anti-sex work laws.

Another related issue Wilson-Raybould is expected to tackle is the call for an inquiry into violence against Indigenous women. Canada has over 1200 missing and murdered Indigenous women, some of whom were sex workers. The Liberal government has promised an immediate inquiry following years of refusal by the previous government. Wilson-Raybould herself comes from Kwakwaka'wakw nation in British Columbia.

Wilson-Raybould is not the only member of the Liberal government to oppose PCEPA. During the Senate hearings on the bill, Senator Mobina Jaffer spoke out against it. Jaffer also represents the Downtown Eastside. She highlighted the importance of listening to sex workers.

Canadian Parliament resumes on December 3, 2015. It will be the first Parliamentary session of the newly elected Liberal government. A throne speech the following day may gives further clues as to the agenda of the new government. Sex workers and their allies hope to hear the Liberal promise to repeal PCEPA included.