Sex Worker Groups Call for End to Anti-Trafficking Raids in Canada

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Regional Correspondent North America and the Caribbean

NSWP member organisation Butterfly – Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Network have called for an end to anti-trafficking campaigns in Canada. Joining the call are No One Is Illegal, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, STRUT, and NSWP member organisations Migrant Sex Workers Project and Maggie’s: Toronto’s Sex Worker Action Project. The group of organisations are centering the voices of migrant sex workers. Migrant sex workers in Canada face police harassment, arrest, detention, and deportation.

In a November 20th press release, the groups claim that anti-trafficking measures in Canada are harmful to the people they claim to be helping. The groups outlined how anti-sex work laws, immigration policies, and law enforcement agencies combine to hurt migrants. Canada’s new anti-sex work Protecting Communities and Exploited Persons Act criminalises most activities around sex work and many relationships sex workers may have. Current immigration policies prohibit migrants from engaging in sex work, even when they are legally allowed to work. Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies conduct raids on sex work venues and deport migrant workers.

Canada deported 11 migrant sex workers after a recent 2015 raid in Ottawa, according to the press release. The raid was part of a national anti-sex work crackdown that affected hundreds of workers and their clients. The RCMP, a Canadian law enforcement agency, claims to have found “500 victims” during the sweep but have provided little information.

The groups say that anti-sex work raids push migrant and racialised sex workers further underground. More information on the harms of anti-trafficking raids and anti-sex work laws can be found in NSWP’s briefing paper Sex Work and the Law. Canada’s raids on migrant sex workers conflate sex work with human trafficking. This harmful trend is explored in the five-page NSWP briefing paper Sex Work is Not Trafficking.

The Canadian sex worker groups provided four recommendations on how best to support migrant sex workers:

1. Recognize that sex work is work and eliminate discrimination against sex workers. Support sex workers’ rights, and justice, and the right not to be "rescued".
2. Support peer-led models so that the sex work community can connect with others and assist in cases of exploitation and abuse. Stop using criminal laws to address sex workers’ migration and review anti-trafficking policies with sex workers’ organizations to develop measures that are rights-based and supportive to the community.
3. Urge the federal government to repeal the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), which endangers sex workers’ lives, health, and safety.
4. Urge the government to stop raids, detentions, and deportations of sex workers. CBSA should never be involved in anti-trafficking investigations.”

Earlier this year, NSWP featured an extensive member profile on Butterfly – Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Network.

Further information on the call to end anti-trafficking raids can be found at Migrant Sex Workers Project, by contacting Butterfly at cswbutterfly [at] gmail [dot] com, or by telephone at +1 416-906-3098.