Sex workers and their supporters are reminding opposition party leaders about their pledge to repeal the country’s new prostitution laws if they win the October 19 federal election.
The notice was addressed to Elizabeth May of the Green Party, Thomas Mulcair of the NDP, and Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party in an open letter Tuesday (October 19).
The signatories stated that the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) will produce the same safety risks as the previous statutes invalidated by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2013.
The law was introduced by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Harper through Bill C-36, which criminalized for the first time in Canada the purchase of sexual services.
“The PCEPA prevents safety enhancing measures in the same manner as the laws that the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional,” the signatories stated in the letter. “It is our view that the PCEPA is, therefore, inconsistent with the sex workers’ constitutional rights to safety, health, equality, and freedom of expression and association.”
“If elected, we call on you to honour your promise to repeal the PCEPA and to replace this law with a model that is proven to protect sex workers – one that removes criminal laws that specifically target adult sex work, is developed alongside sex workers, and prioritizes safety, equality, and human rights,” they also wrote.
Laura Dilley, executive director of the Providing Alternatives, Counselling and Education (PACE) Society, a Vancouver group supporting sex workers, was among those who signed the letter.
In a recent interview, Dilley related that her group had worked for many years with then Vancouver East NDP MP Libby Davies and long-time Liberal Vancouver Centre MP Hedy Fry on the issue of sex workers’ rights.
“In our talks with them, they both supported a decriminalized approach to sex work, which is a rights-based and evidence-based decision,” Dilley told the Straight by phone.
PACE Society will hold an open house at its new location at 148 West Hastings Street from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday (October 15). Organizers will sell T-shirts with the slogan ‘Rights Not Rescue’ to raise funds for the group's programs.
Dilley said that the ‘Rights Not Rescue’ slogan seeks to counter the “popular trope that anyone engaged in sex work is a victim or needs to be rescued”.
“We know that’s not the case,” she added.
“They don’t want somebody coming in, saying what they need and attempting to rescue them,” Dilley said about sex workers. “They’re autonomous individuals, and they want their rights to be respected just like any other human being.”