Petition to decriminalize sex work may finally thrust Justin Trudeau into repealing Canada’s prostitution law

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      As an opposition MP, Justin Trudeau in 2014 voted against a new law on prostitution in Canada.

      But when he became prime minister in 2015, the federal Liberal leader didn’t do anything about the legislation.

      This even as sex workers say that the law passed by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper doesn’t make them any safer.

      Now on his second term, Trudeau has yet to take action regarding Bill C-36 or the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.

      A petition initiated from B.C. may yet prod the prime minister to be honest and act according to his vote in 2014.

      The electronic petition calls on the government to repeal Bill C-36 to “ensure all Canadians, regardless of their chosen profession, are not denied their constitutional right to security of person”.

      The petition was started on January 29, 2021 by Rysa Kronebusch, a vice president with the MoveUP labour union.

      As of Wednesday (February 17), the petition has gathered 5,100 signatures, assuring that it will be certified by the House of Commons’ Clerk of Petitions.

      This means that the petition’s sponsor, Randall Garrison, NDP MP for the B.C. riding of Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, will be able to present it on the floor of the House.

      Rules require that the Trudeau government has to table a response in 45 days after the petition is presented.

      In 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down three Criminal Code offences related to prostitution on the basis that these violated constitutional rights to life, liberty and security of a person.

      These offences were keeping or being in a bawdy house, living on the avails of prostitution, and communicating in public for purposes of prostitution.

      Harper’s Conservative govenrment introduced Bill C-36, which the Kronebusch-initiated petition describes as a “roundabout way” of criminalizing sex work.

      The new law criminalizes the purchase of sex, advertising of someone else’s sexual services, benefitting materially from a person’s sale of sex, procuring a person for prostitution, and communicating for prostitution purposes in a public place.

      According to the petition, Bill C-36 puts sex workers “at risk of being beaten, raped and killed”.

      This is “because criminalization hinders their ability to seek assistance from law enforcement and puts barriers to accessing health, safety and other benefits available to workers”.

      As well, Bill C-36 “hinders workers' rights to negotiate the terms of employment”.

      The petition also notes that Amnesty International has called for “decriminalization of consensual sex work”.

      In 2016, the international human rights organization released its policy paper on sex work, which stated that criminalization creates “barriers…to the realization of the human rights of sex workers”.

      Amnesty International said that “to protect the rights of sex workers, it is necessary not only to repeal laws which criminalize the sale of sex, but also to repeal those which make the buying of sex from consenting adults or the organization of sex work (such as prohibitions on renting premises for sex work) a criminal offence”.

      “Such laws force sex workers to operate covertly in ways that compromise their safety, prohibit actions that sex workers take to maximize their safety, and serve to deny sex workers support or protection from government officials,” the international organization declared.

      The petition is open for signature until March 30.

      To sign, click here.