Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of CanadaOffice of the Prime Minister80 Wellington StreetOttawa, ON K1A 0A2Canada
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau:
The undersigned are advocates, women’s rights and anti-trafficking organizations, sex trade survivors, survivor-led networks, and concerned individuals from around the world dedicated to protecting the human rights of women and girls. We are each calling on you as the Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party of Canada to reject the proposed resolution, “Decriminalization of Consensual Sex Work and Sex Trade,” to be tabled at the National Liberal Convention this week by the Young Liberals of Canada.
Canada passed the groundbreaking Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) or Bill C-36, which received Royal Assent on 6 November 2014 (S.C. 2014, c.25). The law decriminalizes prostituted individuals, who are mostly women, offering them services, and targets sex buyers, who are almost unanimously men, for the harm they cause in prostitution. The law’s goal is to end the commercial sexual exploitation of individuals, protect human rights, especially those of women and girls, and it recognizes that sex buyers fuel the global multi-billion dollar sex trade. While the law still inappropriately criminalizes prostituted women in certain circumstances(1), PCEPA embodies the notion that the best way to eradicate the pervasive harms of prostitution is to end its practice.
The Canadian Department of Justice’s Technical Paper on Bill C-36 recognized that prostitution reinforces gender and racial inequalities. Evidence shows that the majority of those bought and sold in the sex trade are female, with a disproportionate representation of Indigenous women and girls in prostitution. A 2005 Vancouver study found that among the women in prostitution surveyed, 52% were Indigenous.(2) In another report, a network of front-line service organizations across Canada estimated that of the women and girls they serve who have been sex trafficked or sexually exploited in prostitution, 50 percent of girls and 51 percent of women were Indigenous.(3) This is particularly startling considering Indigenous Peoples only comprise 4.8 percent of Canada’s population.
However, almost 100 percent of the sex buyers are male. The Technical Paper therefore underlined the urgent need for Canada to denounce the demand for prostitution, provide services for prostituted individuals, and continue prohibiting the exploitation of the prostitution of others by third parties.
In 2014, you underscored that it is “important to recognize that prostitution itself is a form of violence against women.”(4)
When Canada passed PCEPA, it joined other nations that lead on women’s rights in declaring that prostitution is inconsistent with women’s equality. Sweden, which was the first country to enact demand-focused legislation in 1999, has proven that women in prostitution welcome holistic services and a path toward exiting the sex trade. Sweden has also recorded a seismic cultural shift from a society whose majority normalized paid male sexual access to women’s bodies prior to the law, to one where a majority recognizes prostitution as a significant barrier to women’s equality.(5)
Since its enactment, PCEPA has proven to be an effective tool to protect prostituted women in Canada. Montreal police Service Lieutenant Detective Dominic Monchamp said:
"For the first time in 25 years of policing, I am seeing a major change in responding to prostitution and sexual exploitation. We are now focused on arresting sex purchasers and supporting victims. I am fully supportive of decriminalizing the victims, but am not supportive of decriminalizing sex purchasing. The overturning of PCEPA would remove a valuable tool we need to help protect our communities and exploited persons."
It is therefore incomprehensible that the Young Liberals of Canada would call for the dissolution of PCEPA, especially before it has been fully implemented throughout Canada’s provinces. The law requires a comprehensive review in 2021, which will be an opportunity for the Government to evaluate the progress made. The solution is not to overturn PCEPA, as the Young Liberals are proposing, but to collaborate toward its comprehensive implementation across the country.
Furthermore, Prime Minister Trudeau, we want to bring to your attention that the term “sex work” was coined by the sex industry itself, and those with specific interests in it, to normalize and mask the harms, exploitation, and discriminatory practices that are inherent to prostitution. Prostitution is neither “sex” nor “work” but the essence of a complex multi-billion dollar global sex trade, whose bedrock is misogyny, colonization, racism and violence against women.
It is also vital to understand that the decriminalization of “sex work,” which the Young Liberals are proposing, does not just decriminalize those being bought for sex. The PCEPA already protects prostituted people from arrests, with the above-mentioned exceptions. Instead, the proposal to be tabled this week calls for the decriminalization of pimping, brothel owning and sex buying. Decriminalizing the systems of prostitution triggers the expansion of a market of commercial sexual exploitation that disastrously renders the sex trade as a legitimate business and employer, a system that richly profits from the abuse, and even death, of women and girls. If Canada were to legalize the purchase of male sexual access to women’s bodies, it would also spark an increase in sex trafficking, including of minors, to meet the consequent state-sanctioned demand for prostitution.
We urge you and the Government of Canada to reject the Young Liberals’ call to repeal PCEPA and to decriminalize the sex trade, including sex buying and pimping. Instead, please invest in the comprehensive implementation of PCEPA throughout the country. Your Government would, as a result, show its commitment to promoting the rights of all women and girls. In doing so, you would also demonstrate Canada’s commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.
We have every confidence, Prime Minister Trudeau, that the great people of Canada will come to the same conclusion should you and your Government robustly implement and uphold PCEPA: that Canada recognizes and protects the human rights of all, especially women and girls. Your leadership would stand as a global example.
cc: The Honorable Members of the Liberal Party
FOOTNOTES(1) The PECPA states that “…anyone who obtains or communicates with anyone for the purpose of obtaining for consideration, the sexual services of a person is guilty of an indictable offence…if the offence is committed in a public place, or in any place open to public view, that is or is next to a park or the grounds of a school or religious institution or that is or is next to any other place where persons under the age of 18 can reasonably be expected to be present.” We, the undersigned reject this exception and are also calling for full decriminalization of all prostituted persons.
(2) Farley, Melissa, et al. “Prostitution in Vancouver: Violence and the Colonization of First Nations Women.” Transcultural Psychiatry, vol. 42, no. 2, 1 June 2005, doi: 10.1177/1363461505052667. Canadian Women’s Foundation. “NO MORE. Ending Sex-Trafficking In Canada. Report of the National Task Force on Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada.” Fall 2014.
(3) Canadian Women’s Foundation. “NO MORE. Ending Sex-Trafficking In Canada. Report of the National Task Force on Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada.” Fall 2014.
(4) "Justin Trudeau wary of proposal to regulate, tax prostitution.” CBC News. Jan 17, 2014. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/justin-trudeau-wary-of-proposal-to-regulate-tax-prostitution-1.2500357
(5) Government of Sweden, Report SOU 2010:49, Förbud mot köp av sexuell tjänst, En utvärdering 1999-2008[Report: Prohibition Against Buying Sexual Services, An Assessment 1999-2008] (Fritzes 2010).