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Toronto, June 16, 2011 – The Women's Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, composed of seven national and regional women's groups from across Canada, told the Ontario Court of Appeal today that:

by Women's Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution


Thursday, June 16, 2011 - Friday, June 17, 2011





Toronto, June 16, 2011 – The Women's Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, composed of seven national and regional women's groups from across Canada, told the Ontario Court of Appeal today that:
• The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, interpreted in accordance with Canada’s international obligations, requires the adoption of an asymmetrical approach to the criminalization of prostitution;

• Criminalizing prostituted persons punishes them for their own exploitation by buyers and pimps and is therefore unconstitutional;

• When the focus of criminalization is the activities of pimps, brothel owners, customers and everyone who lives off the fruits and exploits the prostitution of others, it does not infringe the constitutional rights of prostituted individuals. On the contrary, it reinforces their constitutional rights to equality and security, because its purpose is to prevent anyone from profiting from their sexual exploitation.

For the Coalition and the women we represent (Aboriginal women, racialized women, women in prison, women who have been or are still being prostituted, women who have been sexually assaulted, battered women, women living in poverty, etc.), it is both illogical and counter to the principles of fundamental justice to decriminalize the men who exploit the prostitution of others under the pretext of protecting prostituted women from these same men.

There are profound commonalities in the lived inequality of women in prostitution, chief among them, sexual inequality. The Coalition comprises groups that have been seeking women's equality throughout Canada for many years and we affirm that the lower court erred when it neglected to take into account the violence that is inherent to prostitution, the over-representation of Aboriginal women in prostitution and the links between domestic prostitution and sex trafficking, both national and international. Further, nothing in the submissions presented to the trial court justifies the representation of brothels as safe places for women as compared with street prostitution.

The women we represent, some of whom have been in the sex industry, say that it is impossible to separate child prostitution from adult prostitution, just as it is impossible to clearly distinguish between the men who exploit and the men who supposedly protect women in prostitution.

The Coalition is therefore demanding that the Court acknowledge that, given the systematic inequality between women and men, no one has the constitutional right to buy and sell women's bodies for the purpose of sexual exploitation. We reject the status quo and we reject the total decriminalization of prostitution and its legalization.The government is responsible for ensuring the safety of women in prostitution by decriminalizing them and ensuring the safety of all women and girls by addressing the demand for prostitution.

Coalition members:
1. CASAC - Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres
2. CAEFS - Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
3. AOcVF – Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes
4. CLES - Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle
5. NWAC - Native Women's Association of Canada
6. RQCALACS - Regroupement québécois des centres d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel
7. VRRWS – Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter

– 30 –

Stéphanie Charron 514-750-4535 or 514-601-4536         
Hilla Kerner 604-872-8212 or (778) 859-7832

Press Materials click here
Copy of the Factum Click Here


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Some questions about this press release

Why are male and trans prostitutes not represented in this coalition or even mentioned? How would criminalizing clients but not sex workers help in any way with underground work conditions and the impunity that comes with that? if one side of the transaction is still criminal then all the same conditions would still apply regarding potential for violence and police exploitation, etc. It is the underground and criminal nature of the sex trade as it currently exists that fosters exploitation, means the age of sex workers can't be regulated and that makes exist from sex work difficult- i don't see how your proposals would change this as it would still be half criminalized and would still have to be underground. While this is certainly better than locking up sex workers in jail for making a living and even penalizing people who are trapped in exploitative situations for being in them, i don't think this proposal will actually help,  and moreover plays into conservative values by polishing them with a sheen of feminism. 

Abolition vs. neoliberal decriminalization

Mainstream coverage of the Bedford case has perpetuated the idea that the case involves two options only: status quo criminalization of all aspects of the sex trade vs.  full decriminalization of prostituted women, johns and pimps.   (Yes, there are male and trans prostitutes, and they too should not be criminalized, but women and girls who have been assigned female at birth – largely Aboriginal, racialized, young,  poor -  are clearly the majority commodity locally and globally).  Maybe its too complex for mainstream media largely uninterested in all things ‘feminist’, so kudos for highlighting the  option being put forward by abolitionists - the Nordic model which decriminalizes those who are prostituted while maintaining criminal sanctions on those who buy and profit from the sale of primarily women and girls.  State funded programs exist to provide supports to those exiting – no small feat in neoliberal times.  The Nordic model and abolitionists recognize that this is not just about changing individual behaviour but about ending the institution of prostitution which in white settler countries like Canada is and always has been a deeply colonial institution driven by capital accumulation, misogyny, and racism. 

That full decriminalization will end criminalization and the existence of underground and extra or illegal sectors of the trade is a myth.  This has not happened anywhere, including another white settler nation New Zealand which has most radically deregulated its sex industry, but maintains criminalization of, amongst other things, those who do not use condoms (both johns and sex trade workers), and those who buy or profit from the prostitution of underage girls.  Sex trade workers who are not permanent residents or citizens of New Zealand – largely Asian women – also remain criminalized.   Street level prostitution has been decriminalized but street workers – largely poor, addicted, Aboriginal, transgendered - are still harassed by police, resident groups and, now, registered brothel owners who don’t want the competition.    Street level workers have not left the street for ‘safer’ indoor work for the same reasons they were not in massage parlours or escort agencies prior to decriminalization – age, health status, immigration status, addictions.  Nor do indoor or street level workers report attacks to the police at any greater rate than before decriminalization and there have been 2 murders of sex trade workers by johns after decriminalization.  There are no designated state-funded exit programs and, after decades of neoliberal policies, working class and poor women have fewer resources to find ways out and more pressure to ‘resort’ to prostitution as they free fall through what’s left of social programs.

Decriminalization has not lead to less exploitation or violence in managed brothels either as is often argued.  Employers in the sex industry, like bosses everywhere, get away with what they can get away with – that is about capitalism, and especially deregulated neoliberal capitalism which was has been imposed in New Zealand by political parties of all stripes.   In New Zealand, a radically deregulated sex industry where brothel owners are treated with kid gloves out of fear that any attempt to regulate them forces them to go underground has meant that exploitative conditions and violence remain largely unmonitored and unchanged.   One brothel owner said it was easier to license his brothel than his used car business.  There is no state regulation of the age of workers – it is largely an honour system with brothel owners given the benefit of that assumption.  As we have seen with the global financial crisis, impunity comes from deregulation and owning class entitlement and that is what now exists in New Zealand alongside the impunity of still-illegal sectors of the sex trade.

The idea that decriminalization would allow women to organize for better working conditions in the brothels has also not panned out.  Those organizations that do work with sex trade workers tend to be state-funded and with strong connections to brothel owners – limiting their ability to militantly fight for an end to exploitative conditions.  In response to continuing violence and exploitation in the brothels, these organizations have consistently called for limited measures such as educating brothel owners as if it was ignorance and not class interest, racism, and patriarchal entitlement that creates the conditions for exploitation and violence in the brothels.  And as many people have argued, you don’t get strong regulations and rights in favour of workers because the government says you get the rights.  You need collective militancy from organized workers to fight for and enforce rights against capital.  But the vast majority of women in study after study say they want out of prostitution and when they get the power to leave, they often take it.  These are also the actions of women who face violence and abuse at the hands of male lovers, husbands, fathers.  They leave when can.  And we do criminalize these men even though women often unjustly bear consequences of that criminalization. 

Full decriminalization – which benefits “consumers” ( johns), “entrepreneurs in the adult entertainment industry” (pimps) and those sex trade workers at the top of an industry highly stratified by race and class – is a celebration of neoliberal capitalism and liberal feminism with its limited vision of women’s liberation within capitalism and imperialism. 

  Thanks for the reply M.


Thanks for the reply M. Finnigan, I appreciate it. While I have significant disagreements (especially with the dismissal of male and trans sex workers as insignificant), I do agree that state regulations/deregulation is not the be all and end all, because the state is actually not concerned with the interests of working class women or trans men or whatever, and that under capitalist exploitation and with the criminalization of migrants there are going to be very serious problems in the sex trade for the foreseeable future. I very much agree with your statement "You need collective militancy from organized workers to fight for and enforce rights against capital.  "  Unionization and other kinds of collective struggle by sex workers themselves (as well as ex sex workers seeking the ability to make a living without being followed by stigma and poverty) is the only way that things will improve. But it needs to be acknowledged that some people do want to continue as sex workers while other people are desperately seeking an exit. Isn’t there some way to ensure safer working conditions for existing sex workers while also providing respectful exist strategies for those who want out? These things are not incompatible. 

Well put Megan

Yes, pretty terrible oppressive stuff to exclude people with a narrow privileged view. (in reference to trans and male sex workers)

I find it very sad when privileged people in this colony called Canada half step social justice and in term end up doing as much harm as they help.

Cut the crap!


Tami Starlight

different political strategies

Thanks for your thoughtful response Megan.  I too appreciate it.  Just a few comments.

Despite a range of global experiments with legalization and decriminalization, I don’t see any kind of movement toward unionization or other forms of collective organization by sex trade workers which specifically targets brothel owners or those who demand sexual access to and profit off the bodies of women and girls. The New Zealand Prostitute Collective, for example, was state-funded almost from its inception and has worked closely with the state and brothel owners to implement that country’s deregulated sex trade industry.  Not much has changed – read NZ’s Prostitution Law Review Committee’s most recent report (not just the Executive Summary which is pretty misleading and doesn’t reveal the reports flaws – like basing its findings on research which excluded non-English speaking sex trade workers, or the fact that the NZPC refused to allow researchers to ask sex trade workers if they wanted to exit).

You say:  “Isn’t there some way to ensure safer working conditions for existing sex workers while also providing respectful exist strategies for those who want out? These things are not incompatible.” 

I appreciate your intention to try to address the breadth of needs of individual sex trade workers.  I don’t think its contradictory to try to keep sex trade workers safe at the same time as find ways to support them to leave.  Domestic violence and rape crisis workers do this every day. 

But as one of the Pivot affidavit writers has said, “Anytime a woman is alone with a john, she is not safe”.   I have not seen evidence that sex trade workers are safer after full decriminalization – especially for those most marginalized within the trade and on the street.  Fear of police does not go away –especially for those without status in unregistered brothels, or those who work on the street in gentrifying neighbourhoods, or those who are subject to ‘broken window’ policing.   What you do see is the emergence of a distinction between the “good” indoor, ‘discreet’ sex trade workers, deserving of the fruits of decriminalization - and those seen as “bad” for a variety of reasons and attempts to contain and punish them.

And what we’re talking about with decriminalization is the creation of a state-supported and maintained market in which the commodity is, primarily, women’s and girl's bodies.  What does neoliberal free market competition look like in the sex industry?  In a local market integrated with a global market where the lowest standards make the biggest profits?   It is not a neutral act to unleash the full power of the market now backed by the state for the purposes of capital accumulation in any area of life – water, air, bodies.   Not a neutral act when the neoliberal state has already backed out of social programs and won’t fund exit programs. 

so I do see an incompatibility between state support for decrim and state support for those things sex trade workers need to leave. These are different political strategies in neoliberal times.  In terms of broader political strategies to keep women safe, neoliberal decriminalization uses the power of the market and the state to entrench and expand a global market with the imperative of making profit off the trade - and is ideologically opposed to state funding for what we call exit programs.  There is a structural incompatibility between decriminalization and supporting sex trade workers who want to leave - and that's clearly playing out in New Zealand where those who reviewed the legal reforms complacently conclude that "the industry should be allowed to evolve naturally, without radical government intervention beyond that which has already occurred (ie. decriminalization)".

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