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Criminalization costs sex worker lives - Rally in Halifax says no to Bill C-36

by Robert Devet

About 50 people opposed to proposed federal sex worker legislation listened to speeches and then marched to the Halifax Police Station on Gottingen Street. Photo Robert Devet
Megan Leslie, Halifax Member of Parliament, told the crowd to raise a ruckus. " We need letters to the editor, we need people to call in to call-in shows, we need you to raise hell in your communities." Photo Robert Devet
"Non-sex workers do not have the right to lead the conversation or make decisions on other people's life based on what would make them most comfortable," said Jean Ketterling, coordinator with South House. Photo Robert Devet
"The criminalization of sex work has killed four people I knew right here in Halifax.  Under this new bill things will only get worse," said Fiona Traynor, chair of the board of Stepping Stone.  Photo Robert Devet
The Supreme Court told the Federal Government to address flaws in the current legislation that made sex work dangerous. Many believe that the new law will only make things worse. Photo Robert Devet
Organizers were pleased with the turn-out, given that it was a bit of a miserable day. It rained during the entire rally. Photo Robert Devet

K'JIPUKTUK, HALIFAX - About 50 people braved a steady rain today and gathered on the Grand Parade in downtown Halifax to voice their concerns about a new prostitution bill. The new legislation, Bill C-36, was introduced by Justice Minister Peter McKay on Wednesday June 11th.

Late last year the Supreme Court struck down major components of existing legislation because they endangered sex workers and impeded their ability to protect themselves. The government was given one year to address those concerns.

The proposed legislation claims to target "johns" and "pimps", but many sex workers say that the proposed legislation makes things worse for them.

"The Supreme Court clearly told the federal government to address those sections that actually endangered the lives of sex workers," Fiona Traynor tells the Halifax Media Co-op.

"But now our federal government comes back with even more draconian measures, making it even more dangerous for sex workers."

Traynor is chair of the board of Stepping Stone, an organization that offers supportive programs and outreach to sex workers and former sex workers.

"It is a punishing and penalizing way to deal with an issue that should fall under health and safety, under human rights, not under the criminal code," she says.

There are a couple of issues that make the new legislation particularly troublesome, Traynor explains.

The proposed legislation will make it illegal to advertise sexual services on the internet. This will drive sex workers onto the street, Traynor says, while research shows that sex workers who work indoors face much less danger.

As well, the proposed legislation would make it illegal to communicate for the purposes of selling sex services "where it can be reasonably expected that a person under the age of 18 years is present."

"So that would make it illegal pretty well anywhere except in bars," Traynor observes.

"What all this means is that sex workers are going to have to make quick decisions. They are going to jump into people's cars, they will not be able to screen their clients," she says.

Traynor points to a recently published report by the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/Aids to back up her assertions.

"Over the last 10 years the Vancouver police has basically been arresting johns, going after the purchasing of sex work," say Traynor.

"What this research shows is that things have become more dangerous under that policing model."

So what would Traynor like to see happen?

A combination of regulation and worker protection are the way to go, Traynor believes. She points to New Zealand, Holland, and certain states in Australia as successful models.

The Harper government is merely playing to its conservative base, she believes. There is no way they would ever allow what they consider the sanctioning of sex work, she says.

And they will always raise issues of human trafficking and underage sex work.

But there already are perfectly good provisions in the criminal code to deal with those issues," Traynor says.

See also:

Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act: An overview – rabble.ca

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert


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