Quebec Group Advocates For Sex Workers’ Rights

Another voice has joined the debate on the legal status of sex work in Canada.

The Feminist Alliance in Solidarity with Sex Workers’ Rights officially launched as the Quebec network advocating for the decriminalization of sex work at a press conference Friday morning at Theatre Sainte-Catherine.

The coalition—composed of 350 community organizations, professors and individuals—aims to bring visibility to public support for decriminalization in response to the prohibition argument they see as dominating the media.

“A number of researchers and activists became concerned that all we kept hearing in the news was this prohibition story from the religious right and other feminist groups—particularly everyone except the people that were selling sex services—that really wanted to repress sex work,” said Frances M. Shaver, an AFS spokesperson and department chair of sociology and anthropology at Concordia. “We decided that we needed to have a public vehicle for a voice to be heard in support of decriminalization.”

Shaver, who has advocated for decriminalization through her research for over two decades, claims that criminalizing sex workers prevents them from being able to use the laws against coercion and assault already in place, or to get out of the profession if they so choose.

“If we have decriminalization, we’re in a situation where social programs can better be developed if there are people who want to move on and do something different,” she said. “It’s very difficult now to move on if you’ve already got a [criminal] record.”

The statement made by AFS argues that sex workers should have the same advantages and protections of their rights and liberties as every other member of society, including “the right to live and work in security and conditions free from hate, violence and exploitation,” as well as “the right to see one’s dignity and autonomy respected, including the right to engage in consensual sexual relations for money with other adults without being criminalized.”

Last September, Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel struck down the laws governing pimping, keeping a brothel and communicating for the purposes of prostitution, stating that they made it difficult for sex workers to work in safety. After an appeal by the Crown, that ruling was stayed until a hearing scheduled for June 16.
On March 9, the Harper government filed a legal brief with the Ontario Court of Appeal in response to the groundbreaking ruling made by Himel, arguing that the state has no obligation to protect sex workers who choose to work in such a dangerous profession.

“The law does not oblige individuals to engage in an activity that could risk their security,” the brief stated.
“This position on the part of our government is unacceptable,” said Marie-Ève Gauvin, another spokesperson for AFS and a professor at Université de Québec à Montréal. “It ultimately scorns the most fundamental rights of some of the most vulnerable people.”

Members of AFS, including Montreal’s sex worker organization Stella, argue that laws against assault, coercion, kidnapping and the abuse of minors already exist to protect people from violence, human trafficking and child exploitation, but are difficult to implement because of the criminalization and stigmatization of the industry.

“Decriminalization really allows us to use the laws that we already have in place,” said Shaver. “If we really want a model that’s going to support the possibility for sex workers to work in security as well as to go on and do other things if they so choose, decriminalization gives us that without putting [sex workers] at risk or letting aggressors get away with [violence].”

AFS held an opening panel on Friday night featuring professors from UQAM and the University of Ottawa.

Another panel is being planned for the end of May, along with a public campaign to send postcards to elected officials about the issue