The Problematic History of Bill C-36 in Canada

Sex work laws in Canada have gone through some major shifts since 2008, and most of them not to our benefit – including, but not limited to, the major problems with Bill C-36.

Because of problems with Bill C-36, and the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, this 2014 legislation is finally under governmental review, after seven long years. As a result, sex workers finally have a means to meaningfully contribute to the legitimization of sex work in Canada.

While it’s currently legal for sex workers to provide services for financial compensation in Canada, and legal to live off of what we make, without decriminalization or legalization of sex work in Canada, currently, it isn’t be legal to procure our services. 

Bill C-36 Has Caused Additional Problems for Sex Workers in Canada

Sex workers face many issues when finding and qualifying our clients, which also makes it challenging to work cooperatively with law enforcement. Because if it’s illegal to simply be a client, each person we discuss or report to law enforcement could face legal repercussions. 

In countries where sex work is legal, they are protected by police, bad dates are reported and followed up on, and sex workers feel comfortable having open dialogue with social services and law enforcement. 

To date, problems with Bill C-36 have been preventing us from enjoying the legitimate career protections given all other Canadians. As sex workers, we have a right to those protections in Canada, too!

Bill C-36 finally comes under review this year, so there’s never been a better time to reach out to your local MP, organize with your community, and have your voice heard!

Before we discuss how you can help, let’s take a look at the problematic history leading up to the implementation of Bill C-36 in Canada.

The Problematic History of Bill C-36

In 2009, the plaintiffs in Bedford V. Canada, Terri-Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch, and Valerie Scott, argued in an Ontario Courtroom that laws should be changed to protect the human rights of sex workers.

Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the right to “life, liberty and security of each person and the right not to be deprived thereof.”

The prohibited practices in question were:

  • Keeping or being in a “bawdy house” for purposes of prostitution 
  • Living on funds made from prostitution
  • Communicating in public for purposes of prostitution (solicitation)

In 2010, Judge Susan Himel ruled in favor, agreeing that these key provisions were, in fact, unconstitutional, and jeopardize the safety of sex workers and their clients. A major victory for sex worker rights in Canada! 

In 2012, The Appeal Court made changes to Bedford V. Canada’s verdict. They upheld Himel’s ruling on the “bawdy house” law, but modified the “living on the funds” law, to specifically prevent exploitation. This, in turn, reversed Himel’s decision on soliciting.

In 2013, The Supreme Court threw out all three new provisions as violating constitutional guarantees to life, liberty and security of the person. Parliament was then given one year to craft a replacement law that complied with the original Canadian Charter.

And this is where it gets sticky. 

The Establishment of Problematic Bill C-36

In 2014, Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, was introduced and passed by the (Majority) Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper. Even though it was opposed by all other parties.

As a result, Bill C-36 reversed a lot of the progress made in Bedford V. Canada.

Bill C-36 made it illegal to: 

  • Obtain sexual services for consideration
  • Benefit materially (make money) from services performed by another person 
  • Knowingly advertise the sexual services of another person

Individual sex workers in Canada were, however, permitted to advertise, perform, and benefit from their own services. 

In 2015, the Liberals declared that the legislation was unconstitutional and, of course, stated that it didn’t follow what Bedford v. Canada had put in place

Most recently, Justin Trudeau promised to further reform Bill C-36 during his 2015 campaign. But as of spring 2022, there has been no reformation of the Bill. 

Consensual adult sex work is empowering, healthy, and fulfilling. Living under the Nordic Model that Bill C36 presents doesn’t give us any of the legitimization we’re entitled to as Canadians.

But right now, we have an opportunity to make change.

Will Bill C-36 Always Be A Problem For Sex Workers in Canada?

There’s a clause in the PCEPA that requires review after 5 years, which should have happened in 2020. 

Since the review is now two years late, a charter challenge was filed, which forced the Canadian Government to begin the review process. 

On February 17, 2022, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights began their hearings. So what does this mean for sex workers in Canada? It’s time to revise Bill C-36, ensuring equal rights for sex workers in Canada.

The Revision of Bill C-36

As a sex worker in Canada, we have a right to our opinions. We need to stand together to have our voices heard this year, and reverse this antiquated legislation. 

Take action today by finding your Member of Parliament . You can call them, email them, and even access their office address should you want to discuss things in person! 

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