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Gender Block: The scary rush to pass Canada’s new prostitution bill

Hillary Di Menna

Our federal government is rushing this week to pass a new bill regarding adult sex work, five months ahead of deadline, leaving some sex workers rightfully afraid.

The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (Bill C-36) is inspired by the Nordic Model of sex work laws; pimps and johns will be held criminally accountable but not the sex workers themselves. At first glance, this seems reasonable—it isn’t the sex worker who will be punished. However his or her safety, critics say, will be in jeopardy.

These new laws will prevent workers from discussing safe sex practices online with clients, Caroline Newcastle, a sex worker and representative with Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau, Work, Educate, Resist (POWER), a non-profit group for current and former sex workers, told the Toronto Star. “It’s essentially full re-criminalization,” she adds, point to the phrasing of  the proposed laws. In the same Star report Valerie Scott—one of the original workers named in Canada V. Bedford—calls the bill “a huge gift to sexual predators.”

“This will simply move sex workers out into more isolated and more marginalized areas of the city,” elaborates Jean McDonald, head of sex worker support group Maggie’s, in an interview with the Globe and Mail.

Today, human rights group Pivot released a press release that links to an open letter to Stephen Harper signed by 200 legal experts from across Canada expressing their concerns: “Targeting clients will displace sex workers to isolated areas where prospective customers are less likely to be detected by police.”

Justice Minister Peter MacKay says the federal government wants to pass the new bill this week, CTV News reports, calling it urgent. However, NDP justice critic Francoise Boivin says she wants the government to slow down and thoughtfully craft a new, Charter-compliant law.

The safety of these women is not something to push through and get over with. Hopefully, the next five months will be spent actually consulting these workers in order to come to a decision with their safety in front of everything else.

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