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Sex workers say Canada's laws put them in danger — and demand the new government fix them – Global News

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She starts by screening them.

Whenever Mari receives online booking requests from new clients, the dominatrix and sex worker asks them to email her their government identification or a piece of work ID.

She also accepts references clients may have from other sex workers. If a client is known to others as a bad date, she won’t see them.

But Mari, who asked Global News to identify her by first name only, says not all sex workers have the “privilege” of screening clients in this way.

Those who work on the street may not have the ability to screen at all, or have to negotiate services in unsafe environments since aspects of communicating about sex work are criminalized.

“It makes our work less safe,” Mari says.

WATCH BELOW: (April 18, 2018) Backpage shutdown has B.C. sex trade workers concerned






Sex workers and legal experts argue that Canada’s sex work laws are prohibitive and doing the opposite of what they’re supposed to do — instead of protecting “human dignity,” the laws push sex workers into dangerous situations by criminalizing nearly every aspect of their job.

Built into Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), is a commitment to review the laws by the end of 2019. That time is now, and advocates say nothing has happened.

The Canadian Alliance of Sex Work Law Reform is calling on the Liberals to start that review process and act on decriminalization. The group also wants to see provincial and territorial employment laws regulate the sex industry as a form of labour.

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The organization, which is made up of sex workers’ rights groups from across the country, also says sex workers need to be part of legal reform. They are the ones who know how to best protect their rights, the alliance argues.

READ MORE: Sex worker advocacy group says police violated their privacy

“Despite the stated commitment in 2015 to replace the PCEPA and to reform prostitution laws, the Liberal Party of Canada has yet to take meaningful steps,” the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network recently wrote to the government.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada said it is a governmental priority to ensure that “our laws are effective in meeting their objectives, promoting public safety and security, and are consistent with our constitutionally protected rights.”

“With regard to the five-year review, the Act provides that it is Parliament’s responsibility to establish or designate a committee to study the matter,” the spokesperson said.

“As Parliament has just opened, the House is currently in the process of forming Committees. In the interim, we continue to engage with those involved.”

Sex work laws in Canada

Bill C-36 criminalizes the purchasing of sex but decriminalizes its sale. Known as an “end-demand” model, it also forbids negotiating sexual services in certain public places, such as near schools, financially benefitting off the sale of someone’s sexual services or knowingly advertising sexual services.

Bill C-36 came into effect in 2014 under a Conservative government after the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s previous laws in 2013 for being unconstitutional.

The court found the old laws imposed “dangerous conditions on prostitution” and prevented people engaged in a “risky, but legal, activity from taking steps to protect themselves.”

The Conservatives’ solution was PCEPA, which “treats prostitution as a form of sexual exploitation that disproportionately impacts on women and girls.”

In 2014, then-Liberal MP Justin Trudeau voted against Bill C-36, and the Liberals promised to reform sex work laws throughout the 2015 campaign. Despite this, the Liberal government made no changes to the law during Trudeau’s first mandate.

At the 2018 Liberal Party convention, the Young Liberals of Canada called for the decriminalization of consensual sex work. The organization argued the “current prohibition of buying consensual sex work does not address the underlying issues that make sex work dangerous, but rather creates a climate that makes sex workers unlikely to work with the police and be involved with more serious crimes.”

WATCH BELOW: Young people with disabilities aren’t being taught sex-ed







But sex work wasn’t a much-debated topic during the recent 2019 federal election campaign, despite efforts from more than 150 human rights groups that called on the winning party to decriminalize sex work. Sex work law reform was also not a part of the Liberals’ 2019 campaign platform.

Alice, a sex worker who asked Global News to change her name to protect her identity, says Maggie’s, the Toronto-based sex workers’ rights organization, even tried to host a panel with local MPs to raise its concerns.

The event was cancelled by Maggie’s due to poor response from politicians.

The laws essentially criminalize “almost every facet of sex work,” says Sandra Ka Hon Chu, director of research and advocacy at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

“They make it incredibly difficult for sex workers to organize, to work in safety, to work together, to work with third parties who could promote their safety, and to even communicate with clients,” Chu says.

Some research shows how Canada’s end-demand model is harmful.

READ MORE: Demands grow for Canada to decriminalize sex work after the election

Research presented at the 2018 International AIDS Conference found that going after the men who buy sex does not actually help sex workers. Instead, researchers said it makes it harder for sex workers to negotiate terms of service, including condom use.

“The criminalization of sex work makes the environment of sex workers’ labour criminal by criminalizing relationships with clients and third parties and sex work income and workplaces,” another recent report by Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network found.

“While the PCEPA immunizes some sex workers from criminal prosecution, sex workers continue to experience ongoing human rights abuses perpetuated by both the presence and practice of law enforcement in the course of their work.”

New Zealand decriminalized sex work in 2003, which has lead to improved conditions for sex workers, including safer working environments and better relationships between workers and police, a 2008 study found.

Another 2009 study found New Zealand’s laws also did not lead to an increase in sex workers, as numbers in the industry stayed around the same.

This is not surprising to Mari, who says Canada’s end-demand model ignores the fact there’s always going to be people who purchase sex.

“And that’s why the model is a very bad model to be following; it restricts our movements and our rights.”

Advertising and communicating about sex work is incredibly hard

For sex workers who find clients online, laws around advertising make it very difficult to explicitly outline services. Bill C-36 criminalizes advertising the sale of sexual services, including through print media, on websites or in “locations that offer sexual services for sale,” like strip clubs.

While sex workers are protected from criminal liability for advertising their own sexual services, website administrators can be charged for hosting such ads, which means sites are less likely to host sex workers’ websites. Content in violation of Canada’s laws can be taken down at any time and seized by the authorities.

This results in sex workers having to use more vague and coded terms so their content is not reported.

WATCH BELOW: (November 9, 2017) App could offer some safety to sex trade workers







“Advertising is very important for business and for openly communicating terms of service and determining consent,” says Anne Margaret Deck, vice-chair of the board at Maggie’s.

While prohibitive for all sex workers, those who work on the street may experience even further challenges.

Canada’s laws also make it illegal to communicate “for the purposes of offering or providing sexual services for consideration” near school grounds, playgrounds or daycare centres.

Kerry Porth, a former sex worker and sex work policy consultant at the Vancouver-based Pivot Legal Society, says even though communication laws are directed at clients, they harm sex workers, too.

“Even if you only criminalize one party, that communication becomes criminalized and very difficult,” she says.

What’s more, the fact that a third-party cannot advertise on behalf of a sex worker is also harmful, she says. Porth highlights that some sex workers lack resources or the ability to work independently and prefer to work for an escort agency, for example.

READ MORE: SafeSpace London fears naming johns could increase danger for sex workers

Chu, the lawyer, says that for migrant sex workers, for whom language barriers may be a factor, the laws are especially damaging.

“The most marginalized people who do sex work, they’re probably under the most scrutiny because they don’t have access to some of the things that less marginalized people do,” she says.

Screening clients can be hard

Because it’s illegal to purchase sex, Mari says clients have a lot of fear around divulging their identity.

This makes it difficult for sex workers to screen clients in a comprehensive way, which ultimately jeopardizes their safety.

“If [clients] do not want to divulge their identity, their places of work and their reasons for coming to see us, it creates danger for the worker because you do not have any information about your client,” Mari says.

“In any other workplace or any other business, you have information about your clients.”

Those who work in rural communities may have greater difficulty getting clients to offer their personal information ahead of a meeting, especially in places where sex work is heavily policed.

Porth echoes this and says sex workers who work online — who are generally independent indoor workers — are also concerned they might be communicating with a police officer masked as a client.

WATCH BELOW: Canada’s failure to end violence against women







“There’s been a number of sting operations online and so those concerns are valid,” she says.

Violence and sexual harassment are also a legitimate concern.

According to Statistics Canada, there were 294 homicides of sex workers between 1991 and 2014. A third of those murders were unsolved as of 2016, more than 10 per cent higher than the unsolved rate for murders that do not involve sex workers.

Sex workers who are transgender, Indigenous or people of colour are even more vulnerable to violence.

Predators are aware that police are less inclined to investigate the disappearances of sex workers, the Canadian Alliance of Sex Work Law Reform says, and they also know Indigenous and migrant women often fear police detection and apprehension.

READ MORE: ‘It’s time to stop the moral panic’ — Sex worker sounds off on body politics

“Street-based sex workers or sex workers that don’t have an established business and are working independently might have to compromise their safety in order to simply get business and pay their rent,” Deck says.

“And predatory clients know this; they know what they can get away with.”

Efforts to squash stigma

Outside of legal barriers, the stigma around sex work is one of the biggest issues sex workers face. Industry experts argue the laws paint all sex workers as “victims” that need to be “saved” from sex work.

Human trafficking is also often conflated with sex work, even though they are two different things, Porth explains.

While there are instances in which women are trafficked into sex work, that is not the reality for many sex workers who simply want to be able to work safely and on their own terms.

READ MORE: Regina aims to restrict body rub parlours to industrial areas only

Alice says the stigma affects many aspects of her life, including the ability to secure housing and travel. Landlords don’t like renting to sex workers, and health-care providers may pass judgment, too.

Sex workers deserve the right to work in safe conditions just like any other Canadian worker, Deck says.

“Having these laws in the Criminal Code at all just continues to criminalize the industry, push it underground, further isolate sex workers and contribute to stigma.”

— With a file from Rachel Browne

Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca

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All three levels of government, police, organizers granted full standing on inquiry

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OTTAWA — The commissioner of the inquiry examining Ottawa’s use of the Emergencies Act to bring an end to the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protest in February has granted standing to the organizers, police and representatives of all three levels of government.

The decision by Paul Rouleau means those granted standing will be given advance notice on information submitted into evidence before the inquiry, and also gives them certain privileges, such as the opportunity to suggest or cross-examine witnesses.

Those granted full standing in the public inquiry include the federal, Alberta and Saskatchewan governments, the cities of Ottawa and Windsor, Ont., the Ottawa Police Service, Ontario Provincial Police and the organizers of the convoy, including Tamara Lich, Tom Marazzo and Chris Barber.

Former Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly will be allowed to produce documents, make submissions on factual, evidentiary and policy-related issues and examine witnesses, and the Manitoba government has been granted permission to provide written submissions.

However, Rouleau denied standing to the Conservative Party of Canada and several participants of the protests, some of whom had their bank accounts frozen under the Act.

Rouleau said it is important that the inquiry remain an independent, non-partisan process, noting there is also the Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons on the Declaration of Emergency reviewing the use of the Act’s powers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2022.

 

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Ottawa police say they're ready to shut down Canada Day occupation attempts – CBC.ca

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Ottawa city officials say they are prepared for a “unique” Canada Day, with plans to keep anti-government protests from turning into another occupation.

The traditional nationally broadcast shows are returning for the first time since 2019, this time from the plaza in front of the Canadian War Museum because of ongoing construction on Parliament Hill.

Ottawa police say they expect more protests and larger crowds than usual during Canada Day celebrations as groups related to the Freedom Convoy continue to plan demonstrations. Some in those groups have indicated they’d like to protest through July and August.

“This is expected to be a unique Canada Day, with larger crowds and a larger event footprint,” interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell said during a Monday news conference.

WATCH | Interim police Chief Steve Bell talks about plans for Canada Day 

Police promise ‘swift and decisive’ action against any Canada Day occupation attempts

13 hours ago

Duration 0:37

Steve Bell, interim Ottawa police chief, says protesters will not be allowed to set up structures like sheds or tents, or have their own dance parties on city streets.

“We’ve developed our plans in the shadow of the unlawful protests and Rolling Thunder event. We’ve been speaking with community members and businesses and we’re very aware of the lingering trauma and concern about what they’re hearing after those events.”

Bell said officers will allow legal protests while shutting down illegal activities, including setting up structures or speakers without a permit and the threat of occupation, like on downtown streets in the winter.

He said police have been following online commentary and trying to talk to people who’ve said they’re coming to protest.

Two police officers escort someone away.
Police take a person into custody as they worked to clear an area on Rideau Street during a convoy-style protest participants called Rolling Thunder in Ottawa April 29, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

“[We’ve] planned, we’re prepared and we have the resources,” Bell replied when answering a question about whether police were ready to step in again like they did in late April, when attempts to gather near the Rideau Centre mall were shut down by officers.

Provincial police and the RCMP have offered help to shut down occupation attempts as long as there’s a risk, he said.

The Ottawa Police Services Board received an update on plans for Canada Day when it met Monday evening.

Bell spoke about the toll recent months have taken on officers, noting the demand is not “sustainable” and describing police as “fatigued” ahead of the long weekend.

“For this event we’ve actually had to cancel days off, we’ve cancelled discretionary time off, called people back from annual leave,” said the chief. “This is an all hands on deck event, but that has a cost on the health and wellbeing of our members.”

At least 5 days of traffic control

Last week, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told people thinking of coming to the capital “not to be intimidated by individuals who may be coming to Ottawa to cause trouble.”

He said Monday he wants this to be a safe, festive event for children and families and that people who “come to disrupt” will be dealt with, without a warning.

Bell told the police board that the force has been clear with its expectations for demonstrators, and that harassment won’t be tolerated.

“If there is a hate or bias crime incidents, if there’s intimidation or threats, we will actively investigate those,” he said, adding police know residents have “scars” from the occupation.

“I want to reassure you that those feelings, that trauma that our community has felt is front and centre in all of our planning efforts and will be front and centre in our response efforts.”

Overall, Bell said police are expecting hundreds of thousands of people downtown. For comparison, an estimated 56,000 people went to the shows on Parliament Hill in 2019 and that doesn’t count everyone celebrating nearby.

About 16,000 people attended the noon show on the Hill in 2019. (CBC News)

There will be the traditional Canada Day road closures Friday July 1 and early Saturday, though there are more closures near LeBreton Flats because of that change in show location.

But Ottawa police are establishing another “vehicle exclusion zone” — similar to what was set up in late April for the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally — with no street parking at all and no protest vehicles allowed in from 8 a.m. this Wednesday until at least 6 a.m. on Monday, July 4.

A map of police checkpoints in Ottawa.
Ottawa police are controlling access to these parts of downtown, including two river bridges. All vehicles that aren’t involved in rallies or protests will be allowed in, the city says, but drivers cannot park on the street. (City of Ottawa)

Those plans may change if needed, officials said Monday. People are asked to plan ahead, expect delays and check city pages and local media for updates.

OC Transpo and Société de transport de l’Outaouais service is free July 1 and when it comes to OC Transpo, until 4 a.m. July 2.

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Canada's COVID-19 response better than many comparable countries, study finds – CBC News

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Canada handled the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and weathered the ensuing upheaval better than several other nations with comparable health-care and economic infrastructure, a new study suggests.

The research, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday, credits Canada’s strong performance to restrictive and persistent public health measures as well as a successful vaccination campaign.

A team of Ontario researchers compared data from February 2020 to February 2022 in 11 countries dubbed the G10 due to the late inclusion of one subject. They analyzed data from Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States — all countries with similar political, economic, and health-care systems.

“If you look at Canada compared to the G10, the differences are enormous,” study co-author Dr. Fahad Razak said in a recent interview.

“If you look at our vaccination rate, we had the highest in the entire G10, we had the lowest number of people infected and lowest of people dying.”

The research suggests Canada’s cumulative per-capita rate of COVID-19 cases was 82,700 per million, while all countries — with the exception of Japan — were above 100,000 per million. Canada’s rate of COVID-19—related deaths was 919 per million, once again second-lowest behind Japan. All other countries were over 1,000 per million.

Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa who was not involved in the study, said the methodology of the research is sound, even if it can be challenging to compare infections and deaths across jurisdictions. 

“Bottom line: Canada’s relatively strict approach resulted in fewer infections and deaths,” Deonandan said in an email.

WATCH | Expert explains how Canada fared comparably well in the pandemic:

Canadian public health measures made ‘big difference’ against COVID-19, expert says

14 hours ago

Duration 5:01

A new study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests Canada’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic was better than many similar countries. Montreal cardiologist Dr. Christopher Labos agrees, saying Canada did well when considering factors like mortality and vaccination rates.

‘Persistent level’ of restrictions

Razak said at least 70,000 more Canadians would have died during the first two years of the pandemic if Canada had the same death rates as the United States, the country with the highest cumulative number of COVID-19-related deaths.

“That means most of us would probably personally know a grandparent, or a friend or family member … who’s living today in Canada who would have died if we had the same trajectory as the United States,” Razak said.

He said Canada’s comparatively positive outcomes came about despite gaining access to vaccination later than most countries, noting there were also other health-care system structural disadvantages to overcome across the country at the outset of the pandemic.

A member of the Governor General’s Foot Guards wearing a mask waits on the red carpet at the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards Gala in Ottawa on May 28. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

“Some hospitals were so overwhelmed that we had to ambulance or airlift patients to other hospitals,” he said.

But Canada, he said, differed from other developed countries when it opted to implement public health measures that were both strict and persistent. Though such measures drew vehement opposition in some circles, Razak said they helped mitigate the pandemic’s overall impact.

“Compared to many other countries … they would have periods with tight restrictions but quickly pull back,” he said. “For Canada, it was really this high and persistent level almost entirely for the first two years.”

Highest proportion with two doses

Razak said the success of Canada’s immunization drive emerged as the strongest takeaway from the research, praising officials for engaging with the population and ensuring vaccines were readily available across the country.

More than 80 per cent of eligible Canadians have been fully vaccinated with two doses as of June. The percentage of the vaccinated populations in other G10 countries is between 64 and 77 per cent, according to the study.

“There was a magic in Canada around these vaccine roll-outs during dose one and dose two,” Razak said.

“When we speak to our colleagues across the world, Canada was the envy of the world in terms of our population rallying around this. It is a lesson to the world, that very high engagement can occur with the right strategy.”

Dr. Eleanor Fish, an immunology professor at the University of Toronto who was not involved in the study, said the findings were consistent with her own assessment of the pandemic in Canada. 

Like Razak, she said the population’s high vaccination rate played a major role in the country’s strong performance.

WATCH | Dr. Theresa Tam on timing of boosters:

COVID-19 boosters ‘likely’ needed around end of this year, Dr. Tam says

1 day ago

Duration 8:42

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, speaks to CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton about where Canada is with COVID-19, her thoughts on vaccine boosters and what she’s watching for when cooler fall temperatures return

Fish also cautioned that there could be challenges ahead this fall, when COVID and other respiratory illnesses are likely to put a strain on the health-care system.

“We should be planning for that now,” said Fish.

Economic burden

The study also showed the countries’ response to the pandemic left an economic burden, with government debt rising for all countries and Canada registering one of the highest relative increases.

“We had these very significant economic impacts, we had very tight restrictions on our individual freedom which led to things like isolation … but we also had really among the best results in terms of controlling the impact of the virus,” Razak said.

“Was it worth it? That’s not a scientific question. That’s a values and morals and policies question.”

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