Canadian Sex Workers Challenge Constitutionality of 'Nordic Model' Law

Canadian Sex Workers Challenge Constitutionality of 'Nordic Model' Law

TORONTO — A coalition of sex workers and sex work advocacy groups is fighting in an Ontario court to have an anti-sex-work law repealed in Canada.

Public hearings took place last week in Ontario Superior Court in downtown Toronto over a lawsuit filed by the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform (CASWLR), comprising 25 sex worker-led groups representing thousands of sex workers in Canada. The group is challenging the constitutionality of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), passed in 2014 by the then-Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

PCEPA was created in response to a 2013 Canadian Supreme Court decision that struck down several criminal prohibitions on sex work as unconstitutional, on the grounds that they were harmful to sex workers and infringed on their rights to liberty and security. 

The Conservative government skirted this by decriminalizing the selling of sexual services but criminalizing the purchasing of those services, following what is known as the "Nordic Model."

The current CASWLR court case challenges this premise, backed by substantive research and evidence that the criminalizing of clients under the Nordic Model ultimately harms sex workers.

“PCEPA criminalizes communicating to sell sexual services in public, communicating to purchase sexual services in any context, facilitating or receiving a benefit related to the purchase of someone else's sexual services, and advertising sexual services,” CASWLR told Canadian public broadcaster CBC. “Sex workers are criminalized, stigmatized and discriminated against under PCEPA.”

According to CASWLR National Coordinator Jenn Clamen, the government misrepresented the effects of the 2014 law.

“When you criminalize the purchase of sex, sexual services, you are putting sex workers in a context of criminalization at all times,” Clamen told Global News.

Canada's Minister of Justice Weighs In

Canadian Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti told Global News through a rep that he would always work to make sure the nation's criminal laws “effectively meet their objectives, keep all Canadians safe, and are consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

“With respect to the current laws, the five-year parliamentary review of the former Bill C-36 was an appropriate forum for parliamentarians to examine the full range of effects that this legislation has had since its coming into force,” the government rep continued.

The justice minister is reportedly currently reviewing the findings of the review committee to formulate a response.

Lametti is a member of the Liberal Party minority government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. At the time PCEPA was passed, the then-opposition Liberals voted against it in the House of Commons and vowed, when campaigning, to reform the law upon taking office — a promise CASWLR says they’ve reneged on.

Jelena Vermilion, executive director of coalition member Sex Workers’ Action Program, told the CBC that the government has mechanisms to change the law if it wants to, but has declined to do so.

“There's also the possibility of a federal member bringing forth a member's bill proposing the decriminalization of the sex trade and nobody has had the courage to do so, so sex workers are taking the government to court to fight for their rights,” Vermilion said.

For more information on the case and CASWLR’s legal arguments, click here.

Main Image: Women carrying a banner about sex workers' rights in the Capital Pride Parade on August 26, 2012 in Ottawa, Ontario. (Photo: David P. Lewis/Shutterstock)

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