While discussing Bill C-36 in the House of Commons on September 23, 2014, the Honourable Michelle Rempel used the Consent Awareness and Sexual Education Club’s work as example of groups who are working to prevent sexual assault. Although it is flattering to see our name mentioned in the House of Commons, and we are thankful for Ms. Rempel’s support, we would like to clarify that we as a group do not support Bill C-36.
Whether or not one wants sex work to happen in Canada, one effect Bill C-36 would have is to further marginalize and criminalize an already marginalized, criminalized group: aboriginal women. According to 2010-2011 reports from Statistics Canada, 41% of federally sentenced women were Aboriginal (more than 10 times their representation in the population). As Aboriginal women are also over-represented in street-level sex work, they are likely to be further criminalized by Bill C-36. If one wishes to decrease the incidence of sex work, helping to fund other opportunities and social support services for the individuals most affected would be far more effective than criminalization.
We also believe it is be necessary to look at the root reasons why some people choose to go into sex work in the first place. For example, when looking at people who enter out of economic necessity, it would be better to try to fix such economic inequalities instead of punishing the sex workers involved - people who are already marginalized within society. Similar statements could be made about helping to support individuals with substance abuse problems, people facing domestic violence, and those who struggle with their mental health. For individuals who go into sex work because it is a profession they choose out of a number of alternatives, allow them their own bodily autonomy and do not criminalize their activities. Conflating all sex work with sexual assault is fallacious.
Finally, the lives and voices of people engaged in street-level sex work should be prioritized in any legislation on the issue. Sex workers come from many different backgrounds and have diverse voices that should all be heard. Criminal restrictions on advertisements for sexual services force solicitation to move underground, and puts sex workers in a vulnerable position and at a greater risk for sexual assault. For these reasons, we do not feel Bill C-36 aligns with our values.