Sex workers and rights watchdog call on the Minister of Justice to refer Bill C-36 to the Supreme Court of Canada

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VANCOUVER [July 9, 2014] — The Providing Alternatives, Counselling & Education (PACE) Society and British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) are appearing before the Justice and Human Rights Committee today to recommend that the Minister of Justice, Peter MacKay, refer Bill C-36 to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC).

Over the past two days, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has listened to testimony on the federal government’s Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (Bill C-36). In response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s unanimous decision striking down three provisions of Canada’s criminal laws regarding adult prostitution, the federal government introduced Bill C-36, which criminalizes the purchasing of sexual services and selling of sexual services in places where children could reasonably be expected to be present. The Bill also places prohibitions on advertising sexual services.

“We think that this law is unacceptable and unconstitutional because it will continue to endanger women and men engaged in sex work. It’s as if this new law ignores the Supreme Court’s Bedford ruling and all the evidence that was heard by the courts,” said Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association.  “We can’t imagine how this bill will stand up to a constitutional challenge. The minister says he has received advice about the risk of a Charter challenge. He should release that legal opinion to the public so that everybody can understand the basis for the government’s actions.”

The organizations pointed to evidence showing that laws criminalizing the purchasing of sexual services increase the risk of violence among sex workers. Since January 2013, the Vancouver Police Department has shifted their law enforcement efforts to target third parties and sex work clients, which is consistent with the approach outlined in the federal government’s prostitution legislation. However, the new policy has failed to decrease the dangers associated with sex work, according to a recent study published in BMJ (British Medical Journal) Open by researchers at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

“We call upon the Minister of Justice and Federal government to refer Bill C36 to the Supreme Court to review its constitutional validity,” says Laura Dilley, Executive Director of the PACE Society. “It is our position that it is not possible to meaningfully amend a law that will reproduce the devastating harms of the laws struck down in the Bedford case.”

“What sex workers in Canada want is decriminalization,” says Sheri Kiselbach, Violence Prevention Coordinator at the PACE Society. “Decriminalization has been proven to increase safety and access to legal protections and acknowledges that sex workers are people under the law.”


For additional information or to request interviews, please contact:

Laura Dilley, Executive Director
PACE Society
Phone:  (604) 872-7651
Email:  [email protected]

Josh Paterson, Executive Director
BC Civil Liberties Association
Phone: 604-630-9752
Email: [email protected]

About PACE Society

The Providing Alternative, Counselling & Education (PACE) Society is a sex worker-led organization that has provided peer-driven violence prevention and support services to sex workers in Vancouver, British Columbia’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood for twenty years. PACE Society was an intervenor in Bedford v. Canada. PACE had previously been involved in a parallel case challenging the constitutionality of Canada’s sex work laws. PACE’s Violence Prevention Coordinator, Sheri Kiselbach, along with sex workers United Against Violence (SWUAV) and Pivot Legal challenged federal sex work laws and were instrumental in moving this challenge forward. For more information, visit

About the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association

The BC Civil Liberties Association was established in 1962 and is the oldest and most active civil liberties group in Canada. Our mandate is to preserve, defend, maintain and extend civil liberties and human rights in Canada. The BCCLA is an autonomous, non-partisan charitable society. The BCCLA was an intervenor in Bedford v. Canada and has publicly opposed the criminalization of sex work and related activities since 1978.

Bedford v. Canada

In December 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously struck down three provisions of federal prostitution legislation that criminalized the operating of bawdy houses, living off the avails of sex work, and communicating for the purposes of sex work. The Court ruled that these laws violated sex workers’ Section 7 rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on the grounds that they compromised sex worker safety. The Supreme Court of Canada gave Parliament one year before the existing legislation would expire, but made it clear that, in order for any new laws to comply with the constitution, they must prioritize sex worker safety.