In February 2022, the legislature’s Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (JUST) began its review of Canada’s sex work laws, The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA).
This review comes 3 years later than it should have, according to the requirement written within PCEPA itself to review the laws 5 years after the passage of the bill.
The JUST committee held eight meetings over February and March 2022 and heard from 48 witnesses. Additionally, there were 72 briefs submitted for this review.
What occurred in these hearings was a disappointing repeat of the 2014 JUST hearings that preceded the passing of the bill – once again, sex workers’ voices and experiences were not centered in the discussion. Instead, many witnesses advocated to keep the laws, arguing that it is vital to the fight against human trafficking. Despite the fact that PCEPA contains laws about sex work, not human trafficking, these testimonies were considered with equal weight as with sex workers’ lived experiences and evidence-based experts on sex work.
SWAN submitted a brief and testified at the hearings, addressing both the inappropriate nature the anti-trafficking discourse in a review of sex work laws, and the implications of the law on im/migrant sex workers.
In June 2022, the Committee presented its recommendations to Parliament. SWAN was disheartened at the lack of action to repeal this harmful legislation, or at least provisions that put sex workers at most risk. Though we are encouraged to see the recommendation to repeal the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) provisions relating to sex work, im/migrant sex workers will continue to face criminalization, violence, and stigma until the entirety of PCEPA is repealed, alongside the IRPR prohibitions.