We are a diverse cross-section of Quebeckers, including sex workers, feminist academics, human rights experts and organizations serving sex workers. We feel neither included nor represented in the Quebec Council on the Status of Women’s (CSF) denunciation of the Ontario Superior Court ruling in favour of the decriminalization of sex work.
The day after the ruling, the CSF, a governmental body, issued a statement strongly objecting to Justice Susan Himel’s decision and claiming that: "Prostitution is the ultimate form of violence against women, of degradation that undermines human dignity and it can certainly not be condoned." The CSF announced it is preparing an official position paper opposing the Ontario decision based on these claims.
We believe that sex workers have the right to live and work safely, in an environment free of violence and discrimination. Yet, current laws force sex workers to work in dangerous conditions and compromise their access to police protection, which in turn, renders them even more vulnerable to violence.
Justice Himel examined the testimony of experts, Canadian researchers and sex workers, and concluded that "the law as it currently stands contributes to putting sex workers in danger." According to her ruling: "These laws, taken individually or together, force prostitutes to choose between their freedom and their right to security as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."
This is not a surprising view. In 2006, after considering the available data and hearing testimony from sex workers across the country, all the opposition parties came to a similar conclusion during the Parliamentary Subcommittee for Prostitution Law Review (SSLR).
The Ontario Superior Court decision puts forward concrete steps to reduce violence against sex workers. In this sense, Justice Himel’s ruling is a victory for sex workers and for all those who fight against violence against women, and in particular, violence against the most marginalized women.
So, how is it that the CSF denounced a ruling aimed at improving the safety of women disproportionately targeted by violence? By basing themselves on a 2002 report they produced which at the time, was strongly contested by sex workers, feminist activists and academics for its sensationalism (“Montreal, Bangkok of the West") and its lack of methodological rigour.
We are compelled to wonder why the CSF refuses to listen to the voices of sex workers in Quebec. Are they not women equal to other Quebec women? Do they not have the same right to be heard and represented by governmental bodies such as the CSF? Do they not, most importantly, have the same right to liberty and security?
The Superior Court said yes. The CSF should too.
Chris Bruckert, Professeur, Criminology Department, University of Ottawa
Marie-Claude Charlebois, Designer and Law Student at UQAM
Jenn Clamen, Part-time Faculty, Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Women’s Studies, Concordia University
Jill Hanley, Professor, Department of Social Work, McGill University
Karen Herland, Part-time Faculty, Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Women’s Studies, Concordia University
Alana Klein, Professor, Law Faculty, McGill University
Jocelyne Lamoureux, Professor, Department of Sociology, UQÀM
Robert Leckey, Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University
Lucie Lemonde, Professor, Department of Judicial Sciences, UQAM
Viviane Namaste, Professor, Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Women’s Studies, Concordia University
Vrinda Narain, Professor, Law Faculty, McGill University and the Institute of Gender, Sexuality and Feminism, McGill University
Maria Nengeh Mensah, Director of Undergraduate Studies, School of Social Work, UQAM
Colette Parent, Professor, Criminology Department, University of Ottawa
Tara Santini, Co-Coordinator of the student initiated Seminar: Sexual Assault and the Law, Law Faculty, McGill University
Colleen Sheppard, Law Faculty, McGill University
Eric Shragge, Director, School of Public and Community Affairs, Concordia University
Julie Shugarman, Feminist Lawyer, Law Society of Upper Canada
Louise Toupin, Independent researcher, Part-time Faculty at UQAM and Women’s Studies at the University of Ottawa
Frances M. Shaver, Professor and Director of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University
Francine Tremblay, PhD Candidate UQÀM, Part-time Faculty, Sociology, Concordia University
Tamara Vukov, Part-time Faculty, School of Community and Public Affairs, Concordia University
Mélina Bernier, Activist and Feminist
Valérie Boucher, Feminist
Nora Butler Burke, Coordinator, Action Santé Travesti(e)s et Transsexuel(le)s du Québec (ASST(e)Q), Cactus
Michèle Burque, Social Worker
Fréderique Chabot, POWER, Prostitutes of Ottawa Gatineau, Educate, Resist
Stéphanie Claivaz-Loranger, Lawyer
Anna-Louise Crago, Coalition for the Rights of Sex Workers
Riyas Fadel, Sexologist
Sylvain Gauthier, Executive Director, Émiss-ère
Émilie Laliberté, for the team, the Board of Directors and the membership of Stella, organization by and for sex workers
Hélène Légaré, President, COCQ-SIDA
Ken Monteith, General Director, COCQ-SIDA
Nicole Nepton, Édimestre, Cybersolidaires
Marie-Michelle Ross, Feminist
Robert Rousseau, Director, RÉZO
Devon Simpson, Peer Coordinator and Rights Program, 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy, Concordia University
Claire Thiboutot, Feminist and founding member of Stella
Gretchen King, CKUT News Collective.
Simone de Beauvoir Institute’s Statement: A Feminist Position on Sex Work, 02.11.2010
Canada's prostitution laws are rife with contradictions, Peggy Curran, The Gazette, 02.11.2010