Press release

Canadian sex workers win decriminalisation:
a victory for women’s right to safety everywhere

The High Court in Ontario, Canada, yesterday abolished the laws banning street soliciting (communicating for the purposes of prostitution), working together from premises (bawdy house) and living off the avails of prostitution as they make sex workers more vulnerable to violence.  The decision was a result of a legal challenge brought by three sex workers who argued that the laws endangered their health and forced them into unsafe working conditions.  It is a victory for women and sex workers everywhere who have been campaigning for decriminalisation of grounds of health and safety.

Ontario Judge Susan Himel concluded that the laws violated the constitution which guarantees “the rights to life, liberty and safety’.  She said: "I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public," . . . ."These laws, individually and together, force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their right to security of the person as protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

Celebrating after the case the three women who brought the case commented: “Sex workers can now pick up the phone and call the police to report a client who has mistreated them . . . the ruling would allow sex workers to set up unions, have health and safety standards, hire bodyguards, and pay income tax.”

The English Collective of Prostitutes and our sister organisation the US PROStitutes Collective are also celebrating.  We have had a long association with sex workers in Canada from the 1970s.  We are encouraged by this victory.  New Zealand, which decriminalised in 2003, and now Canada are setting an example for women’s rights and safety.

The Ontario court heard evidence that over the past couple of decades, about 300 sex workers working on the street have disappeared or been murdered in Canada, including 26 women murdered by serial killer Robert Pickton.  Like the tragic Ipswich and Bradford murders, this death toll spurred on demands for change as the public increasingly understands that criminalisation undermines safety.  In the UK juries have begun to refuse to convict women charged with brothel-keeping who are working collectively with friends for safety.

Fuelled by Proceeds of Crime laws which allow the UK police to keep 25-50% of all money and assets seized during raids, prosecutions are increasing daily.  Hundreds of women now face a criminal conviction despite evidence that a criminal record is the biggest obstacle to sex workers being able to leave prostitution.  In none of the nine current cases we are fighting have police brought any evidence of force or coercion.  All the women except one are mothers, some grandmothers working to support themselves and their families.  One immigrant woman is facing trafficking charges (with a sentence of 14 years) because she gave a friend a lift from one UK city to another.  One woman is being prosecuted after she went to police to report a violent attack.  A woman in her 50s who worked as a receptionist to keep other women safe faces up to two years in prison.  With benefit cuts, debt, unemployment and homelessness increasing why are women being persecuted for trying to survive? 

 The Canadian prostitution laws were modelled on the UK laws.  In 2006 a Canadian parliamentary subcommittee on solicitation with MPs from all parties concluded that sexual activities between consenting adults shouldn’t be criminalized.  Now the high court has instructed parliament to abolish the prostitution laws.  What is stopping UK politicians taking the same courageous step?


English Collective of Prostitutes    020 7482 2496