The KISS FOR GABRIELA team wanted to follow up with our friends in Canada to find out more about the impact of the recent court decision that lead to the decriminalization of sex work. Author, advocate and NSWP board member Elya Durisin agreed to share her thoughts with us. Elya became involved with the sex workers’ movement in Canada when she moved to Toronto, Ontario, in 2006 by joining Maggie’s: Toronto Sex Workers Action project, an organization she continues to be involved with. Elya notes that she, “was very fortunate to have met and been supported by others in the movement with extensive histories of activism, as well as to live in a location, in Toronto and close to Montreal, with a long and rich history of involvement sex workers’ movement.”
A Kiss for Gabriela: At the end of 2013, the Canadian Supreme Court in a unanimous ruling struck the entirety of Canada’s prostitution laws from the books. Can you explain to our readers more about what this decision means for sex workers in Canada?
Elya: Prostitution itself was not illegal in Canada as it is in many other places, however nearly all the activities surrounding prostitution and most other forms of sex work were criminalized. On December 20th, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down three key provisions of the prostitution laws as unconstitutional, including communicating for the purpose of prostitution, living on the avails of prostitution, and keeping a common bawdy house. A short summary of the case is available at here at Pivot Legal’s website and a link at Stella (a sex worker rights organization in Montreal) provides more detailed information. The decision in Bedford v Canada was a monumental achievement that involved decades of largely unrecognized activism on the part of sex workers; this is a remarkable victory! The decision has been stayed for one year to give the Government time to draft new legislation, and it’s uncertain what will happen at that time. However, the decision nevertheless represents an important opportunity for sex workers to work in safer conditions and to continue organizing for human and labour rights, activities that would be made easier and more supported under decriminalization.
A Kiss for Gabriela: Now that this legal change has occurred, what are the upcoming issues Canadian activists will be focusing on?
Elya: Well, as others have said, this is when the real work begins! While sex workers are thrilled with the Court decision, I think many in the sex workers’ rights movement are also aware that there may be more challenges ahead. Not surprisingly, there has been discussion about the Nordic or End-Demand model among certain women’s organizations and politicians, and activists in Canada have identified a need to address this and educate those in policy-making positions. Many people are also not aware that some forms of sex work, such as exotic dance, escort, and massage, are also licensed and regulated at the municipal level. The decision may also open up possibilities for increased regulation of sex work in addition to what we already have, which in many cases is not supportive of sex workers’ rights. Some sex workers have started to engage with municipal politicians and to form alternative versions of municipal licensing schemes that better meet sex workers’ needs.
A Kiss for Gabriela: We recently found out that you are one of the editors of a new and exciting book called “Selling Sex: Experience, Advocacy, and Research on Sex Work in Canada.” Can you share with us how the book was developed and the kind of impact you hope it will have?
Elya: The other editors and myself were aware of all the amazing work so many people were doing in the movement, sex workers, community organizers, academic allies and others. We also knew that a lot of what has been written about sex work in Canada didn’t capture the breadth or dynamism of what was happening. It disappoints me that many writers and researchers don’t even seem to be aware that there is a sex worker community, and that sex workers are politically active and engaged. We wanted to address this by creating a collection highlighting the work of many of the formidable individuals we know, foregrounded of course in the experiences of sex workers. My hope for the book is that it can educate others about the realities and issues facing sex workers at this critical moment of change.
IN NYC: the Selling Sex Book Launch, Discussion, and Fundraiser for HOOK! will be held Sunday February 23, 3-5pm @ Otto’s Bar, 1538 East 14th St – Manhattan (between Avenue A & Avenue B).
[Elya has provided A KISS FOR GABRIELA with a copy of the book and we will post our review as soon as we can.]