PCEPA, which passed in Canada in 2014, decriminalizes prostituted individuals, who are mostly women, offering them services, and targets sex buyers, who are overwhelmingly men, for the harm they cause in prostitution. This legal framework, which was originally known as the Swedish Model, has been adopted by Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Northern Ireland, Ireland and France. While PCEPA still criminalizes prostituted women in certain circumstances, something Canadian activists are working to amend, the law’s goal is to end the commercial sexual exploitation of individuals and protect human rights, especially those of women and girls, while recognizing that sex buyers fuel the global multi-billion dollar sex trade. Despite these laudable aims and evidence from other countries of the efficacy of this legal model, Canada has not comprehensively implemented PCEPA throughout its provinces but those that are using it are finding the law an excellent tool.
“Every day I witness the unspeakable violence and devastation that prostitution inflicts on women and children,” said Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre in Ontario, who advocated for the enactment of PCEPA. “If we have to re-debate whether the best Canada can do for our vulnerable is facilitating their commodification and sexual exploitation by decriminalizing prostitution, then we have failed in our promises for equality and protection of human rights for all.”
“When Canada and its leaders speak about ending gender-based violence and violence against women, but support a pro “sex work” motion, which would decriminalize pimping and sex buying, Canada is being hypocritical,” said Alaya McIvor, an Indigenous sex trade survivor working with Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, Manitoba. “We should be embarrassed about these efforts trying to reverse the great work that’s been done and a law for which we fought so hard to protect victims of sexual exploitation.”
While Indigenous Peoples in Canada only comprise 4.8 percent of its population, evidence shows that Indigenous women and girls are disproportionately represented in the sex trade. In one report, a network of front-line service organizations across Canada estimated that of the women and girls they serve who have been sexually exploited in prostitution, 50 percent of girls and 51 percent of women were Indigenous. Evidence has also shown that full decriminalization or legalization of the sex trade would spark an increase in sex trafficking, including of minors, to meet the consequent demand for prostitution.