Decriminalization = Safety, Equality & Human Rights for Sex Workers


SWAN recognizes sex work as work. SWAN calls for the decriminalization of sex work. 

We advocate for the enactment of evidence-based laws that uphold sex workers’ rights. The current criminalized legal framework makes it impossible for sex workers to have the same equality, rights and protections others have.  There is strong evidence that criminalization impacts sex workers’ safety, health and human rights.  

In February 2020, parts of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) - Canada’s prostitution laws - were found unconstitutional, i.e., advertising (s. 286.4), procuring (s. 286.3(1)), and material benefit (s. 286.2(1)). The advertising law was ruled unconstitutional for violating the right to freedom of expression. Procuring and material benefit laws were both ruled to be a violation of the right to security of the person. Read the full decision here.

The historic 2013 Bedford v. Canada unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision also found Canada’s former prostitution laws unconstitutional.


Decriminalization and Migrant Sex Workers


Since 2012, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) prohibit any temporary resident from working “with an employer who, on a regular basis, offers striptease, erotic dance, escort services or erotic massages.” These provisions apply to any temporary resident who has a work or study permit, or visitor’s visa, and effectively bar migrant women from engaging in sex work in any formal capacity.  Learn more about IRPR’s specific prohibitions on sex work here.

Full decriminalization of sex work includes decriminalization for sex workers who are not citizens or permanent residents. Under current prostitution, trafficking and immigration laws, in addition to municipal bylaws,  migrant sex workers are under surveillance and harassment by police and bylaws officers, and under the threat of detention and deportation by Canada Border Services Agency. 

Combined with prostitution laws, the IRPR prohibition creates layers of criminalization for migrant women engaged in sex work and significantly increases systemic vulnerability to violence and exploitation. Migrant women who do sex work can be targeted. Recent research has shown that barriers to reporting violence to authorities include concerns that sex workers have no legal protection from violence under current laws, have a lack of trust with police and the criminal justice system, and have immigration concerns.

In SWAN’s experience, im/migrant sex workers who report violence to authorities also risk becoming the target of trafficking investigations.  This is due to over-broad prostitution and trafficking laws which do not differentiate sex work and trafficking, and which are enforced by an overwhelming majority of police officers who themselves do not understand the difference between sex work and trafficking.

~ Lydia, SWAN Client

November 2019

(quoted with permission)

SWAN, along with the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform

and Butterfly, calls for the repeal of the IRPR prohibitions on sex work. 

"Instead of receiving support or help

for the violence I experienced,

I was punished with deportation

without even having the benefit

of telling my story."

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With gratitude for the wisdom of all First Peoples, 

we acknowledge that we live & work on the stolen lands

of the Musqueam, Squamish & Tsleil-Waututh Nations.  




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