(Ottawa, April 4, 2023) - On March 7, the federal government announced that amendments to the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act. While these are meant to “represent yet another important and necessary step towards righting historical and systemic discrimination faced by many Canadians,” some marginalized groups continue to be ineligible to have their records expunged under this Act, the Green Party of Canada said today.
For example, sex workers are explicitly excluded from these amendments, making it impossible for them to clear their records. Despite the government’s insistence that they support sex workers, they continue to put up barriers.
“It's time to discuss decriminalizing prostitution and developing sensible regulations to protect sex workers, not to further discriminate against them,” said Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada. “This government would miss a crucial opportunity to redress past and current wrongs by not including sex workers in these amendments.”
The discrimination that applies explicitly to sex workers, but may also include a significant portion of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, exists in the amendments that apply to the ‘bawdy house’ laws. In these amendments, ‘bawdy house’ offences related to indecency and abortion are eligible to be expunged, but offences related to “prostitution” and “the exchange of sex for money” are categorically excluded.
While Public Safety Minister Mendicino claims that "it is important to put that lens on the work of getting access to expungements," the actual amendments deny this access, proving his words contradictory to the government's actions. Historically, those found in gay bathhouses during raids were not only charged with indecency, but also prostitution. For a government that professes to support sex work, as well as the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, this blatant exclusion in the Expungement Act demonstrates a completely different stance.
“The federal government claims that the purpose of these amendments to the Expungement Act is to right an egregious wrong that has stigmatized sex work for far too long,” says Alison Lam, Green Party of Canada Critic for Women and Gender. “And yet, those who are charged with offences specifically related to sex for money in 'bawdy houses’ are exempt from being eligible to have their records expunged under this Act. How does that even make sense? The government needs to respect that sex worker rights are human rights.”
In order to make these amendments meaningful and not just performative, the federal government needs to include amendments for sex work related charges in 'bawdy house’ offences. As many were charged with both prostitution and indecency, including only indecency-based offences does nothing to remove discrimination against sex workers.
In 2019, all 'bawdy house' provisions in the Criminal Code were repealed, but those who were charged before still have this undeserved stain on their record. While the government claims a desire to right historical and systemic discrimination, the actual amendments fall far short of this goal. Until the Expungement Act includes all sex work-related charges, the government will continue to contribute to the marginalization of the sex work community in Canada.
“The exclusion of sex workers from this equality-seeking remedy is a direct contradiction to the concern this government feigns for sex workers,” says Jenn Clamen, National Coordinator of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform, “They promote criminalization of Sex Work based on the assumption that sex workers are victims, yet this move to exclude women with prostitution-related charges from expunging their criminal records is the exact thing that continues to limit mobility and economic and employment options for sex workers.”