In Canada, sex workers are allowed to sell their services, but the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, passed in 2014, criminalizes some aspects of this work.
A sex worker in Nova Scotia is suing for non-payment for services in Small Claims Court. She hopes this case will change the conversation about sex work in Canada.
Brogan, whom we have chosen to identify only by his first name for his protection, says he spent an evening with a client in January 2022. Then he left her a card with her PIN so she could go and withdraw some money. Once at the counter she realized that the code was wrong and she would not be paid.
“It's quite humiliating not to be paid after giving so much to someone. And it's also frustrating not having more protection.”
— Brogan, sex worker
This is not the first time a client didn't pay her, but this time Brogan wanted to act to try to change things.
I am very passionate about the rights of sex workers, she says. And so, when I didn't get paid, I saw it as an opportunity to show others that sex workers have rights too.
In Canada, sex workers Sex workers are allowed to sell their services, but the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, passed in 2014, criminalizes some aspects of their work.
Sex workers in Canada cannot legally offer their services in certain public places.
Sex workers cannot advertising sexual services or communicating about such services in a public place. Purchasing sexual services is also an offence.
This law prevents sex workers from issuing contracts for their services, explains Jessica Rose, an attorney at the Elizabeth Fry Society who represents Brogan.
She explains that a contract cannot generally unclear whether either party must do something illegal.
Sex workers need economic stability like any other worker in Canada , and without being able to easily contract their services, they are really at a disadvantage when it comes to paying the money that their clients owe them, the lawyer specifies.
A stock image of a man who appears to want to pay for services.
Jessica Rose explains that the intent of sex work laws is to protect workers, which could create a legal avenue for maintaining contracts between them and their customer.
When it is in the interests of sex workers to be paid for their work, we may be able to argue that this type of illegal contract must always be applied, and that is what we will defend.
The claim has not yet been tested in court. The pre-hearing date for the case is July 13. Several attempts to contact the accused were unsuccessful.
Brogan laments that the purchase of sexual services is illegal because in his opinion it makes it difficult to verify the identity of customers.
You have absolutely no idea who you're dealing with, she says.
And a lot of people still think that payment defaults are among the risks that come with sex work.
Few people treat me like I have a regular job.
And yet Brogan reminds us that there is a big difference between sex work and sex work. sexual exploitation.
She who was sexually trafficked when she was younger says that she had no control at that time and that she feels now more comfortable with what she does.
None of my money goes to anyone but me. And that's the main thing for me, says Brogan.
Emma Halpern is the director of the Elizabeth Fry Society.
There are very, very problematic ways to buy sex in this country, conceives the chief executive of the Elizabeth Fry Society, Emma Halpern.
But you can recognize that, and stand up against that, and recognize that there are also spaces in which a woman has the autonomy to make the choice to sell sex.
This civil lawsuit would be the first of its kind in Canada.
In 2021, a coalition of 25 organizations launched a constitutional challenge to the current legislation.
The federal government has countered the challenge and the initial date for this trial is set for the end of 2022. If successful, this challenge could result in the dismissal of the law.
As for Brogan, she believes her experience is proof that sex workers need to be better protected.
I think the rights of sex workers need to be taken much more seriously, she said. In my opinion, this work needs to be legalized to make it safer.
With information from Moira Donovan of CBC