Demands grow for Canada to decriminalize sex work after the election

By Rachel Browne, Global News

More than 150 human rights groups are calling on whichever federal party forms the government after the next election to decriminalize sex work as a way to protect the health and safety of those involved in the industry.

“Every aspect of sex work is criminalized, which means that sex workers are unable to access social, legal and sexual health supports, should they need them,” said Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, in a statement released this week.

“Ultimately, decriminalization is a first step to ensuring sex workers’ safety and dignity, which means creating spaces where they can work in a way that they feel safe and not isolated.”

The statement has been signed by organizations across Canada including the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, and a number of sex worker rights groups.

It comes as legislation to decriminalize sex work has been put forward in the U.S. in places such as New York and Washington, D.C.

A number of current U.S. presidential candidates, including Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, have also expressed support for the decriminalization of sex workers.

So far this election cycle in Canada, only the Green Party has made an explicit platform promise to overhaul Canada’s sex work laws. And the Liberals are being criticized for not tackling the issue during their time in government.

In 2014, the previous Conservative government under Stephen Harper implemented Bill C-36, The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, which made it a crime to pay for sex work, but not to be a sex worker.

These sex work laws are among the most restrictive in the Western world. In 2003, New Zealand decriminalized sex work, and a 2008 study of the situation found improved working conditions for sex workers who were more willing to report acts of violence and abuse to police.

The Conservatives’ sex work law replaced the previous laws that were struck down in 2013 by the Supreme Court of Canada. The three laws include prohibiting anyone from keeping a “bawdy house,” living off the avails of sex work, and communicating for the purposes of sex work.

Specifically, the court ruled that the previous laws imposed “dangerous conditions on prostitution” and prevented people engaged in a “risky, but legal, activity from taking steps to protect themselves.”

The court gave the Conservative government one year to come up with new laws. Bill C-36 was the Conservative’s answer to the ruling, much to the dismay of sex workers who said it would still make their work and lives unsafe.

Though the law purported to eliminate sex work altogether, and made references to protecting sex workers from harm, neither has happened. Sex workers say the laws have made things worse for them because punishing their clients is akin to punishing them.

In 2014, the Liberals, including then-MP Justin Trudeau, voted against Bill C-36. And a number of MPs and Liberal candidates talked about the need to reform the laws the following year on the campaign trail in 2015.

At a panel in Toronto during that time, Liberal candidate Bill Morneau, who would later become the federal finance minister, said that there was “no disagreement” that Bill-C36 should be repealed.

“We would want to get rid of this bill,” Morneau said in response to a question about what each party would do about the law. “It’s a bill that puts people in danger, and we would not stand for it.”

After the Liberals formed government, former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told reporters that she was “committed” to reviewing prostitution laws, but the issue was quickly dropped and the laws have been in effect ever since.

And a position put forward in 2018 by the Young Liberals of Canada at the Liberal National Convention called on the party to repeal the sex work laws was not picked up by Liberals and is not mentioned in its 2019 platform.

“Stepping up in favour of sex work decriminalization is not something that seems to get the Liberals votes,” Brenda Cossman, a law professor and director of the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto, told Global News.

“But I think it’s pretty appalling that an issue that is so serious and so deeply harmful to so many people is just not an issue that gets votes,” Cossman said. “It’s an issue that is right at the intersection of so many other fundamental public health crises issues — whether it’s murdered and missing Indigenous women, whether it’s the opioid crisis, whether it’s poverty.”

The statement released this week calling for decriminalization states since 2014, sex workers have reported “increased antagonism with law enforcement, targeted violence and fear of reporting, unwanted and unsolicited police interactions, and targeting of Indigenous, Black, trans, and migrant sex workers, as well as sex workers who use drugs.”

According to Statistics Canada, there were 294 homicides of sex workers between 1991 and 2014. A third of those murders were unsolved as of 2016, more than 10 per cent higher than the unsolved rate for murders that do not involve sex workers.

A recent study by researchers at the University of British Columbia found that since C-36 came into effect, the number of cisgender and transgender sex workers in B.C. who were unable to access health services when needed has increased.

One of the calls for justice in the final report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women released earlier this year asks governments to “support programs and services for Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people in the sex industry to promote their safety and security.”

Cossman pointed to page 45 of the Liberal platform under the heading Sexual and Reproductive Health. The platform states, “We believe that women have the right to make all decisions about their own bodies — full stop.” The platform then links this to a women’s right to access an abortion, but for Cossman, it’s a sign of inconsistency on the issue of sex work.

“It is absolutely not ‘full stop,’” Cossman said. “If they really meant that women have the right to make all decisions about their bodies, then women ought to be able to make the decision to sell sex for money in a consensual context.”

A spokesperson for the Liberal Party did not answer questions about the party’s stance on the Harper-era sex work laws and whether a re-elected Liberal government would reform them.

“The Liberal Party remains committed to ensuring that all of our criminal laws are effective in meeting their objectives, promote public safety and security, and are consistent with our constitutionally protected rights,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

“A re-elected Liberal government will continue to be committed to ensuring that our criminal justice system respects victims, and holds offenders to account.”

Sandra Wesley, executive director of Montreal sex work advocacy group Stella, said that there was a lot of hope when the Liberals formed government in 2015 that the laws would change. But, she speculates that other issues such as cannabis legalization took precedence.

“You can’t be the party of weed and whores. You have to pick one,” Wesley told Global News. “There is a sense from all parties, not just the Liberals, that it’s easy to say that they support sex workers’ rights but the action behind it never seems to materialize.”

Wesley said that the impacts of Bill C-36 are wide-ranging.

“It’s every sphere of the industry,” she said. This includes sex workers who work on the streets who now have to act very quickly when interacting with a client over fears of getting caught by law enforcement. They may not notice, or ignore, warning signs.

“In the past, we would take the time to negotiate with the client before getting in their car,” Wesley said. “When we talk about price, we talk about location, we would talk about all those things, and take a look around, get a sense of safety, and then get in the car. Nowadays, because clients are afraid of getting arrested, we need to just jump into the car as fast as we can.”

And for those who work from their homes, Wesley said people are getting evicted for having clients over. She also pointed to recent efforts by Montreal police to encourage taxi drivers and hotel employees to report sex workers to police as an example of how the issue of human trafficking, in which people are forced into the sex industry against their will, is conflated with consensual sex trafficking.

“This is done under the guise of fighting exploitation, which is a vague term that seems to [suggest that] all sex workers are victims of exploitation,” she said.
“Activists who are fighting against the existence of sex work have figured out a long time ago that mixing up sex work and trafficking is a very effective strategy to justify police repression to justify laws that are more repressive.”

When asked about the party’s stance on decriminalization or sex work law reform, a Conservative Party spokesperson pointed Global News to leader Andrew Scheer’s statements on human trafficking in May, in which he promised to tackle the issue.

“A Conservative government under my leadership will ensure that prosecutors have the strongest laws behind them to keep human traffickers off our streets and away from survivors and those they seek to harm,” Sheer said at the time.

So far, the Green Party is the only major party to make a specific platform promise on sex work. Under the heading “Protecting Sex Workers,” the party states it supports labour rights for sex workers “to ensure that they are able to control their working conditions, conduct business in a safe and healthy environment, and have recourse to legal remedies when these conditions are not provided.”

It also said that it will “reform sex work laws in Canada with a clear focus on harm reduction, given the dangers that sex trade workers face.”

Though there’s no mention of sex work in the NDP platform, a party spokesperson told Global News that party leader Jagmeet Singh “has always been committed to engaging and listening to sex workers about their lived experience, and to involve them in decisions that will impact them.”

The spokesperson did not mention regulation or decriminalization of the industry, but added that the NDP would review and update laws “to ensure they protect, not stigmatize, sex workers.”

Wesley said that for many people, the idea of rights for sex workers might seem “frivolous” or something that affects a very small proportion of the Canadian population.

“The concept of human rights is based on this idea that even if we’re a minority of people, then we still should have access to all those rights and to privacy and dignity,” she said. “It does have an impact on all women in the conversations we’re having around consent, around sexual assaults, around gender-based violence.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Original Article:

Kotex tampons recalled in Canada after reports of ‘coming apart’ inside bodies

Maham Abedi
Global News, December 12, 2018

Kotex tampons are being recalled in Canada and the United States after reports that fragments of the products remained inside consumers’ bodies after removal.

A press release by the company behind the brand, Kimberly-Clark, explained that a voluntary recall affects U by Kotex Sleek tampons and Regular Absorbency tampons sold between Oct. 17, 2016 and Oct. 16, 2018.

On its website, the company notes that it has received complaints from users of the products “unravelling and/or coming apart upon removal and, in some cases, causing users to seek medical attention to remove tampon pieces left in the body.”

There have also been reports of infections, vaginal irritation and “localized vaginal injury,” the company said.

The affected products were sold across Canada. Consumers can look at a code number on the bottom on the box to see if they own affected products.

Click here to see the codes affected

Consumers who aren’t sure whether their product is under recall can go on the company’s website and use their code-checking tool.

Kotex has several other types of tampons that are not affected by the recall, the release noted.

Those who do have recalled tampons are being asked to stop using them immediately.

Health concerns that may arise

The company notes that any consumers who fear they have had a vaginal injury with symptoms such as pain, bleeding or other discomfort should seek medical attention.

There is also a possibility consumers affected by the recall could feel vaginal irritation due to infections, which should also be reported to health-care professionals. They are also being told to be vigilant of other symptoms such as hot flashes, nausea and abdominal pain.

Any additional concerns or reports of injury or illness can also be reported to Health Canada via its online complaint form.

Original Article:

Canadian teens need to be more aware of STIs — and it starts with sex ed

Arti Patel
Global News, October 22, 2017

We’ve come a long way from the condom on a banana approach to teach young people how to have safe sex. The teens who make up a chunk of Generation Z, the population raised by the internet, have multiple avenues and resources (including pornography) to learn about foreplay and sex.

And while one 2005 report indicates the proportion of teens between the ages of 15 and 19 having sexual intercourse has decreased — some studies note Gen Z doesn’t have much interest in sex to begin with — there was no change in rates of teens having multiple partners or males not using condoms. Experts say this still puts this age group at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Between 1998 and 2015 (the most recent national data available), chlamydia — the most commonly reported STI in Canada — has risen from 39,372 to 116,499 annual cases among all ages and genders, and gonorrhea infections increased from 5,076 to 19,845 in the same time period. Infectious syphilis rates rose dramatically from 501 to 4,551 cases.

According to a 2014 report from Health Canada, teens aged 15 to 19 made up 1,081.9 cases of chlamydia per 100,000. The cases of gonorrhea in this age group was 101.79 cases per 100,000, while cases of infectious syphilis made up the lowest rate of four per 100,000.

However, the greatest relative rate increase, Health Canada notes, for syphilis was in males aged 15 to 19 — a 300 per cent increase.

The importance of sex ed

Dr. Dustin Costescu, family planning specialist in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., says the rise among STI rates in teens is multi-factorial. He says, however, the issue (for any age group) is still around condom use.

“We know teens underestimate the rates,” he tells Global News. “A lot of people don’t see themselves [at risk] because they date one person, and they think they are at a lower risk compared to those who have multiple sexual partners.”

Messaging around condom use also needs to change, he says, since the majority of teenagers think of condoms as contraceptives.

“We do know some populations are at an elevated risk,” he says. “While teens are exploring their sexuality, they may be neglecting condom use. Teens struggle in negotiation around condom use.”

He says when you ask teenagers about things like HIV, they see it as a chronic disease, something that has been cured

He adds while adolescent pregnancy rates in Canada are decreasing, teenagers know they have to use protection, but the messaging around condom use for STIs is not so clear.

He says there is also confusion around screening guidelines, pap tests and STI tests. Many are unsure when to get tested and STIs also come with a stigma of otherness — there’s a “type” of person who gets an STI.

STIs in the curriculum

STIs are introduced in school curricula through sexual education and health classes. In Ontario, the Ministry of Education says students learn about safe and healthy relationships throughout the provincial curriculum.

“The curriculum is structured so that students learn about human development and sexual health as one component of their overall health,” a ministry spokesperson tells Global News. “The focus is not simply on learning facts, but on helping students use facts and knowledge to make healthy choices and connections to their everyday lives.”

Since Ontario’s sex ed curriculum change in 2015, students are now introduced to STIs in Grade 7 (how to prevent them), and in Grade 10, they expand their knowledge on infections themselves, as well as how to use condoms and find a health expert.

“There are also optional examples and prompts provided to teachers in the curriculum. They are there to help prepare teachers for the questions and discussion that may arise during the learning and to encourage students to think about different questions/situations that they could possibly face,” the ministry adds.

Similarly in British Columbia, STIs are part of the physical and health education curriculum, and students explicitly start learning about the topic in Grade 6. However, the B.C. Ministry of Education adds classroom teachers may bring up the topic at any point in relation to their class. In Grade 9, students learn about protection from sexually transmitted infections in particular.

In Alberta, schools are required to offer human sexuality education in Grade 4 to Grade 9, and STIs are introduced starting in Grade 8, while Quebec’s new sex ed curriculum is set to launch in the fall.

And for the rest of the provinces, STIs and prevention usually start in Grade 5 or 6, and this includes topics around HIV/AIDS, condom use and abstinence.

Are Canadian teens aware?

Drew, an 18-year-old student from Pickering, Ont., says STIs were first covered in sex ed class in Grade 9.

“Most of the topics in school, whether it be safe sex or learning about STIs, were often taught using educational videos,” he tells Global News. “[But] I would say that I do not really have a good knowledge about STIs. I can honestly say that I do not know what the effects of STIs like gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia are… I really only know the names of them.”

In his friend circle, he adds, STIs don’t often come up in the conversation around sex. If anything, most people in his age group are worried they may get pregnant.

For Jordana, 17, of Toronto, the thoughts are similar. STIs are mostly treated like a joke (if someone gets a pimple, for example, it’s mocked as herpes) and rarely is it seriously discussed.

“I definitely think that learning about STIs should be something that is covered in school every year, and information and support should be readily available to anyone,” she tells Global News.

She adds STIs should be covered every year (in Ontario, it becomes optional after Grade 10), because some teens don’t often think about the repercussions of having unprotected sex with a stranger or multiple partners at ages 14 and 15.

Matthew, a Grade 8 student in Toronto, says he was introduced to STIs in Grade 6 and the topic of safe sex was covered the following year. And although he believes he has enough knowledge about infections, he could learn more.

While Hadiqa, 16, of Hamilton, Ont., says STIs are still seen as “weird” and “gross” for the majority, and people in her age group just don’t talk about them.

And while she agrees with most teens that sexual health education should be mandatory until Grade 12, she says it will only become more and more useful as teens move into adulthood.

‘The talk’ is still valuable

Costescu says parents and educators need to start meeting teens where they’re at and talk openly about safe sex.

“We need to do a good job of listening to adolescents and what messages work with teens,” he says. “Ideas among adults will not go anywhere if it’s not a relevant message.” He stresses talking to them about sex does not increase sexual behaviour — a common reason parents don’t open up about it.

Dr. Jillian Roberts, child psychologist at Family Sparks, says it’s also important to step in as parents because teens are more likely to look up sex and pornography online before talking to adults.

“It is no longer possible to avoid ‘the talk,’” she tells Global News. “Further, it is no longer appropriate to think of ‘the talk’ as a single event. Doing so places kids in harm’s way.”

She adds adults themselves still see a stigma and shamefulness about sex, and this also needs to change to ensure STI rates drop for teens in the future.

“Kids need to have a strong relationship with their parents and know that they can talk to their parents about all the complex issues facing the modern generation. Parents need to shed any embarrassment and tackle this topic head-on.”

Original Article:

When it comes to safe sex, younger generations are more responsible: Survey

Simone Paget
Toronto Sun, April 1, 2019

A few years ago, I dated this guy we’ll call “The Cop.” He was a divorced single dad and worked in law enforcement. The dating scene in my hometown is inundated with men in their 30s and 40s who are still waiting for their band’s “big break” and therefore can’t commit, so I liked the idea of dating someone who appeared to be a responsible adult.

The only problem: When it came time to be intimate, The Cop sulked and complained about having to wear a condom. One night, he even refused outright. His argument? He used to be married and felt he “shouldn’t have to.” Besides, I should “just trust him” (Did I mention that this guy already has four children? Four.)

It was the kind of behaviour high school guidance counsellors had warned us about (just kidding — my high school’s sex ed program was practically non-existent. I got most of my sex info from Salt-N-Pepa songs.) I don’t remember experiencing the dreaded condom tug-a-war in my teens and twenties, but now I frequently encounter men who share The Cop’s attitude towards safer sex practices.

It makes sense. Kind of. Gen X and older millennials like myself, came of age at the height of the AIDS crisis in North America. Many of us spent our formative years terrified of accidental pregnancy and STIs. Having survived thus far, I get the sense that some of my peers have become more loosey-goosey when it comes to condom use. With that said, there’s still a prevailing stereotype that it’s the younger generations who like to play it fast and loose when it comes to safe sex. But that’s simply not the reality — and there are the stats to back it up.

Skyn Condoms recently surveyed 2,000 Gen Z adults (18-22) and millennials (23-38) in the U.S. and Canada, asking them to provide detailed information about everything from condom use and sexual education to favourite sexual positions and fantasies.

Not only are younger generations on top of their same sex game, but it’s 18-22-year-olds that are leading the way. The survey found that 65% of Gen Z respondents reported using condoms “all of the time” or “some of the time,” while only 54% of millennial participants answered the same.

“Gen Z seems to have gotten the message a little more strongly than millennials that safer sex is an important part of health,” remarks Rena McDaniel, a clinical sexologist and sex and intimacy expert for Skyn Condoms. However, it’s not all sunshine and multiple orgasms. “Gen Z seems to be getting it on at earlier ages than millennials, but this doesn’t seem to translate into having better sex with 10% of Gen Z faking orgasms all of the time, compared to 6% of millennials,” says McDaniel.

I was also disappointed to learn that the ol’ condom standoff is still alive and well amongst Gen Z and millennials. When asked “have you ever, even once turned down sex with someone because they wanted to use a condom?” Ten percent of people surveyed answered “yes.”

Which, brings me to my final question. If a partner refuses to wear a condom, how should you respond? McDaniel says it’s simple: “In short, tell them ‘bye!’ If someone is refusing to honour your boundaries around safer sex and is actively taking risks, like not using a condom, that put you and your health in danger, then it might be time to question whether or not this relationship is serving you.”

Conversations about safer sex and condom use don’t have to be heavy. “A whisper in a lover’s ear of, ‘I’m so turned on. I’m going to get a condom,’ can build anticipation as safer sex becomes part of the sexual experience and not something that takes you away from it,” says McDaniels.

Original Article Here: