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Our position on sex work: in favour of its decriminalization

The West Island CALACS supports a position in favour of sex work’s decriminalization, for which the Canadian sex workers’ rights movement has been advocating for over 30 years. We want to provide a safe and supportive environment for anyone who works or has worked in this industry.


The decriminalization of sex work is defined by Stella, an organization run by and for sex workers, as “the removal of all criminal laws that prohibit the sale, purchase, and facilitation of sex work.” [1]

Sex work vs. sexual exploitation

The difference between sex work and sexual exploitation is the presence of consent. Sex work is a consensual commercial exchange of sex between adults.

Sexual exploitation is defined as the act of profiting from a person’s sexual acts in an illegal and non-consensual manner. Any sexual act performed without a person’s valid and informed consent is and always will be sexual assault.

Prior position

We used to advocate for an abolitionist position which views sex work, in all its manifestations, as a form of sexual assault and exploitation. This approach was strongly criticized by the sex worker rights movement as inherently violent, failing to take into account sex works’ multiple realities stigmatizing its workers and contributing to unsafe working conditions. We apologize for the harm we have caused and are deeply grateful for the activist efforts that allow us to move forward as an organization today.

To read more about our prior position and our public apology

[1] Chez Stella. The Basics: Decriminalization of Sex Work 101, 2013.

The consequences of criminalizing sex work

It is not sex work itself that is violent, but rather its criminalization and the dangerous working conditions that result, increasing the risk of abuse without access to social, legal or police protection. [1]

Some examples

In Canada, while sex work itself is considered legal, activities surrounding its practice aren’t:

For example, the Canadian Criminal Code prohibits communicating in public for the purpose of “prostitution” in the first place (s. 213 “communicating”), which hinders the practice of fair negotiations with clients and forces sex workers to speak with clients in isolated and unsafe locations in order to hide from the police. [2] This type of rushed negotiation leads to violence perpetrated by clients, as the lack of time to agree on the terms of the exchange increases the risk of disagreement and aggressive escalation by the client. [3]

The penal code also prohibits management or commercial activities related to “prostitution” (art. 212 “procuring”), thus criminalizing those who book clients, offer protection, drive sex workers, or provide work space. By exposing their partners to the risk of arrest, sex workers are further isolated. [4]

[1] Maria Nengeh Mensah and Chris Bruckert, 10 Reasons To Fight For The Decriminalization Of Sex Work, 2012.
[2] Stella’s. The Basics: Decriminalization of Sex Work 101, 2013.
[3] American Civil Liberties Union. Research brief: Is Sex Work Decriminalization The Answer? 2020, p.5
[4] Chez Stella, op. cit.

Decriminalization’s benefits

The decriminalization of sex work is the first step in recognizing sex workers’ rights to autonomy, equality, self-determination and dignity. Acceptance of sex work as legitimate work would include the protection of sex workers by labor laws and workplace health and safety regulations, the ability to organize collectively, the ability to negotiate their working conditions, and the ability to work in safe environments. Decriminalization would also give them access to the judicial system to report discrimination, as well as abuse, and help fight their stigmatization. [6]

The mission of CALACS in the West Island is to fight against sexual assault and decriminalization of sex work is the best way to protect sex workers.

[6] Open Society Foundation. 10 Reasons to decriminalize sex work: a reference brief, 2015.