President's Message. Warren (Smokey) Thomas, Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

Sex workers’ rights are human rights

December 17th. International day to end violence against sex workers.

Workers’ rights include dignity, respect, and a safe work environment that is free from violence. This is why we stand in solidarity today to mark International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers.

Since 2003, December 17 has been a day to remember all sex workers who have suffered from violence and to defend workers’ rights. International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers first began as a memorial and vigil for the dozens of teenaged girls and women who were murdered by the Green River Killer in Seattle, Washington.

The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled in 2013 that the Criminal Code breached sex workers’ rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This decision prompted the Conservative government of Stephen Harper to draft Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, which criminalizes clients.

OPSEU joined with sex workers to protest Bill C-36. Research shows that nothing short of full decriminalization for workers and their clients will make sex work safe. Criminalizing clients forces sex work underground, putting workers at risk.

The OPSEU Executive Board voted unanimously in 2014 in favour of a motion to support the decriminalization of sex work. The motion states, “OPSEU recognizes and supports the rights of sex workers and their efforts to attain equality, equity, workplace safety, labour rights and any other benefit provided to all other citizens.”

OPSEU continues to fight for the rights of all workers. That’s what we do. 

OPSEU has supported sex workers in our communities. We have offered training at our conferences and at educational events, and brought in speakers from the sex work industry to directly address OPSEU conferences. Our course “Challenging the Stigma: How to be an ally to sex workers” is also available on request as a regional educational.

The fight for sex workers’ rights is far from over. Current anti-human-trafficking laws can be harmful to sex workers, and lead to criminalization and deportation of workers. OPSEU continues to support full decriminalization.

All workers deserve to work without stigma and fear of violence. And OPSEU will always speak out and stand up to defend workers’ rights. Solidarity and being an ally go hand-in-hand.

In solidarity,
Warren (Smokey) Thomas