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This article examines how exploitation informs judicial interpretations of human trafficking in Canadian criminal cases. While socio-legal and popular notions of trafficking often suggest that forced movement into a decidedly exploitative labour context is required, our analysis of key appellate cases and constitutional challenges reveals that actual exploitation is not a necessary element of the offence. Instead, the trafficking in persons provision criminalizes the intent to exploit, while requiring the court to adopt an “objective” assessment of whether a reasonable person in the complainant’s circumstances could potentially fear for their safety in the context of providing (sexual) labour. We argue that this objective standard contributes to a gendered hierarchy of legal knowledge and ultimately privileges the perceived masculinized rationality of the courts and legal actors while rendering the subjective experiences of complainants as less central to the prosecution of human trafficking.
While Canada has long criminalized aspects of sex work, the specific act of purchasing sexual services was not against the law per se. In 2014, however, the then Conservative government implemented new legislation targeting sex work clients. Given the criminalization and persistent stigmatization of their activities, assessing clients’ changing actions, perceptions, and knowledge of the new legislation is challenging. We thus turned to a major Canadian online sex work review forum to examine postings on forum threads. This paper examines the risk knowledge practices in which clients engage as they try to make sense of the modified legal regime and avoid new legal risks. Our findings illuminate clients’ varied understandings of their own criminalization.
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