A Montreal group that speaks for the interests of sex trade workers took aim at Bill C-36 at a Commons committee in Ottawa Tuesday morning.

“This is a matter of life and death for sex workers,” said Robyn Maynard of Stella, which argues that the legislation would further imperil often vulnerable and marginalized sex trade workers.

Each witness was limited to around five minutes and Maynard was forced to make her points in a rapid-fire manner, arguing that the ongoing criminalization of commercial sex would only cause further harm.

She noted that the component of the legislation targeting sex consumers would likely encourage violence against sex workers, as violent attacks on prostitutes tripled during a massive client sweep in Montreal 2001 and attacks with a deadly weapon rose by a fivefold rate during that same period.

Maynard said that the law would also inhibit communications between prostitutes and clients, which could lead to misunderstanding and hostility.

Condoms could be used as evidence against a sex worker, a fact that could discourage their use and endanger public health.

Enforcement of the lof the law would lead police to “target the most marginalized people,” as women of colour, indigenous women and individuals with substance abuse issues are overrepresented in the trade, according to Maynard.

Maynard told the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that current laws are adequate to protect against exploitation, robbery, assault and human trafficking.

The Stella group pleaded instead for legislation similar to that which exists in New Zealand, which affords sex workers protection and occupational rights including entitlement to employment insurance.

The Stella group was one of many to testify at the hearings, which also welcomed input from a variety of stakeholders and experts, including several who spoke via teleconfernce from overseas locations.