06/14/2014 04:22 EDT | Updated 08/15/2014 05:59 EDT

Sex worker supporters dance against new prostitution bill

A small group of anti-Bill C-36 protesters organized a dance-o-thon at Montreal's Peace Park as a colourful protest over the Conservatives' new prostitution laws. 

They said the bill purports to crack down on johns and pimps but actually endangers sex workers.

“This is a bill that is going to make things more dangerous for sex workers. Sex work is real work and sex workers deserve to be treated with dignity and work in safety,” said Julie Paquete, a demonstrator.

Bill C-36 criminalizes purchasing, advertising or financially benefiting from the sale of sexual services.

It also makes it illegal to sell sexual services in public spaces where persons under the age of 18 could be present.

A former sex worker and current Trudeau scholar researching violence against sex workers, Anna-Louise Crago said Bill C-36 is a deliberate recreation of laws struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada.

She said she was very disappointed when federal justice minister Peter MacKay tabled Bill C-36 on June 4, referring to most people who work in the sex trade as “victims.”

“I was absolutely devastated because I know the human cost of these laws,” Crago said.

“Our lives have value, and I don’t think [MacKay's] law represents what Canadians want.”

Crago said the extensive testimony at the Supreme Court, including 39,000 pages of evidence entered into record, is not reflected in the Conservatives’ bill.

“I think the law the Conservatives are proposing is a tragic, tragic setback for sex workers. I think it will fuel violence, abuse and exploitation and, quite frankly, it will lead to the killing of more sex workers,” she continued.

She said sex workers will feel more rushed to close a deal because of the laws, making it so that they do not have time to properly vet a potential client. 

The bill also provides $20 million fund to finance programs that would help sex workers get out of prostitution.

However, many of the people at Saturday’s demonstration said the money should instead be used for programs that protect people in the industry, not only for those looking to get out of it.