Research, Political Science
SFU Professor Genevieve Fuji Johnson Undertakes Prostitution Policy Research
SFU’s political science Associate Professor Genevieve Fuji Johnson is embarking on a new research project that examines the implementation of laws and policies related to the regulation of sex work in Canada.
Johnson has a long-standing interest in exploring the involvement of and impacts on a range of constituents in multiple policy areas, such as official languages in Nunavut, social housing in Toronto, energy in Nova Scotia, and nuclear waste management in Canada. This past research has culminated in several peer-reviewed articles and a monograph (Deliberative Democracy for the Future [University of Toronto Press 2008 and Shinsen Sha 2011]). She has just finished a book-length manuscript tentatively entitled Democratic Paradox and Contextual Complexity. Recently, her volunteer work with women’s organizations in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has prompted her new research direction.
For the past three years, Johnson has volunteered in the kitchen, with fundraising projects, and as a contributor to Front and Centre for the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and WISH Drop-In Centre Society in Vancouver. Johnson has found volunteering a “deeply rewarding and eye-opening experience” that “prompted more of a gender focus in her scholarship.”
Through this experience, her twin interests in policy and gender came together in a new focus on examining the implementation of sex work policies in Canada. Johnson’s project is at an early stage of research. It will be located at the intersection of federal law and municipal policy, where federal laws on prostitution are implemented through local practices, programs, and guidelines.
She plans to look at cities across Canada to find out how local community actors are interpreting, contesting, negotiating or enforcing the law. For example, in Vancouver, Johnson will focus on how civil society advocacy and support organizations, Vancouver City Hall, and law enforcement agencies work with or against each other in local efforts to minimize the risks faced by sex workers.
This is a critical time for such research. Currently, Canada’s prostitution laws are under review by the Supreme Court of Canada. In 2007, Terri Jean Bedford brought a case to the Ontario Superior Court challenging the constitutionality of Canada’s laws regulating prostitution, specifically the “Bawdy House”, “Living on the Avails” and “Communicating” Laws.
In June 2013 the Supreme Court of Canada heard the case; their decision is expected in early-2014. If the Supreme Court rules that these laws are unconstitutional, then it would likely be up to municipalities to determine under what conditions and where the sex trade can take place in the city; the dynamics between sex workers, community organizations, and municipal officials could take on increased significance.
Johnson’s research on the regulation of sex work, from the laws to the streets, may therefore provide a grassroots perspective for analyzing a new period in this policy area in Canada. She anticipates local communities will respond differently to anticipated changes in federal law, with responses depending on the specific histories and dynamics between sex workers and their organizations and local channels of governance.