How Laws Regulate Migrant Sex Workers in Canada: To Protect or to Harm?


  • Yee Ling Elene Lam McMaster University


migrant, immigration, race, racism, trafficking, law, legal, sex workers


Migrant sex workers in Canada are regulated and affected by a web of laws and policies at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels. This article lays out how these laws and policies, which claim to protect migrant workers, govern and harm their lives. Focusing on the experiences of migrants of Asian descent, this article explores how ill-conceived anti-trafficking laws and enforcement, including sex work-related criminal law, immigration laws that target and prohibit sex work, provincial human trafficking laws, and municipal laws regulating body rub services, conflate sex work with trafficking and further endanger migrant sex workers.

Author Biography

Yee Ling Elene Lam, McMaster University

Elene Lam (LLM, LLB, MSW, BSW) is currently doing her PhD in the School of Social Work at McMaster University. She is studying the harm of anti-trafficking policies. She is the founder and Executive Director of Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network). She has used diverse and innovative approaches to advocate social justice for migrant sex workers, e.g. leadership building and community mobilization. She has been involved in sex worker, racial justice, gender, migrant and labour movements for over 20 years. She has conducted training and presentations to community members, services providers and policy makers on sex work, migration, anti-oppressive practice and human rights in Canada, US, Asia, Europe and Australia. She is a member of the Minister’s Advisory Council on Gender-Based Violence and provides insights and recommendations to the federal government. She was also invited to join the City of Toronto Mayor's Round Table to provide advice on developing policy on anti-asian racism and is on the steering committee of the National Forum on Anti-Asian Racism at the University of British Columbia. She is the recipient of the Constance E. Hamilton Award for Women’s Equality (City of Toronto).



How to Cite

Lam, Y. L. E. (2023). How Laws Regulate Migrant Sex Workers in Canada: To Protect or to Harm?. Canadian Review of Social Policy Revue Canadienne De Politique Sociale, 82. Retrieved from