Print media from 2004

 

Swinger clubs are now legal-is prostitution next?

HUNTSVILLE FORESTER BY KATY PEPLINSKIE

Wednesday, January 4, 2004

Swingers’ clubs — bastions for orgies, voyeurism and partner-swapping — are now legal in Canada. The Supreme Court sanctioned them after resolving that harm, rather than community standards, should be the criterion used to determine the point at which constitutional freedoms may be limited.

Of course, no change is immune to the butterfly effect. The court’s decision has prompted the question of whether the decriminalization of prostitution should be next. After all, why should it be legal to have sex in a swingers’ club, but not in a brothel, some ask

“People just don’t want it in their backyard and they don’t want to see it and
they don’t want to know about it.”

— Amy Lebovitch, sex trade worker

Valerie Scott, a veteran sex worker and the executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC), says the Supreme Court has created a “jump-off point” for sex workers. As long as those in the sex industry can prove to the Supreme Court that their work doesn’t cause Canadians harm, prostitutes may be able to practice their profession with no holds barred, she explains. “And make no mistake,” Scott adds. “Taking this before the Supreme Court is something we fully intend to do.” Twenty-seven-year-old Amy Lebovitch who has been a sex worker for 11 years, agrees with Scott. She insists that Canada’s prohibition of prostitution has everything to do with ‘community standards’ and nothing to do with ‘harm.’

“People just don’t want it in their backyard and they don’t want to see it and they don’t want to know about it,” she says. Lebovitch argues that the harm inflicted on thousands of sex workers would decline substantially if the legal system were on their side. “The illegal nature of the sex trade has a dramatic impact on the safety and rights of those working in the industry. Street level prostitutes are criminalized by Canada’s laws against solicitation and are less likely to ask for police protection when at risk,” agrees New Democrat Libby Davies, who spearheaded the standing committee on Justice and Human Rights, which is reviewing Canada’s solicitation laws. “It is time we stop treating these women like disposable garbage, ignoring the risks posed to communities by the contradictory legal framework that surrounds the sex trade.”

Numerous studies have shown that the majority of sex workers have received medical treatment for physical injuries they received on the job. And in the ‘90s, murders of prostitutes made up five per cent of the overall homicide rate of women in Canada.

The mistreatment of prostitutes needs to be thought of as a hazard to the trade, and an abuse to human rights and labour standards — not as a condition that sex workers bring upon themselves, says JoBindman of Anti-Slavery International. Ann Jordan of the International Human Rights Law Group presents the following analogy: “We don’t support a woman’s right to choose [whether to have a baby or not] because we think abortion is a great thing, but because we believe fundamentally that women should have control over their own reproductive capacity. The same argument can be made for prostitution. Womenwho decide... to sell sex should have the right to control their own body.”

Of course, many people are also fighting against decriminalization. Melissa Farley, an activist-feminist who spoke before Davies’ subcommittee last March, argues that decriminalization would do little to help sex workers. What prostitutes truly need is drug and alcohol addiction treatment, job training and counselling, she stresses. In essence, they need help escaping the streets, not staying on them.

However, those arguing for decriminalization say they also want to give prostitutes these supports. But since the world’s oldest profession isn’t going anywhere, sex workers also need a way to ply their profession more safely — something which has proven difficult under Canada’s current legal system. Various groups, including SPOC and the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, are pushing to have politicians address the conflicting rules surrounding the sex industry. “People have a lot of questions because they have a lot of misinformation... It is way overdue for a national debate on this to happen,” adds Scott.

The opinions of three Parry-Sound-Muskoka candidates on swingers’clubs and prostitution are printed below.

The Green Party’s Glen Hodgson says that while he typically encourages other activities that are “more wholesome and healthy” than swinging, he’s not opposed to the Supreme Court’s decision. He says that “society is changing and the laws need to reflect this.” He adds that the decriminalization of prostitution might be a logical next step, since it might improve sex workers’ safety. “We want to ensure that the people in these trades are protected and supported. By driving something underground, you leave the women involved without support and no way of protection,” he says. “We can’t just pretend [prostitution] doesn’t exist and that the related problems don’t exist,” Hodgson adds.

Conservative candidate Tony Clement says he is disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize swingers’ clubs. “I find myself shaking my head and thinking that this is an example of how our values are being degraded by an unelected body,” he says. “The public good is not advanced when decisions are made in a vacuum.” Clement is particularly bothered by the court’s decision that harm, rather than community standards, has become the yardstick by which to measure which activities are acceptable. “There are lots of things that may not be harmful but which we decide as a society to be unacceptable,” he says. Clement reasons that the Supreme Court’s ruling may open the door to the decriminalization of prostitution, explaining that it’s “hard to separate these two.” When asked if he would support the decriminalization of prostitution he says he is uncertain. “We’d have to have a very big public debate if that were to become the law of the land.” “I doubt if Canadians would be open to that right now,” he adds.

Liberal incumbent Andy Mitchell says that swinging “is not the kind of behaviour [he] would find appropriate.” He also says that the new legislation will need to be applied in a way that ensures that those people not taking part in swinging “wouldn’t be subject to that kind of behaviour. “It would have to take place in private and would have to be consensual... and the activity could not be causing harm to society at large,” he stresses. When asked if he thinks the decriminalization of prostitution might follow if advocates proved to the Supreme Court that it causes no harm, Mitchell replies that “the court, in offering its judgement, did not appear to speak to that. “I think there would have to be some broad-based studies done to fully examine [the idea,]” he adds. “We would need input from a wide range of society.” When it was pointed out to him that Libby Davies is currently heading a standing committee on prostitution and has already spoken with international experts who support the idea, he adds that “the government has no intention of putting forward legislation at this time.”

NDP candidate Jo-Anne Boulding says she is unable to comment on the issue as she doesn’t know the details surrounding the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision. She explains that since she is currently traveling in Ireland, she does not have access to Canadian media sources.


SHOW 32 - Prostitution, Should it be Legal in Canada?

Nov. 3, 2004

GentleAura  Valerie, welcome to the Flirt Show,we are glad to have you here. Our show deals with alot of sexual issues and our mission is to educate the masses on sexual and/or sexual related topics.

I am sure SPOC (formerly CORP) is an organization that not too many are aware of .. but should be. www.spoc.ca

For the viewers who arent familiar with SPOC, can you please tell us what it stands for and a little bit of history?
Valerie  SPOC stands for Sex Professionals of Canada. We were originally known as The Canadian Organizaion for the rights of Prostitutes. Our organization was founded in 1983 and our entire raison detre is to get the federal government to decriminalize sex work.

GentleAura  What are the differences between legalization and decriminalization?
Valerie  Legalization views prostitution as a vice that must be heavily containted and controlled. In places that have legalized systems such as Amsterdam, Nevada, etc. women must go to the police station and register as prostitutes where they are finger printed, photographed and must give very detailed personal information about themselves to the police. Once they have obtained their licence, which are quite costly, they then audition at a legal brothel. It is usually 12 hour shifts, the woman has no right of refusal, ie. if a customer comes in and wants a certain kind of sex and the woman is not comfortable with that, she still has to do it.
GentleAura  WHAT?? Ok .. let me make sure I am understanding this ...

In certain places, a woman can actually register as a prostitute and has to AUDITION?? WHO does she audition for? Who provides the individuals that she auditions with? AND ... how come she cannot refuse to do sexual acts that she is not comfortable with??
Valerie  Yes, that is correct. The brothel manager auditions her. As for no right of refusal, well that is legalization.
GentleAura  What else is entailed in legalization?
Valerie  In legalized systems, typically the house takes 50% and the government takes another 25% right off the top. So, we, after have been charged by the house for such basics like soap, clean sheets, in some cases condoms, are lucky to take home 25% after WE have done the actual work. So, who in their right mind would work under those conditions? In Amsterdam, it is women from empoverished eastern European countries, in the state of Victoria in Australia - it is women from Thailand, in these countries, the prostitutes that have citizenship all work illegally so you end up with a little red light sex ghetto and then you end up with another area that is illegal. People think that if it is legalized that it would be in just one area and all the women will work there and there would be no more problems. Nothing could be further than the truth.
GentleAura  Valerie, what exactly is legal and illegal when it comes to prostitution?
Valerie  In Canada, it is legal to be a prostitute but not legal to practice the profession. In other words, it is not a status offence however, it is illegal to communicate for the purposes of prostitution in a public place or in public. It is illegal to operate out of ones own home, however discreetly that may occur. It is also illegal for us to have any kind of third party managing system. When youre busted under the bawdy house section of the criminal code(section 210) penalties can be up to 2 years in prison also, because the bawdy house section falls under the enterprise crime law, the state can freeze and seize all your assets. The police can and do show up with moving vans. They also seize your bank account. You are left with nothing. If you are convicted all of your assets are forfeited to the crown. If you are found not guilty, several months later the police will return your belongings and reinstate your bank accounts.
Romy Do you think the sex business should be regulated like in some European countries like Holland or Denmark?
Valerie  Hi Romy ..

No, I think it is a disaster. This has been a disaster for the women. While men may walk around the red light districts and think how enlightened the country is, believe me, it is not enlightening for the people working. It is a prison.
GentleAura  Valerie, I might open up a can of worms here, but in your comment about the government taking 25% right off the top ...

As it is now, people in the workforce, regardless of what they do ARE being taken advantage of by the government and the taxes that we already pay. Some would argue that a prostitute, who chooses do engage in that line of work ... might very well think .. work is work and we all pay taxes .. what is the difference?

I am just throwing out a thought ...
Valerie  We have no problem with paying fair business taxes. In fact we would like to do this and many escorts do. But when we are treated like a bottle of alcohol or a package of cigarettes and slapped with a SIN tax, that is where we strenuously OBJECT. We should pay at the same rate as any other small business owner. Many Canadian prostitues do ... including myself.
GentleAura  Lets talk about decriminalization .. you explained legalization .. so what IS the difference?
Valerie  Decriminaliztion views prostitution as a legitimate and necessary business. Its implementation would entail removing prostitution related offences from the Canadian criminal code for adults involved in this industry. In places that HAVE decriminaliztion such as the state of New South Whales - Australia, sex professionals operate freely. Without the threat of charges, and/or the states seizing their assets and bank accounts. Brothel licences are not required so women can open up their operations.
Valerie  Individual sex workers do not require a licence. A good compromise is that women working on the street may not operate within 200 meters of a place of worship, a school, or a hospital. That is fair.
Valerie  It is extremely rare in Syndey for a sex professional to be assaulted and when it DOES occur, the police and courts take it VERY seriously which is most certainly NOT the case in Canada. It works very well. I went over there and met with many of the women, toured many of the brothels. Some brothels are super fancy with 6 foot fountains in the foyer and theme rooms, while others are your basic 2 bedroom apartment. Women can work for a fancy brothel or they can set up their own operation, whichever they choose.
GentleAura  Ok. Thank you for clearing that up. I think many of our viewers, including myself were not aware of the differences.

S.P.O.C is then ... trying to decriminalize prostitution for the safety of all people involved.
I would like to know on what basis you are approaching the govt to legalize prostitution?
GentleAura  Hi .. thanks for your question. Just to make it clear, Valerie is not trying to legalize prostitution. She is in fact trying to decriminalize it.

Valerie, would you like to comment on this?
Valerie  Yes, I would.

Since 1983, our members have been speaking at conferences, universities, and doing media. Clearly it is not enough. In 1990, a supreme court canada case about the communicating law that we were involved in, unfortunately did not pan out. We lost. However, we are now working with the committee to abolish the 19th century headed by gay bath house owner Peter Bochove. His bath house was the original Toronto bath house that was busted and trashed in 1981.
Valerie  Because gay bath houses are also hit with bawdy house charges they are equally as fed up as we are. This committee is very focused and primarily business people and I find, while I love activists and academics, it is business people who tend to really get things done in this country.
GentleAura  We tend to associate prostitution with women, however, there are men in the gay community. Does SPOC fight for them as well? What rights (if any) do gay prostitutes have?
Valerie  YES! SPOC has male members. Their rights (or lack of them) all fall under the same umbrella. Male hustlers do not have to usually put up with getting busted as often as the women do. Some think it is because male police do not like posing as their customers. However, male sex professionals must deal with homophobia which females do not have to tend with.
Karly Have you had any bad/dangerous situations as a sex trade worker? Have you been hassled by the police?
Valerie  Hi Karly ..
I have not had many bad experiences. I screen my clients very carefully. They must call from an listed land line and I must be able to find them in the white pages. However, I was robbed once by a client. I went to Parkdale legal clinic and explained the situation. They said that I could sue him, they drafted a letter, stating he owed x amount for sexual services rendered on such and such a date, he had 10 business days to appear at Parkdale with a certified check in trust to me. Or we would proceed in civil court. Of course I would have called all the media, within hours of his receiving the registered letter, he was at Parkdale with a certified check.
GentleAura  What a Jacka$$. GOOD for you for taking the proper measures in screening your clients and standing up for yourself when being taken advantage of.

How about the other women out there? If the same thing was to happen to them ... do they have the confidence and the knowledge to seek out resources like you did to get your money back?
Valerie  Many have the confidence but lack the knowledge of what resources exist. Also, although it is changing slowly, many women are still in the closet about their work. It neutralizes them when it comes to doing anything about these kinds of situations. However, some do call S.P.O.C with information about bad clients and we publish it on our website.
GentleAura  What about those women who do not have access to the computer, let alone the internet? How does S.P.O.C. communicate to these women? Or do you rely on word of mouth.
Valerie  Unfortunately are not a common, everyday tool like a cell phone ... YET. What we have done is for the last few months we meet monthly with many difference agencies from all over Toronto and we pool all our information on bad clients. That is then published into a booklet and handed out to the women. It is updated monthly.
Concerned John How is it legal for you to post the full names, phone numbers, addresses, photos, etc. of individuals on your website before they have even been charged with any crimes? Is that not libellous? Does it not contravene the new privacy laws?
Valerie  It contravenes the OLD privacy laws. We have a large disclaimer ontop of the page, which is meaningless in court. There has already been one attempt to sue us but some of the girls came forward and gave affidavit evidence and he backed off. But yes, this page does leave us open to libel lawsuits, which we welcome.
John Are you hot?
GentleAura  She is hot with passion in her efforts in decriminalizing prostititution.

Thanks for your question.
Sarah In your experience, do prostitutes want decriminalization? Do they want to BE prostitutes, or enjoy it, or are they a product of their environment?
Valerie  Every prostitute rights organizations world wide calls for decriminalization. I have never met a sex professional who would prefer to work in the legalized system.

Prostitution is a JOB. Many in this business like the job. Contrary to popular belief prostitutes are not all victims of childhood sexual abuse.
Valerie  A huge percentage of Canadian women were sexually abused as children. According to Stats Can (I cant remember the exact number) but it is over 50%. Yet, 50% of Canadian women are not prostitutes. So there are alot of reasons why a woman would go into this profession. It can be a very lucrative, good job ... But it is THAT .. a JOB, not a lifestyle.
Hi Val,

While I admire your efforts, I think some sort legalization is needed as the industry really doesnt police itself well. Im aware that there are safety concerns for the folks who offer the services, but at the same time there is no recourse for folks who use the service and get billed out of money for misrepresentation of services etc.
Valerie  Youve brought up a very good point. Until we get this profession decriminalized, I cannot see how we an set up a professional governing association. But yes, it would be a good idea.
GentleAura  Valerie, you mentioned earlier about activists and business professionals .. and contributions.

If there are people out there business professionals, companies, organizations, etc who would LIKE to financially support S.P.O.C, how do they go about doing that?
Valerie  We are grateful for any contributions, however, people should be made aware that we are viewed as way too political to have charitable status. Contact me and will provide them with the information required should they wish to help.
Valerie  I would like to mention that on December 17th S.P.O.C. will be hosting an event to mark Internationl Sex Worker Day. We will be having a short panel discussion with QA, followed by a party. We decided all these marches, demos .. why not have some fun, especially around the holidays. For more information people can visit www.spoc.ca
GentleAura  NO, it is not an orgy. It is going to be more of a meet and greet, dance, eat food, have fun type of environment.

This is an AFTER WORK function. Meaning it is truly a party ..
Mitch I agree with your stance but I dont see how the government can do anything about it as long as the people who stand for so-called family values are in power.
Valerie  Hi Mitch:
People with family values were in power May 14th 1968, when then, justice minister, Pierre Trudeau decriminalized (not legalized) gay and lesbian sex, and birth control. It takes a leader with intelligence, vision and passion to bring these kinds of changes about and truly make difference. Unfortunately, we have not had a leader like that since. It is for this reason that we will proceed law by law to the supreme court of Canada.
GentleAura  Valerie, thank you so much for enlightening myself and the viewers. You have brought to our attention differences in legalization and decriminalization ... difference I doubt many of us were aware of.

I wish you and S.P.O.C. so much love and support. I hope that your efforts for decriminalization are successful ... it sounds like a long and rocky road but ... well worth efforts by all those involved.
Valerie  Thank you it has been my pleasure. Hopefully we can do it again sometime soon.
p GentleAura  Thank you to our viewers for participating. See you all next week.

Gentle

Dont forget, you can visit Valeries website at www.spoc.ca. Read some of the horrible stories. Valarie says they are true instances/events ... all the reason why Valerie is on a mission to decriminalize prostitution.