Print media from 2007

{Begining with most recent}


Details on 'bad date' website challenged
DAKSHANA BASCARAMURTY | Globe and Mail
December 21, 2007


(Please CLICK HERE for SPOC's response to this article)

An advocacy group trying to alert prostitutes about "bad dates" is posting personal information about men accused of abusive behaviour - but some of that information appears to be questionable.

Dozens of reports of alleged assault and other undesirable behaviour have been posted on the Sex Professionals of Canada's website since 2003, alongside the personal information of clients, including their phone numbers and addresses.

Some of those phone numbers led to men who said they were wrongly implicated. They said they were unhappy to learn of allegations that they not only hired prostitutes, but mistreated them.

Similar Canadian organizations only circulate these "bad trick sheets" among prostitutes or support agencies. But a spokesperson for the Toronto-based Sex Professionals of Canada said "the risk of [those listed] being upset" isn't enough to make its lists private.

"The chances of people being up there that haven't done something is zero. People don't make false reports. They just don't," said Amy Lebovitch, a prostitute who maintains the lists.

Mike, a 28-year-old whose name, physical description and phone number were on the website with the allegation he harassed a transgendered prostitute, said in a phone interview he did not know anything about prostitutes or why he was listed. His mother agreed.

"We don't know anything about that. He has a compulsive disorder. He's always on medication." she said.

Valerie Scott, executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada, said the group gets affidavits from most prostitutes before publishing reports on the website.

At one number listed as a "waste of timer," two men said they were shocked to hear their number was on the website.

"Our number is on a prostitute website?" one asked. "I guess the number changed or something."

"Oh God. ... how do we get our number off there?" the other asked.

Questioned about this example, Ms. Lebovitch said there was a chance some of the published addresses and numbers may have been reassigned.

She has only ever taken down one listing after her group received a letter warning of legal action, she said.

Mark Robins, an investigative consultant, said he e-mailed Sex Professionals of Canada immediately after he found his name listed on the group's "undesirable clients" list more than two years ago.

"When I contacted them, I was kind of dumbfounded. I have never used those kind of professional services before," he said.

The listing said Mr. Robins refused to refund the money of the prostitute who hired him, lost a small claims court case over the matter and then posted the prostitute's name online to ruin her business.

The website lists his name and links to his company's website.

"I said, 'You can't put this stuff up there without supporting proof.' I was assured that it would be removed, but apparently that hasn't happened," he said.

Mr. Robins said he didn't take legal action against Sex Professionals of Canada because the organization "probably didn't have the funding" to handle a legal battle and Canada's Internet privacy laws "are full of loopholes."

Other Canadian groups said they keep their lists confidential because they aren't out to name-and-shame alleged johns, but to protect prostitutes.

Stella's, a group in Montreal, lets only prostitutes and support agencies see its list.

"We don't usually print full licence plates or full names since they're not official reports. We can't guarantee that the information is correct," said mobilization co-ordinator Jennifer Clamen.

Victoria-based Prostitutes Empowerment, Education and Resource Society produces a bad-trick sheet, but only distributes hard copies to prostitutes in person, often in nightly "drive-bys."

The special victims section of the Toronto police sex crimes unit regularly monitors reports of assault or "undesirable" behaviour on the Sex Professionals of Canada's website, since prostitutes are often more willing to confide in support groups, Detective Constable Nathan Dayler said.

The Toronto group's website is still a useful tool for police, even though some of the information might be wrong, he added.

"They get a lot of information that the police don't receive," he said.

While police get 10 to 40 monthly calls - more than the advocacy group - the reports to police are less detailed.

Det. Constable Dayler said the problem with hard copies of bad-trick sheets is they don't reach prostitutes who work out of their homes rather than on the streets.


Facebook group about prostitute assault 'blown out of proportion:' member Site represents the 'tip of an iceberg of hatred,' counters outreach group

Thursday, November 1, 2007 | 4:56 PM CT CBC News

(Please CLICK HERE for SPOC's response to this article)

A woman who joined a controversial Facebook group whose members share stories about throwing objects at Winnipeg prostitutes, says the group is a reflection of people's dissatisfaction with the city.

More than 50 people had joined the group, called "For those people who have thrown something at those lovely girls on Higgins," by Wednesday. Members of a Facebook group brag about throwing items such as pennies and beverage containers at sex-trade workers in Winnipeg. (CBC)

"I could never, would never have imagined it would be blown out of proportion as to such an extent as it is," Nicole, one of the group's members, told CBC News on Thursday.

The 19-year-old Nicole, who spoke to CBC on the condition that her last name not be used, admitted to throwing muffins at prostitutes on Higgins Avenue as a "Gate Night" prank about six years ago.

Nicole said the group is "an expression of anger" towards "disgusting" conditions in the city generally, and in the area of Higgins Avenue specifically.

"That street just has such a high populace of that. It's so concentrated there … it's so normalized there that you drive down there and they're everywhere. And it's disgusting to see. And I understand, like, child prostitution's terrible, but our city is just overrun," she said.

"It's just going downhill so fast. I won't even walk down Main Street by myself because I don't want to get robbed, or I don't want to get shanked … like, why should we have to live in something like this?"

Another member of the group posted a message saying he'd thrown "Tim bits" at sex-trade workers, saying "you can be pretty accurate with them."

Yet another bragged about throwing more than a dozen Slurpees in one night at the same woman. "Good times," he commented.

'Tip of an iceberg of hatred'

Gloria Enns, an outreach worker who counsels sex-trade workers at Sage House in Winnipeg, said the ugly pranks being discussed online are real.

"They are not just talking about it and internet e-mailing about it, but they're actually doing it. We've had women who were assaulted with thrown bricks in their face. One had a full bottle of beer thrown in her face," she said.

"I know that those people on the site represent a tip of an iceberg of hatred out there, and of people who are willing to be violent against women."

Winnipeg police said they are looking into the site's content and its members. Throwing an object at someone could be considered assault, they said, and charges could be laid.

Counter-group launched

Facebook administrators said anything abusive, threatening, or hateful is not permitted on the site. CBC News called Facebook to see if the group will be shut down, but calls were not immediately returned.

In the meantime, more than 300 people have joined another Facebook group calling for the shutdown of the "For those people who have thrown something at those lovely girls on Higgins" group.

"I started thinking about what Mahatma Gandhi says, that the test of a civilization is the way, you know, that we treat our most vulnerable members," said Clayton Wilson, who established the counter group.

"In Canada, we like to think of ourselves as a very liberal society, very tolerant, you know, we have multiculturalism, so-called, however when you look at something like this — on Facebook, which is a public forum — and people that really think that it equates the norm or something, that it's perfectly acceptable, then it kind of makes you ask some questions about Canadian society."

Nicole expressed disdain for the people trying to have the original group shut down.

"I just find it interesting how free speech is only allowed so long as it conforms to the prevailing political doctrine, and you don't say something that is contrary to that," she said. "Wow. I'm just still in shock."

(Please CLICK HERE for SPOC's response to this article)


Cleaning up the capital

Community groups hail 'Dear John' letters

Andrew Seymour, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Ottawa police will soon begin to send letters to the homes of anyone caught cruising the streets for prostitutes. Police liken the letters to a public service announcement. Civil liberties groups, however, call the practice inflammatory and say it's not the job of police to 'enforce morality.'

Ottawa police Supt. Gilles Larochelle, holding an example of a letter that will be sent to people identified picking up a prostitute, found in the company of a prostitute or frequenting known prostitution areas, says police aren't trying to 'shame' people. 'People are accountable for their actions,' he said. 'This letter will hold them accountable.'

Anyone caught trawling Ottawa's streets for prostitutes will soon have a letter sent to their home by police telling them to stay out of those neighbourhoods while also warning of the dangers of the sex trade.

Starting next week, Ottawa police will start sending out "community safety" letters that include the time, date and location the recipient was observed by officers in areas known to be frequented by prostitutes.

In addition to detailing the potential health hazards associated with street prostitution, such as HIV and hepatitis, the letter explains the harm it causes to the community and asks the recipient to "do your part" by "refraining from bringing your vehicle into this area unnecessarily."

"I view this letter as a public service announcement," said Ottawa police Supt. Gilles Larochelle yesterday. "It is clearly informing the individual that he is to keep away from areas frequented by sex trade workers."

Police are following the lead of at least two other major Canadian cities -- Edmonton and Vancouver -- that send, or at one time sent, similar letters to men suspected of visiting street prostitutes.

But civil liberties groups have slammed the "Dear John" letters, suggesting the strategy is unnecessary, especially considering that the people who receive the letters have not been charged with any crime.

"Sending letters to suspects' houses is inflammatory and certainly disproportionate to any benefits associated with the charge and infringes privacy," said B.C. Civil Liberties Association president Jason Gratl, whose group opposed the introduction of a similar letter in Vancouver eight years ago.

In 2002, the association's opposition was recognized by B.C.'s freedom of information and privacy commissioner, David Loukidelis, who said the controversial practice of sending letters to people's homes -- while legal -- was an "over-intrusive practice."

Although they continued sending the letters at the time, Vancouver police said they have since terminated the program.

"If the objective is to deter the individual, they can do so orally or hand out a Dear John letter at the time they are collecting the information," said Mr. Gratl, who also questioned whether police have the right to tell people where they can and can't travel.

"It seems entirely unnecessary and potentially socially catastrophic for johns, or attempted johns, or someone in the wrong place at the wrong time, to receive such a letter to their home where it could be opened by their spouse or children."

Jack MacKinnon, president of the National Capital Region Civil Liberties Association, said he also worries about the consequences of a letter ending up in the wrong hands. He doesn't understand why police need to send a letter when a conversation should suffice.

"I don't know if the police should be in the business of breaking up marriages," he said. "I don't think the police have the job of enforcing morality."

But Ottawa police maintain the intent of the program is to address community concerns and educate sex trade consumers about the connection to the drugs, particularly crack cocaine, and its negative impact on neighbourhoods such as Hintonburg, Vanier, Lowertown and Centretown.

"It's the police's place to provide safety and security to the community," said Supt. Larochelle, adding the project is expected to run for a year before being re-evaluated.

"The letter clearly states their actions are a risk to the safety of the community."

It is not meant to "shame" or "embarrass" anyone, said Supt. Larochelle.

"This letter is meant for the individual who drove the vehicle. It is not meant for the owner of the vehicle or a member of the family," he said, adding he was "not comfortable" sending letters to the registered owners of vehicles for that reason.

Letters will be sent to men who are identified while picking up a prostitute or found in the company of a prostitute. They will also be sent to those who police identify as continually stopping and talking to prostitutes or continually driving around neighbourhoods prostitutes are known to frequent, said Supt. Larochelle.

Unlike Edmonton police, who send letters to the registered owners of vehicles based on calls from the public, Ottawa police will only send letters to people identified and investigated by police officers, he said.

Supt. Larochelle said the letters will not be sent to the homes of men who are criminally charged with solicitation or who are caught in a police sting and qualify for the pre-charge diversion program known as John school.

"People are accountable for their actions. This letter will hold them accountable," he said.

The program is receiving praise from community groups who are fed up with street prostitution and open drug use around their homes.

"(The johns) fuel the drug trade. They are the starting money. The prostitutes need the money from them to buy the drugs," said Cheryl Parrott of the Hintonburg Community Association.

Ms. Parrott said the community welcomes any initiative that could help discourage johns from coming into their neighbourhood.

"There's nothing worse than standing at the school bus stop with your kid and there is a squishy condom there," said Ms. Parrott. "They impact everyone who lives here. The school kids, the parents, the families, the businesses. They impact all of us for a cheap thrill."

Staff Sgt. Bill Spinks of the Edmonton police vice squad said he believes the letters have successfully deterred johns from visiting high prostitution areas in that city.

"We've never had a repeat customer, so I guess that is a sign that it is working," said Staff Sgt. Spinks, who admitted the true value of the letters was hard to measure.

He said Edmonton's letter campaign is part of their "Report-a-John" program, which allows members of the public to call in information about vehicles they see in high prostitution areas. A criminal analyst then reviews the information as part of a series of "checks and balances" to prevent abuse of the system, he said.

Once police are satisfied the information is reliable, Staff Sgt. Spinks sends the letter. They have only had to retract one letter after the person who received it was "adamant" it wasn't him, he said.

Edmonton police Insp. Brian Nowlan said police have sent the letters for more than a decade, although the program was only expanded to allow the public to report johns in June 2006.

Staff Sgt. Spinks said Edmonton police have few concerns about whether a wife, family member or employer ultimately receives the letter.

"If you want to take the risk of driving your wife's car down there, then your wife will get the letter," he said. "She should know if you are having sex with a prostitute down in those areas. The health information outweighs the not knowing."

But one group representing Canadian sex workers believes the Ottawa police measure will be "fool's gold" for community associations, since there is no hard evidence the letters actually reduce the volume of street prostitution.

"The police are supposed to investigate crimes. They are not supposed to act like grandmothers handing out a moral shaming," said Valerie Scott, of the Toronto-based advocacy group Sex Professionals of Canada.

Ms. Scott said she doubts the tactic will work.

"Sex and money are more powerful than any police force or government in history," she said, adding any short-term success might actually put sex workers at greater risk as they compete for fewer clients.

The letter campaign is one of several new police strategies aimed at cleaning up drug use and prostitution on Ottawa's streets.

Police are forming an eight-officer street crime team to specifically target street prostitution and drug crimes, particularly crack cocaine dealers and users in downtown neighbourhoods. The team will be made up of officers from the central east and central west neighbourhood sections. Police are currently in the process of selecting and training the officers, Supt. Larochelle said.

As of yesterday, six officers also started walking the beat on downtown streets such as Wellington, Rideau, Bank and Elgin, in an effort to be more visible and combat street crime.

aseymour@thecitizen.canwest.com


59 arrested in hooker sweeps
SEX LAWS / Decriminalize, queer activists urge

Lorianne Garrison / Capital Xtra / Thursday, August 16, 2007

Three summer prostitution sweeps — one each in June, July and August — have netted at least 59 men and women in Ottawa in recent weeks. Police arrested most of them through stings which hooker activists call "dehumanizing" and "counterproductive."
Uniformed and plain-clothes officers, working in "lure and catch" teams of three to five officers, solicit and then arrest people involved with sex work, explains Roley Campbell, an Ottawa Police officer. Teams use a female officer posing as a prostitute or as a male officer posing as a john as bait.

That process is dehumanizing, says Amy Lebovitch, a Toronto sex worker. With Sex Professionals Of Canada, Lebovitch is part of an growing group of women advocating for the decriminalization of their work.

"Sweeps shame [sex workers]. It definitely sends a clear message that these people aren't human, that they're just trash," she says.

These sweeps often accompany tourist season, Lebovitch points out and "until the community recognizes sex workers as part of the neighbourhood," police action will likely continue.

Gay sex has been tightly regulated by the government throughout most of Canada's history. When sex laws began to be relaxed in the 1970s, gay activists and sex workers formed a natural alliance to push government out of regulating how they use their bodies.

In Ottawa, sex workers are charged with a variety of offences including breach of recognizance, drug offenses, breach of parole conditions, prostitution-related offences and mischief.

The final charge of mischief, according to Terry Welsh of the Ottawa Police, is levied because of the community's reaction to sex work and because citizens often "call and place complaints."

Some johns are sent to a pre-charge diversion program known as John School. To qualify for this program, johns must have no criminal record, be a legal adult, have the desire to attend and must "show some sort of remorse." Prostitutes are often released with strict restrictions as to where they can be. They can be subject to curfews in an effort make it impossible for them to return to their previous "hooking" grounds.

Campbell admits, however, that this often leads to women simply ignoring their curfew and moving to other areas to ply their trade, defeating the purpose.

The whole exercise is counterproductive, Lebovitch says. If women are given stiff fines, they've got to go back to the streets to earn the money to pay them. And if they wind up with a criminal record, she says, it can limit their ability to get work in fields other than sex work — if or when they want to.

Under the Criminal Code Of Canada, the physical act of prostitution itself — two or more persons engaged in sexual acts for a fee — is not illegal. The code prohibits "procuring" the services of a prostitute and also "keeping a common bawdy house," which it defines as "a place kept or occupied or resorted to by one or more persons for the purposes of prostitution or the arts of indecency."

Bawdyhouse laws have also been used repeatedly to shut down gay bathhouses. Police tend to charge and release the names of hundreds of gay men, some closeted. The 2002 Goliath raids in Calgary, conducted under the provisions of Canada's bawdyhouse laws, are a painful reminder gays are still targeted by police for their sexual expression.

For prostitutes, the laws mean that the place where by a prostitute practices her trade — be it her home, a hotel or other place of residence — becomes an illegal habitation and all persons within are subject to the penalties for "keeping a bawdy house," an indictable offence which can carry a sentence of up to two years in prison.

With these women supporting themselves financially in part on their sex work, what are they supposed to do instead of hook in order to survive?

"Whatever they do in their normal lives when they aren't hooking," Campbell replies. "There are women's shelters if they need some place to live."

"We have complaints of parents of 16-year-old kids that johns mistake for prostitutes (in these areas) and then follow them home," says Campbell. "All of our sweeps are based on community complaints."

But even neighbourhood groups, usually bastions of conservative not-in-my-backyard types, aren't uniformly opposed to hooking.

Evan Soikie, the Chairperson for the Vanier branch of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations For Reform Now said many of his members have "mixed feelings" about the prostitution sweeps in their area. Although the community group is strongly opposed to "brothels" in their area, Soikie himself expresses some dissatisfaction with the sweeps, although he stresses he can not speak for the entirety of ACORN.

Soikie does not feel that the police are paying enough attention to the drug addiction issues many women face, and that his organization would like to see more addictions services in place.

"Generally, from what I've seen, the police go through and pick up (prostitutes) and then they're back on the streets in hours. We call it catch and release."

Soikie admits prostitution is a contentious issue among his members,

"A lot say they don't want them in their neighbourhood, but others say prostitution could be legalized," he says. "Whatever the solution is, prostitution is a number one concern in our community. Exactly what those solutions are, I can't say."

Peter Bochove says he knows.

Bochove is the gay chair of the Toronto-based Committee To Abolish The Nineteenth Century, a group which promotes modernized sex-laws. He says the best way to make communities safer — both for prostitutes and for the people who live there — is to decriminalize prostitution. The criminalization of prostitution, he says, forces prostitutes to carry out their business in undesirable and illicit ways, which contribute to both the community based issues which concern ACORN and to the safety of the prostitutes themselves.

"Current prostitution law puts these women in danger. The case of Robert Pickton [of British Columbia] is just one of many. These [prostitutes] are human beings and should be protected. It makes me sick," Bochove says.

Legalizing prostitution would also free up much-needed resources in the justice system, he adds, which are currently being "wasted" prosecuting those accused of prostitution offences.

"We're talking about consenting adults having sex for money and for the hell of it," he says. "The current prostitution law is created by a very judgemental society."


Sex work: the Charter v. the Criminal Code

With very little chance a federal Conservative government will change sex worker legislation, a group has come together to take the Criminal Code to court.

by Libby Davies
June 12, 2007

Libby Davies, left, with Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale, at Red Light Night.

It may well have been the first ever fundraiser in a racy night club with a can-can burlesque troupe to support a Charter challenge for sex worker rights in Canada.

Hosted by Goodhandy's Night Club in Toronto, and the Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC), special guests included Osgoode Hall professor and lawyer Alan Young, the Saucy Tarts, Shemale entertainer Mandy Goodhandy and DJ Nik Red, who launched the Red Light Night June 10 to raise funds for an important Charter challenge.

The legal challenge, led by professor Alan Young, began last week in the Ontario Superior Court. SPOC and others are challenging three provisions of the Criminal Code related to Canada's solicitation laws that they hope to strike down as violations of sections 7 (the right to life, liberty and security of the person) and 2(b) (freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Bringing this case is of utmost importance because despite the fact that prostitution is a legal occupation, the current Criminal Code provisions operate to deny sex workers safe legal options for conducting their legal business,” says Young. The legal challenge seeks the invalidation of sections 210 (keeping a bawdy-house), 212(1)(j) (living on the avails of prostitution), and section 213 (communicating for the purposes of prostitution).

“Ultimately, this fight is destined to go all the way to the Supreme Court,” notes Young. He says modest funding from legal aid will run out quickly. The case is supported by several lawyers and law student volunteers who are providing their services pro bono.

From 2003 to 2006, I participated in an all-party parliamentary committee that studied extensively the current laws pertaining to prostitution. After cross-Canada hearings, both in public and in-camera (a closed session), there was near unanimous agreement from the over 300 witnesses heard by the committee that the present regime concerning prostitution is unworkable, contradictory and harmful.

Although the committee’s report, issued December 2006, did not go as far as I had hoped in calling for law reform and decriminalization, the committee did agree that the status quo and application of the current laws is contradictory and unequal. The full report can be found here

I believe that consenting adult sexual activities, whether or not payment is involved, and that do not harm others, should not be prohibited by the state.

The federal government must come to terms with the contradictions and enormous harm caused by the present laws and engage in a process of law reform, leading to the decriminalization of these provisions.

However, the Conservative government in its official response to the committee’s report has made it clear it will not move in this direction.

As we saw with same-sex marriage, groundbreaking court challenges and decisions compelled governments to respond and change the law. This case may be another example of that. Even so, political pressure must be maintained, as Parliament has a responsibility to ensure the rights and safety of sex workers. I certainly intend to continue to do all I can, to keep that pressure up, Conservative government or not.

For too long, the voice of sex workers and their rights have been cast aside by moralistic attitudes and archaic laws that have created enormous harm, violence and death.

This case and the questions it challenges us to consider, provides an important opportunity to improve the rights, safety, and lives of sex workers. It represents months of hard work by legal and community advocates with supporting affidavits from sex workers, academics, and experts, as well as parliamentary and government reports on the issue.

The fundraising appeal June 10, at Goodhandy's was a fun, unique way, to literally “kick off” the fundraising drive and raise awareness about the issue. Mandy Goodhandy who hosted the fundraiser, hopes Red Light Night will become a regular event at the night club.

Information about the case and how to support it, can be found by contacting SPOC.

Libby Davies is the member of parliament for Vancouver East.


Make me a pimp as fast as you can

May 25, 2007 04:30 AM

by Emily Mathieu from The Star

Right now across the country an insidious army in oven mitts and aprons is working tirelessly to strengthen the ranks of the Canadian pimp.

Thanks to them, the purveyors of women's and men's flesh are multiplying like gremlins across our city centres and suburban enclaves. Well they are if you like to take a dead-serious, literal interpretation of the Canadian Criminal Code.

Forget full-length fur coats and a misogynistic attitude, in Canada all it takes is tucking into a slice of fresh baked banana bread, provided it's baked by a prostitute, to transform a person into a pimp.

That's the spin provided by Valerie Scott, a former sex worker and part of Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC), a national activist group based in Toronto. According to Scott, if the ingredients in the above mentioned-bread are purchased by a prostitute, eating the bread is a violation of Section 212 of the Canadian Criminal Code labelled "living on the avails."

Or in layman's terms, no pun intended, reaping rewards from sex work, basically being a pimp. It basically applies to anything bought or supported through money earned through prostitution and could mean criminal charges and potentially a sentence of up to 10 years, according to Scott.

In March the women of SPOC started the process of suing the federal government to toss this section, along with two others laid out in detail on spoc.ca, out of the Criminal Code. Their argument is that, as taxpaying citizens, prostitutes (who are required to file income tax) have the right to the protection, love and comfort offered by friends and family and denying that contact could lead to harm.

So why uphold a section of a law that discourages prostitutes from baking, making a partner lunch or buying a coffee for a friend?

If you take the position that a person who trades flesh for cash is so steeped in sin their corrupt morals can be transmitted through a tray of cookies the concept makes perfect sense.

With that in mind readers may want to pause and consider the harm a bake sale could cause. If a prostitute started dealing in wholesale cakes, it could be the end of civilized society as we know it.

God forbid, please feel free to insert the moral authority of your choice, marginalized women and men be allowed to participate in the kinds of daily activities the rest of society enjoys. If baking or buying a buddy a beer gets the green light, what's next – starting up a toddler soccer league?

We also should consider the well being of the children, not the children of prostitutes of course but the impact they could have on everyone else's.

These kids may be too young for criminal charges but anyone who has grown up living on the avails (diapers and graham crackers aren't free, you know) will probably amount to no good. Fortunately the law discourages prostitutes from having an adult living in the home, roommate or romantic partner, so the amount of interaction these kids can have with the rest of society is dramatically reduced. Thankfully no one's proved social isolation at an early age has ever resulted in negative consequences, or that one might be hard to debate.

Nobody panic, no matter what your stance; nothing is changing right away. The court process SPOCs involved in is going to take at least four years, provided it's uncontested. In the meantime that pimping problem still needs to be addressed. Who knows how many have been created through cooking alone since the women went to court in March?

Of course the concept that eating banana bread could actually turn someone into a pimp is a bit of a stretch. But it's something to mull over the next time you're licking the icing off a cupcake, or letting a friend buy you a cup of coffee.

Whether people should be allowed to sell themselves for the pleasure of others is complicated argument. But maybe their right to enjoy simple pleasures, to bestow them on others shouldn't be something we get to dispute.

Emily Mathieu is a Toronto freelance writer who enjoys reading literary classics, volunteering and rocking out to Journey's "Don't Stop Believing."

Councillor proposes red-light district

Rob Salerno / Xtra / Thursday, May 24, 2007

Toronto city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7 - York West) raised eyebrows on city council May 9 when he floated the idea of forcing Toronto's many so-called rub and tug massage parlours and holistic centres to relocate to a designated red-light district.

Mayor David Miller and other members of council were quick to distance themselves from Mammoliti's comments, and experts have noted that in order for any plan to become reality changes to the criminal code would need to be passed by the federal government.

The group Sex Professionals Of Canada (SPOC) was also hostile to Mammoliti's proposal, fearing that any move to force sex work into a red-light district would stigmatize workers and expose them to exploitation from brothel owners.

"His proposal to do a red-light district makes prostitution out to be immoral, like we have to be caged in some kind of zoo, and if we escape from it we might infect other people," says Amy Lebovitch, SPOC's executive director. SPOC has long advocated for decriminalization of prostitution without the restrictions that legalization would imply.

But Mammoliti says he's only interested in following up on a report from city staff on how other cities have handled prostitution. That report has yet to be delivered to council.

"They're our brothels in the city right now," Mammoliti says of the massage parlours. While rub and tugs rarely get the attention that street sex workers do, Mammoliti suggests that a red-light district for these parlours is just a first step in dealing with sex work in the city.

"I think there's two types of prostitution. I think the girls on the streets today primarily are suffering from some addiction. There's a clear difference between the two types of prostitutes. You obviously have to tackle that in a different way than the illegal brothels."

Lebovitch denied the link between sex workers and illegal drugs.

"It's easy to generalize that when you make something illegal it goes hand in hand with other illegal things," she says.

Media reports suggested Mammoliti proposed Toronto Island as a location for the red-light zone because it is also home to the city's only nude beach, Hanlan's Point, but Mammoliti denies singling out the island.

"The island theory came from the media, while I believe that every bit of Toronto needs to be studied and it needs to include the island," he says.

The proposal was also surprising coming from Mammoliti, as he is known to be a vigorous objector to the nude beach, once even removing his shirt in the council chamber in protest over public nudity.

Island residents were also cool to the idea red-light district, according to Mammoliti.

"It just irks me a bit when I hear from the island residents... when they were the first ones to embrace the nude beach... [that they are] opposed to the idea of the red-light district when it's well known that sex is rampant on the nude beach," Mammoliti says.

"I still maintain that families have stopped going to that portion of the island. But if families have stopped going to that portion of the island, why wouldn't they want to put holistic centres and massage parlours there? That's what I think is hypocritical," he says.

Lebovitch stresses that Mammoliti's proposal would perpetuate hardships and stigma for sex workers by forcing them to work in brothels.

"If it was legalized, we would have to pay an exorbitant fee to open a brothel. It would be heavily taxed and only certain people could afford to open one," she says. "We're not a vice, we don't need heavy taxes on us. It would limit the number of brothels that can be operated. If his plan were to go forward, the City Of Toronto would limit the number of licences that would be given out."

Lebovitch would prefer that the law were altered to allow sex professionals to work out of their own homes and independently.

"Why isn't it perfectly okay for me to have a date come over to my house?" she asks. "If I were a web designer working for myself, I could work from home."

But Mammoliti says that most residential-zoned neighbourhoods do not allow people to operate any businesses from their homes.

"They have to adhere to the same laws as any one of the commercial businesses would adhere to," he says.

No job in the city should be done under the public radar or out of the scope of public inspection, Mammoliti adds.

"I personally think that if the citizens of the city of Toronto feel that there's actually nothing wrong with it, let's tax it properly," he says. "That's why I want to have the debate. I don't think that any job in the city should be discreet."

Lebovitch also criticized Mammoliti for not consulting any sex workers before floating his policy idea. Mammoliti says he is open to discussing the plan with SPOC or other sex professional groups if they would like to meet with him.

Protecting whom?

By Denise Balkissoon

Prostitution is legal, but all the laws surrounding it leave sex workers vulnerable to abuse and violence on the job – a recently launched legal challenge aims to change that.

Valerie Scott is probably Canada's most famous whore. During her almost three decades in the sex trade, she's been a tireless campaigner for sex workers' rights. While it's not technically illegal to buy or sell sex in Canada, most of the activities surrounding prostitution are considered crimes, and Scott believes these laws do more harm than good.

Like “communicating for the purpose of prostitution,” a statute enacted in 1985. The law may be targeted at johns and pimps and at discouraging sidewalk negotiations, but its wording makes sex workers nervous to discuss their trade among themselves. Before the communicating crime became law, Scott and her friends worked in pairs or trios, keeping an eye out for each other.

“The date knew that he was seen and his car was seen,” says Scott, currently the executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada. “If my girlfriend got worried, she'd call in his licence.” When the law changed, Scott moved indoors. Working at home is safer physically, but carries much greater legal risk: communicating carries a penalty of $2,000 and up to six months in jail; the charge of running a common bawdy house can result in two years imprisonment and an unlimited fine. Under enterprise crime law, a prostitute's bank account can be frozen and her home and possessions confiscated.

Now Scott is working to change those laws. “Just because someone has a moral problem with the commercialization of sex is not a reason to make us live in constant fear of being raped, robbed, beaten and murdered,” says Scott. “People have to understand that we are members of this community.” This past March 21, a group of three current and former sex workers – Scott, Terri Jean Bedford (better known as the Bondage Bungalow dominatrix) and 28-year-old Amy Lebovitch – announced the launch of the Safe Haven Initiative. Represented by pro bono lawyers and law students from York University, the Safe Haven team is heading to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on May 31, aiming to strike out three statutes of the Criminal Code: running a common bawdy house, communicating for the purpose of prostitution and living on the avails of prostitution.

This last charge, which applies to anyone over age 12 and is intended as an anti-pimp provision, prevents sex workers from hiring bodyguards, drivers or other heavies as protection. Safe Haven's argument is that by subjecting sex workers to danger, these three statutes deprive prostitutes of their right to liberty and security, violating section seven of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“It's unconstitutional for the government to be complicit in a law that contributes to homicides and assaults,” says Alan Young, the York University professor who is heading up the legal team. Having argued in favour of medical marijuana and against sweeping obscenity laws, Young targets “consensual crimes” – practices in which all parties involved are “happy to participate.” Now he says the timing is right to challenge the Criminal Code statutes on prostitution.

First, there's the abject failure of a recent federal subcommittee on solicitation laws. After three years of depositions from over 300 sex workers, police officers, academics and community members, the five-member subcommittee unanimously agreed last December that the current legal approach to sex work was “unacceptable.” The Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois parties went on to state that prostitution was an issue of health, not crime, and that sexual activities between consenting adults should not be prohibited by the state.

Still, in March 2007, the ruling Conservative government released a statement firmly decrying decriminalization or any type of new initiative, instead focusing on reducing the prevalence of sex work by enforcement of criminal law. (The two Conservative members of the subcommittee did not return calls to be interviewed.)

The second major timing factor is the trial of Robert Pickton. The BC man is now in court for the murder of 26 women, all prostitutes from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Canada's largest serial killer investigation ever, the case has exposed societal indifference to the vulnerability of street prostitutes. Some of the women found hacked to pieces on Pickton's Port Coquitlam farm had been missing for decades, and at least 61 sex workers disappeared in Vancouver over the past 20 years. “It's my constituents who are dying,” says Libby Davies, the MP for the Downtown Eastside who initiated the multi-party subcommittee. Davies is glad to have spurred the most extensive research on the subject in Canadian history but the group's failure to develop recommendations for the future was disappointing. “If they want to save women, they've failed miserably,” says Davies. “The threat of enforcement pushes workers into isolated areas. The violence they face is horrific.”

Those who enforce the law recognize the unique dangers that face prostitutes on the job today. Two years ago, the Toronto Police introduced the Bad Date Line, a dedicated Crime Stoppers phone line for reporting violent johns. Since spring 2006, a new Special Victims Unit tackles assaults on sex workers and the homeless; the unit ignores whatever activity people were engaged in when they became victims of assault. “People say, ‘Look at the business they're in, what do they expect?'” says the SVU's Detective Wendy Leaver. “That's disgusting. There is no reason anyone should be subject to this kind of violence.”

Leaver is now investigating the case of a sex worker who was assaulted in her condo last week. After answering the worker's newspaper ad, a male suspect raped her before calling in his female partner. The prostitute was robbed and beaten badly. Leaver has photos of the couple from cameras at the condo and a nearby ATM, and believes they have committed similar crimes before.

The freedom to hire burly drivers, work together in central secure locations and discuss decent rates and recent dates would obviously help sex entrepreneurs to run their businesses like businesses (in her day, Scott filed her taxes as a “recreational tour operator”). But some worry that repealing the Criminal Code statutes will put more vulnerable prostitutes at risk – minors, immigrants, drug addicts and those being victimized by pimps. 51 Division Staff Sergeant Howie Page, formerly of the sex crimes unit, is surprised that workers themselves want the “living on the avails” section made void. “Honestly, it puzzles me,” says Page. “How would they turn to the police if there was a pimp involved?” Sex work advocates point out that other laws relating to extortion, coercion, criminal harassment and assault are applicable, but Page feels that the avails law has the most “teeth.”

Then again, “prostitution” is an umbrella term that stretches from sexual slavery to people such as Bedford, a dominatrix who owned her own home in a decidedly middle-class neighbourhood. Many Safe Haven supporters work extensively to help prostitutes at risk (or those who just want a career change) to find education, career counselling, health services and exit strategies. But they say accepting one extreme means allowing for the other – acknowledging that some people are willing participants in the profession.

“I was over 30 when I started, I have a BA, I've been married,” says sex worker Cleo Smith, who currently works out of her home. “I wasn't enticed, and I'm ready to handle what comes.” Smith has fibromyalgia, and was taking extensive sick leave when, hard up for cash, she decided to try sex work. Though she thought it would be “horrible and gross,” she's found that in servicing the “doctors, lawyers and blue collar workers” that answer her Eye Weekly ad, she's worked out a lot of her own sexual demons. Smith used Maggie's, an education group run by sex workers, to learn how to avoid a communicating charge. “I say, ‘You can bring me a present, but anything we do is based on our chemistry,'” she says. “If I don't want to do something, I'll say ‘I don't enjoy Greek.'”

She feels safer working on her turf; doing outcalls, she wouldn't know where to go if she had suddenly had to leave a violent customer's home. When she first started, a male friend would wait in another room, and she thinks that the avails law is much too broad. “What the police need to clarify is who hired whom. That's not hard to clarify in court,” she says. “When people have been aggressive or if I felt they weren't healthy or clean, I've been amazed that if I ask politely and firmly that they leave, it's all I need.”

The Safe Haven Initiative expects their fight to reach the Supreme Court of Canada within the next two years; lawyer Alan Young acknowledges that one potential outcome is that prostitution will become officially illegal in Canada. At least that would be honest. The law is unlikely to shut down the world's oldest profession, but it's unfair to just make it unsafe.


Legal challenge: Making sex work safer
NATIONAL NEWS / Constitutional challenge aims to decriminalize sex work

Fred Kuhr / Xtra.ca / Thursday, March 29, 2007

If prostitution is legal in Canada, then why are there federal laws on the books that not only criminalize actions related to the business of prostitution, but also contribute to unsafe working conditions for sex workers?

That question is at the heart of a constitutional challenge launched this month seeking to strike down three separate provisions of the Criminal Code.

"Sex work is a legitimate business, so it's important that we be treated in a legitimate way," says Valerie Scott, executive director of Sex Professionals Of Canada. "We need and deserve to be able to work in safe conditions."

The three provisions being challenged prohibit keeping a common bawdy house, living off the avails of prostitution and communicating for the purpose of prostitution. The challenge, filed in the Ontario Superior Court Of Justice on Mar 21, argues that the provisions violate the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms, depriving sex workers of "their right to liberty and security in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."

Scott launched the constitutional challenge along with Amy Lebovitch, a current sex worker, and Terri Jean Bedford, a former dominatrix who's fought the laws in court before, on behalf of all sex workers in Canada.

"The government has clearly said that prostitution is a legal enterprise, so why not afford sex work the same protections as any other legal enterprise?" asks Amit Thakore, a member of the pro bono legal team representing the sex workers. The legal team is being led by Alan Young, a professor of law at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School.

According to Scott, one of the most harmful laws regarding sex work has been the so-called "communication law," which essentially ended the practice of street prostitutes working in groups of two or three. Under this "buddy system," when a sex worker went into a car, their buddy would see the john's face and write down the plate number as a safety precaution.

"This was an excellent way of preventing violence," says Scott. "But now, if you work in groups of two or three, you are a magnet for being busted. So now you have to work alone in dark, out-of-the-way places where no one knows who you are or who you are with."

Both Scott and Thakore point to the ongoing trial of Robert Pickton in BC as evidence of the unsafe nature of sex work in Canada today.

"We don't have the death penalty for prostitutes in Canada, but we have a de facto death penalty," says Scott, "and Robert Pickton is allegedly one of our executioners."

If the courts ultimately strike down the contentious provisions, prostitution would be decriminalized and sex workers would be allowed to work indoors legally, says Scott.

"We could set up brothels with three, four women, a receptionist," says Scott. "It would prevent a lot of violence."

Scott notes the difference between legalization of sex work —which treats prostitution as a vice to be controlled — and decriminalization — which treats it as a legitimate business. Only two places in the world have decriminalized sex work — New South Wales in Australia and New Zealand.

Although Scott is passionate about these issues, she says she's not looking forward to reopening the moral debate surrounding sex work.

"I'm so tired and bored of it. If prostitution is legal in Canada, why is there even still a moral debate?"

She is also concerned that "prohibitionists" will try to argue that overturning the three provisions being challenged will lead to an increase in child prostitution and pimping. But Thakore says the case does not deal with these issues.

"We don't want to create a free-for-all for pimps and child predators. We were very careful [in writing our challenge]. We don't even come close to dealing with youth prostitution. And frankly, those laws should be enforced more regularly than they currently are."

Thakore says she's optimistic about the case, which is expected to be heard in the next 12 to 16 months.

"I think we have a very strong case."


These women are going to win

Colby Cosh, National Post

Published: Friday, March 23, 2007

A dominatrix and two hookers walk into a recreation centre ? No, it's not the start to a bad joke, and what these women were doing is no laughing matter.

On Wednesday, three members of the Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC), an organization that advocates for and educates sex-trade workers, officially announced a long-awaited challenge to the anti-prostitution provisions in Canada's Criminal Code. You want a punchline? These women are going to win. And provincial and municipal legislators might as well get ready, now, for the challenge of regulating a decriminalized sex business.

SPOC intends to argue that its members' Section 7 Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person are infringed upon by the Code. Prostitution is, in itself, a legal activity in Canada. (That is to say, it is not illegal to pay a person for sex.) But the group objects to the sections of the Code traditionally used to circumscribe it. These include Sec. 210, whose quaint Victorian language forbids the ownership, occupation, or management of a "common bawdy-house"; Sec. 212, the "living on the avails" provision, which makes it a crime even to live with or to be "habitually in the company of" a prostitute; and Sec. 213, which bans communication between prostitutes and clients in any public place.

There are three major reasons for thinking that SPOC is going to win its challenge. The first is the generally liberal disposition of Canadian appellate judges; they tend to be extremely deferential to the economically disadvantaged, fanatically feminist, and acutely race-conscious. SPOC is representing an industry that is mostly female, is largely aboriginal in some parts of the country, and invariably attracts the abused, abandoned and homeless. In a Canadian appellate court, that means sitting down to the poker table with three of a kind. The second reason is the 2005 Chaoulli decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that private medical services and health insurance cannot be banned in the province of Quebec. In the 4-to-3 decision, Section 7 was used in a surprising way to subvert medicare, with three of the majority justices arguing that the challenged laws directly violated it and a fourth relying on the closely analogous Sec. 1 of Quebec's provincial Charter. It's true that the dissenting judges in Chaoulli specifically lashed out at the phenomenon of Sec. 7 overreach, and that the Court is probably looking for a good opportunity to establish that Sec. 7 is not a judicial weapon of infinite range and magnitude. But this isn't it. SPOC's demands are extremely modest when compared to Dr. Jacques Chaoulli's long-shot crusade against medicare. Translated into plain English, the SPOC girls just want the freedom to conduct a legal business on private premises, to hire help, and to advertise. And that's the third thing they have going for them: They are completely in the right.

Look past the archaic, euphemistic language in the Code. What does it mean to ban "bawdy-houses"? It means whores cannot organize a brothel where they can look out for one another and combine resources to buy medical care, security or insurance. What does the proscription against "living on the avails" mean? That a prostitute must work alone, shielded from the eyes of the law, unable to get bank credit or regularize her tax status or, hell, buy an RRSP if she wants one. What do the rules against "communicating" for the purposes of prostitution mean? It means most hookers have to do business through the window of a car, which gives them seconds to size up their customers, or over the phone, which hardly lets them do so at all.

As last year's Senate justice committee report on prostitution noted, at least 79 sex workers were murdered on the job in Canada from1994 to 2003, and that figure doesn't count the dozens of deaths allegedly attributable to Robert Pickton, nor does it include any of the 80-plus missing and murdered women whose cases are being investigated by Edmonton's Project KARE task force. 85% of the known victims were killed by clients. Despite its tepid recommendations, the report concedes that even unregulated off-street prostitution, of the sort specifically targeted by the Criminal Code, is safer than street hooking. It contains damning data suggesting that the adoption of Sec. 213 coincided with an exponential increase in fatal violence among prostitutes.

Put it all together, and it is hard to disagree with SPOC's spokeswomen when they accuse Canada of imposing a "death penalty" for prostitution. What pretended social gain from keeping the trade out of sight, out of mind and on the run can outweigh that?


Give law the hook

By MINDELLE JACOBS
EDMONTON SUN

March 23, 2007

When governments are too cowardly to repeal bad laws, the courts inevitably step in. Just as judges forced change on the medical marijuana issue, they will hopefully repeal our terrible prostitution laws.

Over the past couple of decades, government committees, independent experts and assorted advocacy organizations have recommended that our useless -- and dangerous -- prostitution laws be overturned.

Such diverse voices as the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the HIV/AIDS Legal Network and an RCMP-commissioned report have pleaded for change.

Even public opinion polls have indicated Canadians want prostitution legalized.

On this issue, however, federal politicians have steadfastly kept their heads buried in the sand. The thinking seems to be if the government continues to ignore the problem, it will eventually go away.

Unfortunately, it's impossible to sweep the disappearance and murder of dozens of prostitutes under the rug. When only the occasional sex-trade worker was being killed in the 1970s and early 1980s, it was easy to look the other way.

But with the Robert Pickton case dominating the news and Project Kare investigating the disappearance of scores of Alberta prostitutes, continuing to deny the link between our laws and the danger faced by hookers is absurd.

Still, the government is too lead-footed to act. So York University law professor Alan Young and three former sex-trade workers have launched a constitutional challenge to quash the laws against bawdy houses, communicating for the purpose of prostitution and living on the avails.

Just to be clear, Young doesn't want to strike down the pimping provisions that deal with procuring, exploitation and control. He just wants the section that bans living on the avails of prostitution repealed.

Young would like to see the current laws overturned so the provinces and municipalities can step in and regulate what will, hopefully, be a legal activity.

While the Supreme Court of Canada upheld our prostitution laws in 1990, there has been compelling evidence since then that not only is the law not achieving its objective, it's placing prostitutes in grave danger, says Young.

"You have murder on one side of the ledger and a big question mark on the government side," he says.

"You have to give a sex-trade worker on the street who is exposed to violence . . . legal options. And there are no legal options."

There are some people who are of the view that prostitution is degrading and hookers get what they deserve, he says.

But he suspects there are lots of Canadians who, even if they dislike prostitution, believe the state shouldn't be implementing anti-prostitution laws that endanger so many lives.

Prostitution, itself, is legal in Canada, remember. But our laws, especially the communicating provision enacted in 1985, make it virtually impossible for sex-trade workers to safely go about this supposedly legal activity.

Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks couldn't have dreamed up such legal hypocrisy.

There were few prostitute murders before 1985, notes John Lowman, a Simon Fraser University criminologist who is filing an affidavit in support of Young's constitutional challenge.

But between 1985 and 1994, 46 prostitutes were killed in B.C. He estimates about 50 were killed in that province between 1995 and 1999.

For years, police, politicians and neighhbourhood groups have emphasized the need to get rid of hookers, adds Lowman.

"(The communication law) gave serial killers just more justification to go and do exactly that."


Prostitutes challenge validity of laws

Restrictions put them in danger, sex trade workers say

Allison Hanes, National Post

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A trio of Toronto prostitutes yesterday launched a constitutional challenge to overturn criminal laws governing their profession, arguing existing restrictions put their lives at risk.

Though prostitution is not explicitly illegal in Canada, soliciting, operating a bawdy house and living off the avails of the sex trade are crimes punishable by up to five years in prison.

Alan Young, a lawyer and professor at Osgoode Hall law school, said these laws prevent prostitutes from screening and negotiating with potential clients, working in safe environments or obtaining support services from bodyguards or drivers.

While intended to stamp out prostitution, Mr. Young said the laws only have the effect of driving the sex trade onto the streets and into back alleys where women are vulnerable to violence.

"How do you tell whether you're being picked up by the Green River Killer or someone who's going to show you respect?" said Mr. Young, who is leading the drive to strike down these provisions of the criminal code.

One need look no further than the ongoing Robert Pickton case in B.C. for proof of the dangers faced by prostitutes who are forced by the law to work the streets, he said.

The Port Coquitlam pig farmer is on trial for the slayings of six sex trade workers who went missing from the Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and faces another 20 murder charges.

More than 80 women who worked Edmonton's streets have also gone missing or turned up dead in recent years, said Valerie Scott, a long-time sex worker who has lent her name to the court challenge.

"So what if these are drugged out street girls? They are human beings and they are Canadians and they have families who care," said Ms. Scott, who is executive director of the group Sex Professionals of Canada. "We are humans and we are part of the community. We don't come in on a shuttle from Mars every night and leave before sunrise."

But not all organizations who work with sex trade workers support decriminalizing prostitution.

Daisy Kler, a spokeswoman for the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter, said it would lead to further victimization of people who are deeply vulnerable and only benefit those who profit from their exploitation.

"[If the laws were struck down,] we would have a heyday for pimps, human traffickers and johns to do what they want ... and women would have no protection under the state or under l aw," she said. "The idea that the woman on the Downtown Eastside who is addicted and impoverished is going to run her own brothel and hire a bodyguard-- this is fantasy."

Ms. Kler deplores the use of the Pickton trial to make the case for legalizing prostitution.

She also cautioned against buying what she said was the myth that there is a distinction to be made between people who choose sex work and those forced into it by circumstance or coercion.

"It's hard to see it as a choice when the average age of women entering prostitution is 14.

People say 'Oh, we're against child prostitution, we absolutely think that's wrong. But consenting women, we have no problem with that.'" she said. "Usually the majority of the women enter as children. So the idea of consent is ridiculous."

Mr. Young, who fought Canada's prohibition on marijuana possession, said he hopes the challenge will be heard within 12 to 18 months.

If he is successful in decriminalizing prostitution, Mr. Young said it will be up to lawmakers in cities and provinces to determine how they want to regulate the trade, whether by issuing permits or setting up red light districts.

For now his focus is to show the current laws hurt people more than they help them.

"If the harm created by the law grossly outweighs the benefit of the law then it's unconstitutional," Mr. Young said.


After being used - or abused - by lawyers for years, prostitutes are aiming to use them in a bid to challenge the country's archaic laws
By Mike Strobel
The Sun
March 22nd 2007

Ah, yes, the world's oldest discussion.
What to do about the hookers among us.
Let's retire to the St. Lawrence Community Rec Centre on The Esplanade downtown.
Technically, I suppose, the Adult Lounge above the pool is a common bawdy house for an hour or so.
Milling about are hookers, ex-hookers, a dominatrix, lawyers and newshounds. Your basic social lepers.

I sit with Wendy Babcock, 27, who earns tuition for feminism studies at George Brown in unconventional ways.
"Lawyers are the worst," she once told me, recounting how a legal eagle tipped her a twoonie, then snatched it back for TTC fare.
There are lawyers on her online "bad date" list.
But they have other uses. Sometimes, they can right wrongs.
Which is why Osgoode law Prof. Alan Young and his motley crew of crusaders have called this press conference.
They are challenging our silly and dangerous laws on prostitution.
But wait, you exclaim. Prostitution is legal, right?
You bet your latex boots it is. Paying to get laid, flayed, or otherwise depraved is perfectly legit.
The trick, pardon the expression, is in Criminal Code edicts on business conduct.
One. Bawdy house law prevents hookers from bedding clients in a regular, safe haven, such as their home.
Two. They can't "communicate for the purpose of prostitution," which means scant screening of clients.
Says Young: "When you get into a car, how do you tell if you're being picked up by the Green River Killer or a customer who will show you respect?"
Three. "Living on the avails" is illegal. Pimps, sure, but also drivers, bodyguards, roommates. The cat?
"Even Mary Poppins couldn't work for a sex trade worker," says Young.
Chim chiminey. Chim chim cher-oo!
What's a hooker to do?
Our law lets her ply her trade, but helps make it perilous.
"There is nothing inherently dangerous about prostitution," says Sex Professionals of Canada director Val Scott.
"The laws force us to operate in totally unsafe conditions."
Scott's name is on the motion filed Tuesday by Young, 50, and a team of student volunteers in Ontario superior court. First date is May 31. All pro bono.
It challenges the three laws as "arbitrary." As in, they do far more harm than good and safety ought to outweigh moral issues.
Co-litigants are Terri Jean Bedford, 47, the famous Bondage Bungalow dominatrix, forced to retire by a liver ailment.
She's in a black suit and mid-thigh boots. Say, what's with the riding crop?
"To punish newsmen."
You'll have to wait in line.
The only place Ms Bedford felt safe was her dungeon, 'til the bawdy house law dragged her out of there by her bootstraps.
She still has a tender back from a client's kick years ago.
Still, she tells us, Toronto is an "S&M and fetish capital of the world." Finally. We're world-class.
The court challenge, aka The Safe Haven Initiative, says Terri, is "a great day for Canadian women everywhere."
Like third litigant, Amy Lebovitch, 28. "We are entitled to work safely with dignity and respect," she says.
I wish someone would save them, and the courts, the trouble. I wish the feds would clean up these goofy, creaky laws.
Analogies abound. Like: Your SUV is legal, but you're not allowed to wear a seatbelt, use turn signals, or park.
Unsafe. Stupid.
"Imagine," says second-year student Ehsan Ghebrai, 24, "having to go to work not knowing if you'll be subjected to some of the most horrific violence imaginable."
In a year of research for this, Ghebrai and a dozen other students found countless tales of rape, assaults and beatings.
And murder, of course. The Pickton case comes to mind. Other cases are brewing in Alberta, in Niagara, and in our own city.
Let's get real. No matter what you think of prostitution, it's here to stay and it's legal.

Let's at least make it safer.


Prostitutes launch constitutional challenge

Laws fail to protect women from clients, lawyer argues

OMAR EL AKKAD, Globe and Mail

March 22nd 2007

A group of current and former prostitutes and an Osgoode Hall law professor joined forces yesterday to launch a constitutional challenge aimed at striking down three provisions of the Criminal Code dealing with the sex trade.

The challenge effectively amounts to a call for decriminalization.

"Some people may find this controversial," law professor Alan Young said at a news conference in Toronto yesterday, "I don't."

In the past, Prof. Young, well known in the Canadian legal community, has launched similar challenges to Canada's marijuana laws.

Although the challenge, filed on Tuesday with the Ontario Superior Court, is in the name of three current or former prostitutes, it is being fought by about half a dozen lawyers and some of Prof. Young's students, all of whom are working free.

"There's a vast amount of goodwill in this case that you don't see in other litigation," Prof. Young said, adding that in terms of legal issues, this is one of the simplest cases he's ever undertaken.

While the challenge was triggered by the continuing trial of B.C. farmer Robert Pickton, charged with 26 counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of prostitutes, Prof. Young said the issues of his challenge were around long before the Pickton case came to light.

Currently, prostitution is not illegal. However, communicating for the purposes of prostitution is against the law. That's one of the three sections being challenged by Prof. Young and his supporters, who say the law keeps women from ensuring their clients aren't likely to harm them.

The team is also challenging the provisions on "bawdy houses" and living off the avails of prostitution, saying the two laws force prostitutes onto the street and keep them from hiring security and support staff in the same way other businesses do.

Detective Sergeant Mike Hamel of Toronto police's sex-crimes unit said much of the enforcement of prostitution laws is done as undercover work. But police officers working the beat also maintain almost daily contact with the women on the street, Det. Sgt. Hamel added. "They check up on them," he said. "They know the girls are vulnerable to violence. That's no secret."

That violence is most often seen in "bad dates," when clients become aggressive and sometimes viciously assault the women they pick up. Sex Professionals of Canada, a support group, keeps an online list of such incidents -- documented cases range from men refusing to wear condoms to assault and rape.

"Some of these people who abuse prostitutes believe prostitutes will not tell the police," Det. Sgt. Hamel said. "They feel that gives them the right to be violent, which is absolutely not true."

The constitutional challenge was announced just a day before Toronto police unveil the results of a nine-month pilot program called Deter and Identify Sex Trade Consumers. DISC, a database of prostitutes, clients and others involved in the sex trade, was developed by members of the Vancouver Police Department in 1998, and later implemented by forces across North America.

The three applicants launching the challenge are Valerie Scott, a member of the Sex Professionals of Canada, Amy Lebovitch, who works in the sex trade from her home, and Terri Jean Bedford, a dominatrix whose S&M business, later dubbed the "Bondage Bungalow," was raided by police in the mid-1990s.

Ms. Lebovitch said she moved off the streets and began operating out of her home because she feared for her safety. However, she says her partner who lives with her also faces the threat of arrest because of the criminal provisions dealing with living off the avails of prostitution.

Ms. Scott said hundreds of women either have been killed or have gone missing since the communication provision was introduced in 1985. She added that the government should admit it has a "death penalty" against prostitutes, or change the law. Women who make a living off sex, she said, deserve to be treated as human beings and Canadians first.

"We don't come in on a shuttle from Mars every night and leave before sunrise," she said.


Prostitution laws on trial: Former sex-trade workers go to court in search of legalization

Macleans.ca staff | Mar 21, 2007 | 3:43 pm EST

Former sex-trade are beginning a court challenge to federal prostitution laws on Wednesday.

Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch of the Sex Professionals of Canada and former dominatrix Terri Jean Bedford plan to challenge the current provisions in the Criminal Code dealing bawdy houses, living off the avails of prostitution and communicating for the purpose of prostitution.

The women will argue that the current legislation puts sex-trade workers in danger by forcing them onto the street, and point to murders in Vancouver and Edmonton as proof of their claim.

"These three provisions violate s.7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by depriving sex workers of their right to liberty and security," they said in a statement. "Yet even as the body count continues to rise, nothing is done."

Background:

Sex Professionals of Canada announced they would be pursuing the case in December, claiming the laws "do more harm than good."

"It's really unfortunate that our profession is one of the few professions that doesn't have any legal protection to it," spokeswoman Wendy Babcock said at the time. "Making it illegal is just forcing women into dangerous situations."

At the root of the problem is the fact that prostitution itself is not illegal in Canada - only activities associated with it, such as "living on the avails" of prostitution or communciating for the purposes of prostitution. Sex Professionals of Canada favours decriminalization, saying sex workers would then be free to live however they pleased and receive the same protection from police as other citizens.

They oppose outright legalization on the grounds that licensing and STD-testing schemes instituted in places such as Amsterdam redirect sex workers' income to governments and brothel owners. They also argue that sex trade workers in brothels are less able to turn away clients they feel uncomfortable with.

The December announcement came on the heels of a report from a House of Commons subcommittee, which found that Canada's prostitution laws are ineffective, unevenly applied and not representative of the reality on the street. More to the point, the committee found the laws are not representative of what happens off the street -  where, contrary to public perception, the vast majority of prostitution occurs.


Sex-trade workers challenge current laws

OLIVER MOORE, The Globe and Mail

March 21st 2007

Canada's prostitution laws are the focus of a court challenge to be launched today by current and former sex-trade workers.

The applicants are targeting specific Criminal Code provisions -- those dealing with keeping a bawdy house, living off the avails of prostitution and communicating for the purposes of prostitution -- that they say put sex workers in danger.

Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch, both part of the group Sex Professionals of Canada, and former Bondage Bungalow dominatrix Terri Jean Bedford point to the dozens of women who have disappeared in Vancouver and Edmonton as a sign of how dangerous streetwalking is.

"These three provisions violate s.7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by depriving sex workers of their right to liberty and security," they argued in a statement released yesterday.

"Yet even as the body count continues to rise, nothing is done."

The details of their application to the Ontario Superior Court will be revealed this morning by a legal team that includes Osgoode Hall Law School associate professor Alan Young.

Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch, both part of the group Sex Professionals of Canada, and former Bondage Bungalow dominatrix Terri Jean Bedford point to the dozens of women who have disappeared in Vancouver and Edmonton as a sign of how dangerous streetwalking is.

"These three provisions violate s.7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by depriving sex workers of their right to liberty and security," they argued in a statement released yesterday.


Sex workers launch court challenge

CNEWS By ALLISON JONES

March 21st 2007

TORONTO (CP) - Canada's prostitution laws place the lives of thousands of women working in a legal trade in grave danger, amounting to a form of "urban genocide," a group of sex-trade workers and advocates said Wednesday.

The Safe Haven Initiative, led by Osgoode Hall law professor Alan Young and a volunteer group of law students, is launching a constitutional challenge to strike down laws against bawdy houses, communicating for the purpose of prostitution and living on the avails of prostitution.

While there is no wording in the Criminal Code specifically outlawing prostitution, nearly all aspects of a transaction - including hiring a prostitute, scouting potential customers and making money from sex - are made illegal by those three provisions.

Young said because those laws make it illegal for prostitutes to work in their own homes or hire a bodyguard for protection, women are deprived of their right to liberty and security - a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"There is nothing inherently dangerous about prostitution," said former prostitute Valerie Scott, who is executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada, an advocacy group for sex workers.

"What makes it so dangerous is the way it is currently set up in this country. It's the way the laws force us to operate in totally unsafe conditions."

The situation is so dire that the laws amount to an "official death penalty" for prostitutes, Scott said.

Lawmakers and the general public must remember that prostitutes are human beings who should have equal rights under Canadian law, she said.

"So what if most of these women are drug-addicted street girls?" Scott said. "They are A, human, and B, Canadian.

"We are humans. We are part of the community. We don't come in on a shuttle from Mars every night and leave before sunrise."

Young said he felt compelled to launch the challenge and stand up for those women's rights after watching media coverage of the investigation into the disappearances of more than 60 women - mostly sex-trade workers - from Vancouver's troubled Downtown Eastside.

"As the body count was mounting, I thought, 'Somebody has to do something to stop this urban genocide,"' Young said.

The Vancouver case is an extreme example of the brutal violence often faced by prostitutes, he said, but it highlights a problem that goes much deeper.

"The reality is threats, violence and assault define the daily existence of people who work on the street in the sex trade," Young said.

The Vancouver investigation culminated in the arrest of pig farmer Robert Pickton, who was charged with 26 counts of first-degree murder and is currently on trial for six of those counts.

An Edmonton-area man is also standing trial for the killings of two prostitutes. His charges stem from Project Kare in Alberta, which looked into the disappearances of almost 80 people, many of them women in the sex trade.

Prostitution activist Sue Davis said she believes changes to the laws could have saved the lives of many murdered prostitutes.

"They target the most vulnerable of sex workers, the visible trade," she said.

"It is driving them into more and more isolated areas and making them work in more and more dangerous conditions."

A 2006 Statistics Canada report found that 171 female prostitutes were murdered between 1991 and 2004, and that 45 per cent of those cases went unsolved.

A House of Commons sub-committee concluded in December 2006 that the number of reported homicides among sex workers is "almost certainly lower than the real figures."

But after hearing testimony from more than 300 witnesses, MPs from the various parties on the sub-committee couldn't agree on legislative changes to the prostitution laws.


Charter challenge on prostitution filed

Mar 21, 2007 12:56 PM

Debra Black, The Star

A constitutional challenge against three sections of the criminal code relating to prostitution has been filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice by three sex trade workers.

The challenge argues that the criminal code sections - keeping a bawdy house, living on the avails and communicating for the purpose of prostitution - violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by "depriving sex workers of their right to liberty and security in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."

The act of prostitution is in fact legal in Canada, but the criminal code provisions operate in a way to deny sex workers safe legal options for conducting a legal business, the challenge maintains.

One-time dominatrix Terri Jean Bedford, along with Valerie Scott, a former sex worker and executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada, and Amy Lebovitch, a current sex worker, launched the challenge on behalf of all Canadian sex workers.

"It's a great day for Canada and even more so a great day for Canadian women everywhere," said Bedford at a news conference this morning in downtown Toronto. Before operating a dungeon in the 1990s, Bedford spent many years working the streets and she can testify to the many dangers prostitutes face as they try to ply their trade.

"We must be treated equally," said Lebovitch. "We are entitled to dignity and respect."

The case - dubbed the Safe Haven Initiative — is being handled on a pro bono basis by Alan Young, a law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, and a team of lawyers and law students who all believe that the women's rights are being violated by the ever-present danger they face on the streets.

Young pointed to the on-going trial of Robert Pickton as an example of the kind of dangers sex trade workers are exposed to on the streets. This horrific story is just the tip of the iceberg, he said, adding that it is not an isolated phenomenon. There are hundreds of women across the country who routinely face the possibility of murder and assault every night they are on the streets, he said.

If the three sections of the criminal code are struck down, it would open the way for prostitution to become an organized, regulated industry.


Sex-trade workers challenge Criminal Code

CBC

Wednesday, March 21, 2007 | 3:08 PM ET

Toronto sex-trade workers are spearheading a legal crusade to amend laws they say endanger Canadians working in the industry.

In a statement released Tuesday, advocates for sex-trade workers announced they will launch a constitutional challenge to three provisions of the federal Criminal Code that they say deprive sex workers of a safe working environment.

Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch, members of Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) and former dominatrix Terri Jean Bedford will ask the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to strike down the Criminal Code sections that ban bawdy houses, communicating with potential clients and living on avails of prostitution.

In its written statement, SPOC argues that these laws violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by depriving sex workers of their right to liberty and security.

"The act of prostitution itself is legal in Canada, yet the provisions challenged in this application operate to deny sex workers safe legal options for the conducting of legal business," the statement reads.

A primary concern is how these laws place women in greater danger of physical violence.

Valerie Scott (above), executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada.

Rise in violence

Scott, SPOC's executive director, says there is a link between the introduction of the laws and the rise in violence against female sex workers. She points to the communicating law as a direct cause.

"Since it became law on Dec. 21, 1985, there have been between 400 and 500 sex workers either confirmed murdered or missing in Canada. That's an astronomical amount of women gone missing and this is really a direct result of the law," she told CBC News.

"Women are forced to work alone — not in pairs, not in threes, alone — so no one knows what kind of car they're getting into … they are alone with someone and no one knows where they are. As a result of this, the bodies are surfacing."

With accused serial killer Robert Pickton's trial continuing in British Columbia, violence against sex trade workers remains a high-profile issue in Canada. But SPOC says awareness alone will not protect sex trade workers.

"Though the ongoing trial of Robert Pickton has brought worldwide attention to the dangers sex-trade workers are exposed to on the streets, the trial will not in any way address the larger legal and political issue of how to prevent the continuing disappearance and murder of sex trade workers," the group's statement reads.

"As the Pickton trial unfolds, it must be remembered that this horrific story is not an isolated phenomena."

A massive challenge

Striking down three sections of Canada's Criminal Code won't be easy and Scott admits her expectations aren't high.

"It's a massive legal challenge and we'll be lucky if we receive a judgment at the end of this," she said.  

However, she said she remains confident that any success will trigger many positive changes for sex-trade workers.

"[The industry] would change dramatically. If sex work were decriminalized in Canada, women could work together and most women would choose to work inside, especially given Canada's climate," she laughed.

"We would have protection under general workplace law and I think it would improve the whole profession dramatically."


Wednesday March 21st 2007

Sex workers fight 'outdated' law

Solicitation challenge to restore 'right to liberty and security'

By IAN ROBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

Sex workers are launching a constitutional challenge of laws that ban bawdy houses, profiting from prostitution and recruiting clients.

The Safe Haven Initiative says the Criminal Code provisions "deny sex workers safe legal options for the conducting of legal business."

Prostitution by itself is not illegal.

Ex Bondage Bungalow dominatrix Terri Jean Bedford, retired sex worker and veteran spokesman Valerie Scott, and sex worker Amy Lebovitch will hold a press conference today about their application to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice against the laws.

Toronto sex worker Anastasia Kuzyk welcomed the effort, but predicted "they're going to lose" the solicitation challenge because Canada's highest court "already ruled against it some time ago."

The Supreme Court decision was not unanimous, Kuzyk said, adding, "the dissenting judges were all female."

Rulings have improved with more women judges, she said, but if the majority debating such laws are men, the status quo based on "outdated" 19th century moral attitudes will remain.

Kuzyk said people worry if the bawdy house ban is lifted, "sex workers will be living next door. Well, I have news, we already live next door, but most prefer to be low-key and keep their work separate."

Amit Thakore, a spokesman for the Safe Haven Initiative legal team, was optimistic of getting changes to the solicitation law, "which we are revisiting."

The lobbyists said their legal challenges to the Ontario court will argue that laws against bawdy houses, living on the avails of prostitution and communicating for the purposes of prostitution are "depriving sex workers of their right to liberty and security in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."


February 1, 2007

Sex laws will be challenged

News and Views By Carlito Pablo @ straight.com online

Critics of Canada’s prostitution laws will file two Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenges within the next few months, arguing that current legislation puts sex-trade workers at risk.

Prof. Alan Young of York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School told the Georgia Straight that he is bringing a case before the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario between March and April. “We are going to challenge three provisions in the Criminal Code that create problems for sex-trade workers,” Young said.

These include prohibitions against maintaining a bawdy house, living off the avails of prostitution, and communicating for the purpose of selling sex. Citing the communicating law in particular, Young said that sex-trade workers are exposed to danger because the law prevents them from assessing whether or not a potential client would turn out to be a violent date.

“How the hell can would you know that a car is safe to get into if you can’t talk on the street?” Young asked.

In Vancouver, the Pivot Legal Society will lodge a separate case before the B.C. Supreme Court. Pivot lawyer Katrina Spacey told the Straight that her group will be ready in six months.

SFU criminologist John Lowman, an expert on prostitution, told the Straight that he expects the charter challenges to succeed because the “evidence is so overwhelming”.

In a paper submitted to the House of Commons Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws, he noted that at least 96 prostitutes in B.C. were murdered in the 15-year period following the enactment of the communicating law in 1985. This compared to 11 in the 25 years before the law came into effect.

The parliamentary subcommittee came out with its report last December without any specific recommendation for law reforms. Lowman described the report as a “disgrace”.

“The government will have to change the law,” Lowman said. “The vast majority of Canadians will truly believe that women do not deserve to die because they are engaged in prostitution.”

Amanda Bonella, a former sex-trade worker who started a drop-in centre for prostitutes in Surrey, told the Straight that the killing continues. She said that in the last quarter of the past year, two working women were murdered in Surrey.

“It’s very cold and desolate being here in Surrey because there is not a lot of acknowledgement that there is such violence,” she said. “No attention has been paid to it.”

Bonella also said that Surrey prostitutes are being pushed to work in more isolated areas, making them more vulnerable to predators. “Surrey doesn’t look like there is a stroll, compared to Vancouver,” she said. “That’s because one girl isn’t allowed by the police to work in a particular area but is allowed in another, and so they cannot work together.”

Bonella noted that some girls have claimed they have been asked by the police to sign so-called “no go” papers defining which areas they can and can’t work. Cpl. Roger Morrow, spokesperson for the Surrey RCMP, strongly denies this claim. “We don’t give pieces of paper telling people [they] are not allowed to go anywhere,” Morrow told the Straight. “We don’t have that authority.”

Mayor Dianne Watts told the Straight that no-go orders are issued by the courts on women found violating the communicating law and that these cover areas near schools.

Watts said the city isn’t going after sex workers. “I would like to see each and every man trying to buy the services of these young girls…arrested, charged, sent to john school, and fined,” she said. “It’s about the men, not the women.”

Bonella said the city can do more by also providing services for women. She said the drop-in centre is operating on the sale of clothing offered through the centre’s Web site (www .surreygirlz.org).

Lowman recalled that in 1985, a parliamentary committee recommended that the government decide under what circumstances prostitution, which is legal, can occur. The Conservative government at that time instead enacted the communicating law.

“That was the Conservative government, and again we hear today [Conservative Prime Minister] Stephen Harper saying he does not believe that the law is related to the [Robert William] Pickton case,” Lowman said. “If anybody really cares about prostitutes, they must not vote Conservative, because these people clearly don’t see what problems the law is causing.”


Sat, January 20, 2007

Law lets hookers down, critics say

By DONNA CASEY, OTTAWA SUN

It's the world's oldest profession and many experts say Canada's prostitution laws need a major overhaul to protect the lives of women who sell sex.

Starting Monday, a conference at the University of Ottawa will look at issues surrounding prostitution around the world and in Canada.

The week-long event comes on the heels of a report by a parliamentary subcommittee last month that spent two years hearing from 300 experts but couldn't decide on how to revamp the country's archaic solicitation laws.

"We knew this was a traveling roadshow to assuage politicians' guilt about all the murders happening across the country," said Valerie Scott, executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada, of the "wishy-washy" report.

Ironically, the U of O conference starts on the same day as the murder trial of Robert Pickton. The B.C. pig farmer is accused of murdering 26 women, many of whom worked as prostitutes on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Sociologists know the causes that lead women and men to sell themselves, but that hasn't translated into changes on the street corner, in the massage parlour or in the courts, said Richard Poulin, professor of sociology and anthropology at U of O.

PENALTIES FOR PIMPS

Legislators need to decriminalize the work of prostitutes while clamping down on pimps and johns, Poulin said.

"You need the strong, severe penalties for pimps and the clients and finance specialized programs for the women who work as prostitutes," he said. *( See SPOC response on the above comments by Richard Poulin at the end of this article. )

The conference will also look at the links between teenage prostitution and street gangs and the surge in sex tourism. According to UNICEF, more than 71 million people travelled for sex in 2002, about 10% of all tourists.

While 95% of sex tourists are men who routinely hire three or four hookers during a week-long trip, there's a growing trend of women from North America and Europe traveling to India, Jamaica, Senegal and other African countries for what experts call "sex romance."

Next month, the Sex Professionals of Canada will file a lawsuit in Ontario's Superior Court, arguing Canada's existing common bawdy house laws -- which can evict women from their own homes -- threaten women's safety.

"It's about time Canada deals with this issue in a mature and sensible manner," said Scott.

* Richard Poulin's comments are a classic example of a visceral reaction to the commercialization of sex and devoid of rational thought. SPOC (Jan, 21 / 07)