Print media from 2009

{Begining with most recent}

Canadian Sex Workers Challenge Criminal Code

By Wency Leung

WeNews correspondent

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sex workers in Canada are challenging the country's ban on activities associated with prostitution, arguing it conflicts with their constitutional rights. Opponents say decriminalization of sex work would increase sex trafficking.

{Photo credit: L. Morpheous}

VANCOUVER, Canada (WOMENSENEWS)--Amy Lebovitch has been a sex worker for roughly 12 years. She's offered sex for money on the streets of Montreal. She's worked for a proprietor of an illegal brothel. And now, she quietly plies her trade from her Vancouver home.

Working indoors allows her to screen her clients over the phone or Internet before meeting them, instead of furtively negotiating deals in strangers' cars, said Lebovitch, 30. It also offers her peace of mind to work in a familiar environment.

But the sense of security is relative, she said.

Although she now feels reasonably protected from the threat of violence she encountered on the streets, she worries that at any time authorities could charge her under a Canadian law that prohibits keeping a bawdy house and could seize her bank accounts and take away her possessions.

"Although I say, 'yes I feel safe,' there's another side to it, which is I don't feel safe (from) the police," she said, noting that she knows of many sex workers who have been charged under the country's prostitution laws. "It's very scary to think that you're not hurting anyone, you're working, you're making money . . . and in an instant, your life can be turned upside down."

Arguing for decriminalization, Lebovitch, Terri-Jean Bedford and Valerie Scott, two other sex workers, have brought their complaints before the courts.

In October, they appeared at the Superior Court of Ontario to challenge sections of the country's criminal laws that they say violate their constitutionally protected right to liberty and security. The sections in question prohibit keeping a bawdy house, soliciting sexual services in a public place and living off the proceeds of prostitution. The women are challenging all three sections.

They expect a court ruling in mid-2010.

Associated Activities Illegal

In the early 1980s, Canada's Ministry of Justice established a special committee to examine strategies to deal with prostitution. The committee rejected outright criminalization of prostitution because it concluded such a measure would lack public support, be nearly impossible to enforce and would "apply a narrow moral view by way of criminal sanction," according to government documents.

While there are no laws prohibiting the exchange of sex for money in Canada, most activities associated with prostitution are illegal, making it impractical to work within the law, the three women said.

That means sex workers are prohibited from taking measures to protect their safety, such as working indoors, even though the law drives them off the streets, Lebovitch said.

Because they can't be seen in the open, those working outdoors are forced to conduct business in secluded and dangerous places, she argued. It also means sex workers are barred from working in cooperatives and hiring private security.

Through their years of experience, the three women found the "laws were creating a lot of violence and a lot of deaths to ourselves and our colleagues," Lebovitch said.

The best known case of violence against sex workers in Canada is that of Vancouver's Robert Pickton, who was found guilty in 2007 for the murders of six women and is awaiting trial for the deaths of 20 others.

Lebovitch's colleague and friend was also murdered in Ontario more than a year ago, she said. She does not know whether a suspect was found.

"I don't believe that sex work is inherently dangerous," Lebovitch said. "It is the laws, the stigma (that are harmful)."

Others Oppose Decriminalization

Gwendolyn Landolt, national vice president of the Ottawa-based advocacy group REAL Women of Canada, which pushes to make prostitution itself illegal, disagrees.

Her organization, along with the Christian Legal Fellowship and Catholic Civil Rights League, submitted arguments to the court against Lebovitch's constitutional challenge, arguing that existing laws are "designed to protect the dignity of victims of prostitution" and that morality is the cornerstone of law.

Decriminalization does nothing to protect sex workers, but instead opens the doors for human trafficking and further exploitation, Landolt said.

"All it does is increase prostitution and it endangers women because far more women are out on the streets," she said. "They say that women are safe in brothels, but that's ludicrous. They're not safe there anymore than they are in the streets. It's just not a safe thing to do."

More effort must be made to help sex workers get out of the trade, since the majority does not wish to be in it, Landolt said.

Local media reported that the Ontario and federal attorney generals offered similar arguments to the court in favor of the existing laws.

"The global experience is prostitution remains dangerous regardless of the legal regime," Gail Sinclair, a lawyer for the federal attorney general, told the court.

Lebovitch, however, said sex work is much the same as any other occupation. She said she chooses to do it because she enjoys being able to work for herself and to earn money.

Sex work allowed her to pay for university, where she earned a degree in social work.

Lebovitch said she expects the attorney generals to appeal if the sex workers win their court case. If that happens, or if the court does not rule in their favor, Lebovitch said she's prepared for a long fight.

"I think people are somehow fearful of sex work," she said. "But what we fail to see is that there is a really bad situation going on right now. There are a lot of my colleagues being raped and murdered and the laws are not helping."

The Strand, University of Toronto newspaper
Betina Alonso
November 10, 2009

Canada's anti-prostitution laws are under fire, as two sex workers and a dominatrix claim that the current laws deny sex professionals their Charter rights under the Canadian Constitution.

The applicants are Toronto-based workers Terri-Jean Bedford, a dominatrix, Valerie Scott, a former sex trade professional who now advocates for sex workers' rights, and Amy Lebovitch, who has been a prostitute for the last twelve years.

Essentially, current laws do not criminalize prostitution, but everything related to it: sex workers are not allowed to run brothels, communicate for sex trade or live off the avails of prostitution.

The main issue with these laws, the applicants claim, is that they expose sex professionals to greater risk than necessary, as they have to resort to finding customers on the streets or the internet, without any ability to screen them.

Valerie Scott, one of the applicants and the executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada, claims that these laws have been upheld for so long because "Parliament does not have the backbone to bring the death penalty upon [sex workers] or decriminalize prostitution entirely", and maintains that when it comes to the sex trade, the unofficial policy is for the police to look the other way.

She argues that the criminalization of sex work also places significant burdens on tax-payers, who bear the costs for "imprisonment of sex professionals, the one court-room that stays open every day for prostitutes, the health care money that goes into hospitals when we're beaten up".

Professor Mariana Valverde, director of the Centre of Criminology at UofT, asserts that these laws result from "no intention, no general plan," and adds that "the vast majority of the laws [on sex work] are Victorian, literally, and they were put in individually at different times, without a plan."

When it comes to charter rights, she adds that "of course all forms of business regulation will interfere with freedom of speech and other charter rights, but the crucial question is whether the current [prostitution] laws curtail rights more than it is necessary and rational. And the answer is 'yes'."

Mr. Michael Morris, counsel for the attorney general of Canada, says that the government "believes prostitution carries dangers and harms to the community at large", and the laws now in place intend to protect society.

Jason Qu, Executive Director at the Sexual Education Centre at the University of Toronto, responds to these claims saying that "the claim that sex work is dangerous regardless of setting, even if it were valid, cannot be used as grounds to deny the security and rights of sex workers; there are many legal activities which are dangerous and which routinely inflict harm upon society, activities which we nonetheless engage in and regulate as a society" and, by taking account the claims of sex workers themselves, and also contends that "the laws which criminalize and stigmatize sex work are often themselves obstacles to addressing and ameliorating these safety concerns."

Christian groups argue that current laws serve the purpose of protecting public morals.

Lawyer Derek Bell, representing the Christian Legal Fellowship, REAL Women of Canada and the Catholic Civil Rights League argues that "morality is all over the Criminal Code", citing laws forbidding voyeurism, bestiality, loitering and nudity.

SEC's Jason Qu comments that "many [sex professionals] affirm that sex work can be safe, economically beneficial, even empowering work."

Prostitution debate rages worldwide

Natalie Alcoba, National Post  Published: Friday, October 16, 2009

One of the latest battlegrounds for the highly charged issue of prostitution - is it violence, is it a job? - is Britain, home to an estimated 80,000 sex workers, and an untold number of johns.

Horrified by the 2006 murders of five women who sold sex for a living, legislators and activists are debating how government should be controlling the age-old profession. Advocates fall into two camps: those who want to follow Sweden's lead and ban the purchase of sex, and those who say decriminalizing it, like New Zealand, is the right move.

In Canada, the current debate revolves around striking provisions that ban solicitation, brothels and living off the avails of prostitution. Three sex workers are challenging the constitutionality of legislation they say contradicts itself, and prevents them from taking simple steps to protect themselves while selling sex, which is legal. The government's position is that prostitution is unsafe no matter where it takes place, and striking laws will only make that worse.

"There is a line," said Norma Ramos, executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking Women, which takes a hard line against legalizing prostitution and categorically rejects the notion that it is just work.

"You don't create a class of human beings that are available for use and abuse," said Ms. Ramos, based in New York, who travels the world, promoting the Swedish model because she says it is a human-rights based approach. "They found violence, where others find choice."

Those in the other camp also talk about rights - the rights of sex workers who want to be safe while earning a living.

Sex workers in New Zealand have more choices since decriminalization, said Catherine Healy, with the New Zealand Prostitutes Coaltion. "While not endorsing or morally sanctioning prostitution or its use," the New Zealand government says its laws aim "to create a framework that: (a) safeguards the human rights of sex workers and protects them from exploitation; (b) promotes the welfare and occupational health and safety of sex workers; (c) is conducive to public health; (d) prohibits the use in prostitution of persons under 18 years of age."

Sex houses are legal, although owners will be penalized if they fail to ensure that the working conditions are safe, or if they hire under-age escorts.

This has empowered workers, said Ms. Healy, who don't have to put up with exploitative operators, and who also are no longer entrapped in a profession that used to brand them with a criminal record.

In Sweden, prostitution is not work; its laws are premised on the fact that prostitution is only ever exploitation and male sexual violence against women and children. It considers the sex trade and human trafficking as intrinsically linked, reasoning that trafficking rings are set up to feed the sex trade.

The government set out to achieve social equality of girls and women with its 1999 law that punishes anyone caught buying sex - not selling it - with a fine or up to six months in jail.

It is critical to "take back the culture from pornographic values that eroticize the degradation of women," said Ms. Ramos, and you do that by creating laws that send a clear message to men that women cannot be bought or sold.

Lawyer Gunilla Ekberg lobbied for the law, and in a 2004 review wrote that street prostitution had decreased by 30-50%, although critics question the data, saying it is impossible to know how many women have simply moved their street prostitution indoors.

Swedish feminist and author Petra Ostergren conducted interviews with sex trade workers before and after the law, and said many are now more fearful of their clients and getting caught than they were before the laws were changed.

There is a new group of opponents, she said, who want the law abolished because it allows the state to control women's bodies.

"The law itself is not really relevant for sex workers and their clients. They carry on," she said, with many elite call girls reveling in the fact that they can now charge more money for an illicit activity.

"We, the Swedes, we pride ourselves as being the moral consciousness of the world," said Ms. Ostergren, who believes the prostitution laws are a way to strengthen the national identity of "being good or better than other countries." Norway and Iceland have followed suit.

In New Zealand, religious groups and radical feminists opposed decriminalization, and some people asked questions after three prostitutes were murdered. Two of those cases have been solved, said Ms. Healy, in part thanks to the willingness of prostitutes to come forward with information now that their work is no longer criminal.

Cari Mitchell, a spokesperson for the English Collective of Prostitutes, says the laws in the U.K., similar to those on the books in Canada, are draconian enough, and nothing the government is now promoting - such as making it illegal to buy sex from someone who is forced or threatened - will stem the flow of women who grapple with homelessness, drugs, domestic violence and, especially, debt.

Killing sex workers for their own good

Jody Paterson, Special to Times Colonist

Published: Friday, October 09, 2009

Sex work is back in the headlines again, and will be for some time with a constitutional challenge to Canada's prostitution laws finally underway this week.

I wish miracles for the three brave sex workers who launched the challenge. That's what they'll need to survive the savaging they're in for at the hands of those who staunchly oppose anything that might make it easier or safer to be a sex worker.

The case in front of the Ontario Superior Court is challenging three sections of the Criminal Code: The "common bawdy house" laws that make anything to do with operating a brothel illegal; the offence of procuring or living off the avails of prostitution; and the crime of communicating for the purposes of prostitution.

In deciding the case, Justice Susan Himel will gauge whether our prostitution laws are proportionate to their purpose, or whether they have the effect of forcing sex workers into unsafe situations where they can be preyed on by deviants and serial killers.

So let's ponder those two issues for a moment.

Sex work is legal in Canada, yet everything required for a sale to take place is illegal -- location, marketing, even the earnings. That renders the work just legal enough for men to be able to acquire paid sex anytime they like in any city, and just illegal enough to continue the pretense that Canadian society is hard at work trying to eradicate prostitution. What exactly IS the purpose of laws like that?

As for whether the impact of the laws is proportionate to their purpose, I can't wait to hear the arguments on that point. How many vulnerable women have died across Canada just in the last decade because our laws forced them to work out of sight in the rough parts of town, getting into cars with strangers? How could a gruesome impact like that possibly be proportionate in a civilized society?

What gets me the most about the laws around prostitution is the grand hypocrisy of it all.

We wrung our hands and wept for all the missing women when Robert Pickton's exploits were the news of the day. We went to their vigils. But we didn't do one thing that made life safer for the women working our streets.

We tell ourselves that only deviants and weirdos buy sex, and only victimized, desperate people sell it.

But Canadians of every stripe are frequenting the places where sex is sold and leading secret lives as part-time sex workers. Were a scarlet letter ever to appear on all the chests of people who have ever bought and sold sex, I think you'd be amazed to see who was in the club.

The sale of sex is a rip-roaring business in every Canadian community. Every moment spent denying that is another nail in the coffin of women working in isolation and danger on the nation's outdoor strolls. Outdoor work is the mere tip of the iceberg in terms of the scope of the industry, but it's certainly the place where the most negative impacts of our poorly considered laws are felt.

I understand the powerful emotions that drive the abolitionist movement. I know that some people have had tragic experiences in the sex trade. It's definitely a job for adults only, and even then it's not something that most people are cut out for.

But it's still a job. Occasional monsters and victims notwithstanding, the buyers are for the most part ordinary people. The sellers are by and large happy for the money. Meanwhile, those who aren't happy in the work take no solace from the law, because it can only punish them further.

I read an opinion piece the other day from an abolitionist exhorting Canadians to resist anything that might normalize prostitution as a legitimate career choice. That tired old argument is trotted out anytime someone dares to mutter about decriminalizing the industry: "Oh, horrors, your child could end up working as a prostitute!"

Read the research. Prostitution doesn't increase when it's decriminalized, because it's already so well-entrenched in every community that there's no increase in demand just because it's legal. All the men who buy sex are already buying it.

Nor is the growth of sex tourism much of a concern in Canada. Sex workers here are no more likely than any other Canadian to work for the pathetic, exploitive wages that sex workers earn in countries like Thailand.

And even if all that weren't so, surely we don't want to support laws that maintain an ugly and dangerous work environment just so our own daughters won't be tempted into that line of work.

Every woman who works in the industry is somebody's daughter. We owe it to all of them to fix this mess we've made.'

Dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford, right, walking with sex worker Valerie Scott in front of Ontario Superior Court in Toronto on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009. (Darren Calabrese / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Why turn prostitutes into criminals?

David Asper, National Post Published: Thursday, October 08, 2009

With our prostitution laws being challenged in the courts, moral questions about the world's oldest profession are being debated in Canada.

And not for the first time.

In the mid 1980s, the Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution -- known as the Fraser Committee -- extensively studied Canada's prostitution laws. In 1985, it recommended, among other things, that street-prostitution crimes be made tougher, but that prostitutes be allowed to ply their trade in safer, private "bawdy houses" (i. e., brothels) with certain limitations.

Parliament did the first part -- enacting harsher laws regarding street prostitution, but refused to strike down the Criminal Code's bawdy-house prohibitions. As a result, prostitutes continue to provide sex for cash, which is technically legal -- but they break the law when they solicit on the street or partake in the operation of a brothel.

In 1990, a legal challenge to the law made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada. In a case known as the Reference under Section 193 and 195, the court upheld both the street-solicitation and bawdy-house laws. The majority opinion reasoned that the social nuisance occasioned by prostitutes seeking out customers was sufficient reason to justify criminal sanction. It went on to say that the public act of solicitation was degrading, and ought to be out of public view of young women who might be enticed by the supposed allure of the life of a prostitute.

Further, the court held that the crime of keeping a common bawdy house was not an excessive infringement on life, liberty or security of the person because any such deprivation was in accordance with "fundamental justice."

The Supreme Court decision effectively passed the ball back to Parliament on the larger policy issue. Since then, countless prostitutes (and their customers) have been charged and convicted.

In a twist on the argument first made two decades ago, the new Charter challenge being made in Ontario claims that harm is befalling prostitutes because they have been forced underground into a world where they are being victimized by violence. The argument is that their technically legal trade, prostitution, has been turned into a high-risk activity because the Criminal Code prevents them from performing that activity in a safe, private manner. As Exhibit A, they point to the sex trade workers across Canada who have been beaten, kidnapped or are otherwise "missing."

Many argue that prostitution is a symptom of hopelessness on the part of people who are forced into the business by poverty, addiction or de facto enslavement by predatory pimps. Others say that in most cases being a prostitute is a voluntary choice. Regardless of which view is correct, the fact is that prostitution has been around for a long time. Whatever is motivating a prostitute to trade sex for money, does it seem fair to make him or her a criminal for trying to do their business?

Until Parliament resolves the question about whether prostitution itself should be legal or illegal, we are going to be left with a void between the law and common sense, with ongoing challenges to the validity of our criminal laws.

The Fraser Committee did valuable work and provided very sensible recommendations to Parliament. The Harper government ought to dust off the books and have another look.

-David Asper is Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Manitoba.

National Post editorial board: Legalize the sex trade

October 7, 2009

The three sex-trade workers trying to pursue a Charter argument against Canada’s prostitution laws in an Ontario court this week have a very simple message. Whatever your moral principles, whatever you think of prostitution, whatever you think an “ideal” sex trade would  look like or whether there would be one at all, we cannot possibly do  worse at protecting vulnerable women than we are now.

Is it possible to disagree? One man of pretty modest intelligence and means, Robert Pickton, is said to have admitted to killing 49 prostitutes in British Columbia before the police descended on him. That’s not just a crime; it’s an epidemic — practically a public-health issue.

It was only possible because every Canadian metropolis, at any moment, has a large collection of “missing” women who live in a precarious demi-monde of disconnectedness and invisibility. They make easy prey  for sociopaths, since the furtive, illegal nature of their work requires that they jump into the cars of strangers after a few seconds of commercial negotiation. If they don’t show up at “work” the next morning, they aren’t missed — except perhaps by their pimps (who must surely rank among the biggest supporters of the current legal regime).  In regards the larger society, they get noticed only when their remains pile up high enough to attract statistical attention.

In the past, our weird Criminal Code approach to prostitution — the thing itself being lawful, but its practitioners being forbidden to advertise, do business collectively, or hire help — has been found to pass Charter muster because minimizing the nuisance of prostitution is considered a pressing legislative objective, and because the “economic rights” of sex workers to solicit business and seek certain efficiencies and economies of scale are not the sort of core entitlements the Charter is meant to protect.

But what we’re left with is a combination of incentives that serve to isolate women. That some will sell their bodies is guaranteed, on the demand side, by eternal human nature; there has never been even a medium-sized social grouping where somebody wasn’t peddling sex to somebody else. The effect of our existing laws is to practically  require that the business be practiced alone, outside the law, without regulatory oversight or a permanent health and security infrastructure.

And what do we gain from it? Have the nuisance effects of street prostitution vanished from our cities? Have young runaways stopped being cajoled or impressed into the business? Do they not get, and spread, HIV and other sexually-transmitted pathogens? The one certain thing, supported by indisputable evidence available to every legislator, is that a lot of them are being murdered.

What progress has been made is mostly attributable to careful overlooking of the strange text of the Criminal Code within certain environmental niches. In many Canadian cities, rub-and-tug shops are now slightly more visible than they were even a decade or two ago; the police and the municipal authorities have allowed them to flourish, in an understated manner, in industrial neighbourhoods where their presence is less likely to raise objections. The women who work behind those doors may be miserable, but they’re not being fed to pigs by the 

In light of this, the arguments being made by government lawyers in the Ontario Charter case seem ridiculous: Their essential claim is that all prostitution is equally dangerous. Every adult knows perfectly well it’s not so, and the sooner we start making laws and regulations consciously on the basis of the truth, the better for 

Prostitutes suffer with 'sinister' law

Toronto Star, October 7, 2009

Rosie DiManno

When the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway, was sentenced for murdering 48 women, his written confession was read aloud in court: "I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex. I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. ... I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught."

Marcello Palma shot three Toronto sex trade workers during a manic, two-hour killing spree in 1996. Married, with a young child, Palma later claimed he was "getting rid of street scum."

Pig farmer Robert Pickton, charged with murdering 26 prostitutes – and convicted on six counts at his first trial in 2007 – preyed on the most vulnerable of drug-addled and transient hookers in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, though years had passed before police aggressively tackled the phenomenon of so many women disappearing off the face of the Earth.

The streets are not safe for prostitutes. Yet the streets are where Canada's laws force them to work. While prostitution is legal in this country, nearly everything surrounding the activity is criminalized, particularly where the service can be provided: Not indoors, not in one's home, and not under a roof shared with a spouse, partner or bodyguard, any of whom can be charged with living off the avails.

That Catch-22 is at the heart of a constitutional challenge which finally opened Tuesday before Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel, and largely on the efforts of students from York University and Osgoode Hall Law School.

Few others, it would appear, care much about the lives – too often, deaths – of sex trade workers. As rewritten in the mid-'80s, Canada's legislation is far more preoccupied with marginalizing prostitution, keeping the nuisance of solicitation off the streets, yet simultaneously denying its practitioners a secure environment that would discourage both predatory assaults and the visible street presence that many citizens find objectionable.

"The law is contributing to lack of safety and the harm women face," said Alan Young. "The laws today operate as a sinister contradiction."

An Osgoode law professor, Young is arguing the motion on behalf of his client, notorious – and endlessly waggish – Toronto dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford.

As befits an S&M specialist, Bedford showed up for court Tuesday in full-leather (but stylish) ensemble, riding crop tucked inside her coat. "It's to keep reporters in line and whip some shape into the law," the 49-year-old grandmother teased. More seriously: "Just because I have a crop doesn't mean I don't mean business. This is my business."

Bedford's "Bondage Bungalow" in Thornhill was raided by cops in 1994 and she was convicted of keeping a common bawdy house four years later. Police, she reminds, still have her professional toys. "They never even returned my panties."

She and two other prostitutes, including long-time activist Valerie Scott – whose Bad Date register provides crucial information on clients to avoid – are the catalysts for the landmark legal challenge as a violation of their rights to security and freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights.

Aligned against the challengers are lawyers for the attorneys general of Ontario and Canada, with intervention status granted to religious and conservative groups, a misguided privilege in itself.

At issue are sections dealing with keeping a bawdy house, living off the avails and communicating for the purpose of prostitution, all of which is forbidden.

"Is it a vice? Is it a virtue?" Young mused, as he launched into oratory that, in this venue, often sounds like a filibuster. "The applicants don't even call into question Parliament's right to criminalize prostitution. We're questioning how they've done it.

"This is not a challenge about morality. That's not relevant for the purposes of this hearing. Our challenge relates to the means chosen to achieve an objective."

Prostitution legislation is intended to curb public nuisance while protecting against exploitation – the latter an issue that will be heavily emphasized by the respondents later this week, the spectre of women forced on their backs by pimps and human traffickers a predictable, if limited in reality, counter-argument. Nobody among the plaintiffs is denying that "survival-sex" exists or is promoting a prostitution free-for-all.

"I'm here representing the intelligent, independent and well-informed sex worker," said Young.

There are some. There are plenty. It's a legitimate profession and it's not going away, even in countries such as Sweden that have recently passed dogmatic and draconian legislation that pre-emptively assumes coercion, with sex-as-commerce an inherent violation of human rights. Such legislation is staggeringly patronizing.

As the legislation stands, prostitutes must choose between compliance and safety, Young argued. "The law should never put anyone on the horns of that dilemma."

This is no minor consideration. Soliciting in public is a summary offence that carries a monetary fine. Keeping a bawdy house – arcane language for working out of one's home – is an indictable offence that triggers forfeiture of assets and allows police to obtain wiretaps. Conviction on living off the avails – be that a driver, spouse, security employee or receptionist – means landing on the sex offenders' register. "You will get the mark of Cain for life for assisting a sex worker and protecting them."

The law is self-defeating, Young continued, because, in application, it runs counter to intent, while tacitly promoting the stereotypical and ideological arguments it doesn't have the guts to make overtly. There's no practical option offered for women (or men) who choose to be prostitutes.

"It's all bad, period. The Constitution tells you there is only one safe option – exit the sex trade."

Workers' safety at risk: lawyer

Natalie Alcoba, National Post  October 7, 2009

Women who have worked the risky sex trade have launched a constitutional challenge against Canada's prostitution laws, arguing that decriminalizing some elements will make it safer for them to work, despite opposition from the federal and Ontario government alongside Christian and women's rights groups.

The applicants -- a dominatrix, a former sex trade worker and a working prostitute -- say provisions under the Criminal Code endanger their safety by preventing them from taking precautions, such as working indoors or hiring security guards to protect themselves.

The government of Canada disagrees. It contends that there is no such thing as a safe place for prostitution, regardless of whether it's legal or illegal.

"This case is not about a constitutional right to be a prostitute," Alan Young, who is representing the women, said in his opening remarks to Justice Susan Himel, of the Superior Court of Ontario, yesterday in Toronto. It is about depriving them of security and liberty, he said.

Buying or selling sex is legal in Canada, but the contested provisions make it illegal to run a bawdy house, to communicate for the purposes of prostitution or to live on the avails of prostitution.

The last provision is known colloquially as the pimp law, but critics say it is broad enough to potentially penalize anyone who lives with a prostitute or works for one.

Mr. Young, an Osgoode Hall professor who has headed a volunteer project to improve working conditions of sex-trade workers, called the laws a "sinister contradiction" since they were designed to get women off the streets, while criminally charging them if they conduct their business indoors.

"We're not here to argue whether there should be prostitution or not. We're saying, it's here, it's legal and the government cannot put people in harm's way through their laws," he said.

"We know people have gone missing, in Vancouver, in Winnipeg, in Calgary. There's hundreds of them. And so it's a sinister contradiction to tell people you can't move inside when that may be the only place where you can protect yourself from a predator."

In documents filed in court, the Attorney-General of Canada argues that although the provisions may be contentious, "they are underpinned

by legitimate state interests that balance the myriad of individual rights and societal interests at stake." The government will present its case later this week.

Prostitution carries dangers and harms to the community, Michael Morris, counsel for the attorney-general, said outside the courtoom, and it's up to Parliament to decide what aspects should be criminalized.

"The Supreme Court upheld two of these three provisions in 1990, and we say nothing has changed since then in terms of demonstrating that there are new grounds," he said.

Also involved in the proceedings is the Attorney-General of Ontario, the Catholic Civil Rights League, the Christian Legal Fellowship and REAL Women of Canada.

The rights groups plan to discuss the harm that prostitution causes society, especially to those who are forced to engage in it.

Their lawyer, Ranjan Agarwal, said yesterday his clients worry that striking down the provisions is "a gateway to legitimizing prostitution in Canadian life."

Mr. Young said studies and testimony from sex workers show that while violence still occurs indoors, there is less of it.

He said removing these provisions will not solve the "complex problem" of prostitution, one that includes survival sex workers, who are driven to the life by poverty or drug addiction, but it can better equip and protect the strong, independent workers who are ready to do business.

The women launching the challenge say it makes common sense to give prostitutes the ability to better protect themselves.

"Just because some people have a moral problem with the idea of commercial sex does not make it alright for us to be the social punching bag for society," said Valerie Scott, one of the applicants, who now runs an advocacy group for sex-trade workers called Sex Professionals of Canada.

She compiles a "bad date" list and posts it online, but says the reality is that rapes, robberies and beatings of prostitutes happen daily.

"If you're out on the street, you're naked to the world. When you're inside, you're comfortable, you can clean up, you can socialize, you can be a hostess to your client, and be very accommodating to your client. But this way, you're placing everybody in jeopardy," said Terri-Jean Bedford, a dominatrix who is a coapplicant.

Ms. Bedford was convicted in 1999 of keeping a common bawdy house for running the S&M Dungeon and she does not want to go back to her line of work if she is opening herself up to another police raid.

"They never returned my panties," Ms. Bedford told a mob of reporters that gathered outside the courthouse. Dressed top to bottom in black leather, with fiery-coloured hair, the 49-year-old grandmother playfully played up her persona by flicking her crop for the cameras. But she said she is very serious about the challenge.

"Just because I have the crop doesn't mean I don't mean business. This is what business is all about," she said.

Sex-trade advocates want bawdy houses legalized

By KEVIN CONNOR, Winnipeg Sun

October 7th, 2009

TORONTO -- If prostitutes could work from home they would be safer and not a public nuisance on the street, sex workers told a court yesterday.

Advocates for prostitution are battling the government and Christian groups for the right to ply their trade in bawdy houses.

They are arguing that they have a constitutional right to work indoors which is safer that street hooking.

"There is a blanket prohibition on selling a sex service in a secure location. You can't move into a house and hire people for protection," Alan Young, the lawyer for the prostitute advocates, told court.

"There are dangers working on the street. The law has contributed to the lack of safety and harm women face."

Prostitutes have gone missing and have been murdered on a large scale in cities like Winnipeg and Vancouver because they were forced to work the streets, Young said.

Sex workers want the laws to reflect the reality of life, said prostitute Val Scott outside the downtown courthouse where the case is being heard.

"It is legal to sell sex. But on the street you have a danger of being raped, robbed or murdered," Scott said.

"Those in opposition have a displaced sense of morality. It is time for Canada to get over it."

Dominatrix Terri Jean Bedford was busted in 1999 for operating a bawdy house.

"I just want the bawdy house laws changed so I can get back to work. Everyone knows how much I love my work," she said outside court with a whip in her hand.

Since the madame's suburban bawdy house was busted by police she has been on campaign to change the laws and says she will fight the government's discrimination against sex trade workers. Bedford said she kept her lawn manicured and the neighbours didn't know she was selling her services to men from every walk of life that included doctors, lawyers and an Indian chief.

"I have worked in all aspects of the sex trade. I know the good, the bad and the ugly and I know that bawdy houses are safer than being on the street," Bedford said.

"We can sell all the sex we want, but where are we supposed to do it. When I was convicted they took everything and they never gave me my panties back."

Witnesses will be called on the bawdy house issue as well as on decriminalizing communicating for the purpose of prostitution.

Court challenge takes on sex work prohibitions

Globe and Mail, October 6, 2009

Kirk Makin

As police across the country search for scores of missing and murdered women, three prostitutes are launching a carefully prepared challenge that could force changes in how Canada polices the world's oldest profession.

Lawyers for women intend to prove, in a case that opens Tuesday, that prostitution is also the world's most dangerous profession and that ill-conceived and repressive laws exacerbate the perils.

“The laws target women and don't allow women to protect themselves,” said one of the litigants, Terri-Jean Bedford, who has worked as a Toronto street prostitute and a brothel madam. “Nothing can be worse than the laws we have now. I found that working indoors is much safer than working outdoors, especially after midnight, when the freaks come out.”

The law flies in the face of social reality, said Lauren Casey, a former prostitute in Victoria, B.C. “When consenting adults are doing what consulting adults like to do – and there is no harm to it – then we should reduce the harm that is associated with a very dangerous form of work,” she said in an interview.

We have created this bizarre situation where prostitution is not directly prohibited, but the state tries to prohibit all the incidental transactions — Alan Young, Osgoode Hall law professor

While sporadic attempts have been made over the years to chip away at aspects of prostitution law, the challenge is the first in two decades to aim for a broad sweep of its provisions. The women want the courts to strike down prohibitions against living off the avails of prostitution, communicating with potential clients and setting up brothels.

To succeed, the applicants must show that the laws amount to a “grossly disproportionate” infringement of the Charter right to life, liberty and security of the person.

With the Charter challenge almost certain to reach the Supreme Court of Canada, both sides have had a strong incentive to assemble a vast body of evidence, including dozens of witnesses.

“As it currently stands, the law is arbitrary and irrational,” said Alan Young, a law professor at York University's Osgoode Hall law school, who is spearheading the Charter challenge.

“We have created this bizarre situation where prostitution is not directly prohibited, but the state tries to prohibit all the incidental transactions.”

Lawyers for the federal and Ontario Crown are focusing their strategy on proving the inherent dangers of prostitution, whether it is conducted in a car, an open field or a luxurious boudoir. They also contend that prostitution is inherently degrading and unhealthy, and should not be encouraged through a slack legal regime.

“The Charter does not mandate Parliament to design a regime allowing the applicants to earn money by engaging in prostitution with fewer hindrances,” federal prosecutor Michael Morris said in a legal brief.

Mr. Morris warned that decriminalization could cause women to view prostitution as “a career choice,” make Canada a haven for sex tourism, and divide residential communities that become red-light districts.

But Prof. Young scoffed at the idea that prostitution is as dangerous indoors is it is outdoors: “It's common sense,” he said. “You can lock the door. You have a baseball bat under your bed. You have a panic button. You have a closed circuit camera.”

Prohibiting communication renders prostitutes unable to “screen” potential clients, Prof. Young said. “Living off the avails means that you can't hire security, and the bawdy house provision means that you can't move behind closed doors.”

To decide the case, Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel must assess whether the law is proportionate to its purpose, or whether it forces prostitutes into unsafe situations where they can become easy prey for deviants and serial killers.

Ms. Casey said that prostitutes constantly compromise their safety to avoid running afoul of the law. She worked recently with a prostitutes' outreach team that encountered a frightened streetwalker who had leapt from a moving vehicle to escape a “creepy” john.

“We said that we had to call the police to report it,” Ms. Casey said. “The woman was saying: ‘If you are going to report it, I'm out of here.'”

Simon Fraser University criminologist John Lowman said that, according to public opinion polls and research, a majority of Canadians believe that prostitution between consenting adults should be legal.

“So do the Bloc, Liberals and NDP, according to the 2006 parliamentary report of the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws,” he said. “Clearly, Canadians are ready to end what one judge has characterized as the ‘Alice in Wonderland' state of Canadian prostitution law.”

Indeed, there may be no greater illustration of this looking-glass world than the fact that several cities – including Toronto, Victoria, Windsor, Calgary and Edmonton – now charge fees to licence body-rub establishments despite the general understanding that many sell sexual services.

“You cannot take money for an activity that you know is illegal, whether it is enforced or not,” Prof. Young said. “Yet, we have this strange situation where the biggest pimps in the country right now are municipal governments. It's just another irrationality of the law.”

In Vancouver, a group of women's organizations called the Abolition Coalition, yesterday launched a campaign to oppose the Ontario Superior Court case.

“If you view prostitution as violence against women, as we do, you understand you can't make violence safer,” said Laura Holland of the Aboriginal Women's Action Network.

Instead of providing safety measures for women, further decriminalization would give johns, brothel owners and pimps the constitutional right to exploit women said Janine Benedet, a law professor at the University of British Columbia.

While the coalition supports tougher laws and stronger enforcement for pimps, johns and brothel owners, it supports ending prosecution of prostitutes charged with solicitation. With a report from Rebecca Lindell in Vancouver.

Sex work laws on trial: Constitutional challenge continues

Xtra Magazine, Toronto,  October 5, 2009

Julia Garro

After hearing from witnesses in June the constitutional challenge of some of Canada's sex work laws is back in court from Oct 6 to 9 for closing arguments.

"It'll be our legal team and the crown's duking it out," says Valerie Scott, executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC).

Scott and fellow sex work activists Terri Jean Bedford and Amy Lebovitch filed the case in 2007, challenging that several sections of the Criminal Code related to sex work violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Although it is legal to sell sex in Canada, many of the activities related to the sale of sex are considered criminal offences.

Specifically SPOC's case takes issue with Section 213(1)(c), which makes it illegal to communicate for the purposes of prostitution; Section 210, which makes it illegal to run a common bawdy house; and Section 212(1)(j), which makes it illegal to live off the avails of prostitution.

These laws, say Scott, are putting sex workers at risk because it makes it illegal to take safety precautions including hiring security staff and working in groups.

"Sexual predators are well aware that the law is a gift to them," she says. "It serves us up on a silver platter to them because we're too afraid to call the police. We're too afraid to work together, we're always alone and isolated."

WORKPLACE HAZARD. "Sexual predators are well aware that the law is a gift to them," says Sex Professionals of Canada's executive director Valerie Scott

Although originally denied intervener status in the case a group of Christian organizations — Christian Legal Fellowship, Real Women of Canada and the Catholic Civil Rights League — won an appeal on Sep 22. The groups will begin presentations to the judge in the case, justice Susan Himel, beginning Oct 19.

"They have a real substantial and identifiable interest in the subject matter of the application and, as acknowledged by the Attorney General of Canada, an important perspective different from the parties," states the decision.

Scott admits she was surprised at the overturned decision. "The logic of this case has nothing to do with morality. It has everything to do with safety."

Following the interveners' presentations there will be a chance for counter arguments by SPOC's senior lawyer, Osgoode Hall law school professor Alan Young.

Scott hopes for a decision in the case early in 2010. "There's a lot there's an awful lot to wade through and come up with a decision... it's going to take [Himel] several months," she says.

No matter which way Himel rules Scott expects the decision will be appealed.

"If the decision is at all favourable to us for certain the Crown, the Attorney General of Canada, will appeal," she says. "If the decision is unfavourable to us then we scramble to find more money and then we go to appeal court where we ask for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada."

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 24, 2009

Advocacy groups denounce Salvation Army’s human trafficking campaign Advocates for sex workers’ and women’s rights are demanding an end to the Salvation Army “The Truth Isn’t Sexy” campaign. On September 25, 2009, the Salvation Army is asking its supporters to participate in “group prayers” where they will place mannequins in tattered white dresses stained with fake blood outside strip clubs and massage

In 2008, the Salvation Army launched the campaign with a series of shocking public advertisements depicting women in situations of danger and violence. The upcoming “weekend of prayer” will take place in cities around the world and will involve actions targeting sex workers and their workplaces. In May of this year, the Salvation Army forced to apologize for a similar campaign in Australia.

“Through an aggressive misinformation campaign, the Salvation Army is trying to create hysteria regarding human trafficking in Canada,” says Katrina Pacey, Pivot lawyer and coordinator of the sex work human rights campaign. “Instead of creating effectiveevidence-based strategies to protect sex workers rights, the campaign will have the effect of further marginalizing the people they claim to be trying to help.”

Pivot Legal Society, FIRST and other prominent sex workers’ and women’s advocacy groups have joined together to speak out against the Salvation Army and their campaign. Other coalition members include the BC Coalition of Experiential Communities, the Sex Industry Workers Safety Action Group, PACE, and the Sex Professionals of Canada. “It is completely unacceptable that the Salvation Army excluded sex workers from the
development of this campaign,” says Tamara O’Doherty of FIRST. “As a result, the campaign is harming the overwhelming majority of sex workers who do not identify as trafficked persons and does nothing to further the safety and rights of the approximately 600 women and children who we believe may be trafficked into Canada each year.”

For further information, please follow the following links to statements and reports on the
reality of human trafficking in Canada:

Letter from FIRST to Salvation Army

Fact sheet about trafficking in Canada (FIRST)

Human Trafficking, Sex Work Safety and the 2010 Games: Assessments and
Recommendations (Front Line Consulting)

Trafficking in Persons and the 2010 Olympics (Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women).
Salvation Army campaign website

Religious, women's groups allowed to back prostitution laws

Path cleared for religious organizations, conservative women's group to support the laws at constitutional challenge

Kirk Makin / Globe and Mail / Wednesday, September 23rd 2009

An Ontario judge was wrong to prohibit two religious groups and a conservative women's group from supporting the country's prostitution laws at a coming constitutional challenge, the Ontario Court of Appeal said Tuesday.

In a 3-0 ruling, the appeal court said that the groups have a legitimate contribution to make to an issue that has a clear moral dimension.

It ruled that Mr. Justice Ted Matlow of the Ontario Superior Court misunderstood the case and used flawed reasoning when he concluded that groups would be out of place making moral arguments during the trial.

The groups were the Christian Legal Fellowship, REAL Women of Canada and the Catholic Civil Rights League.

Scheduled to begin next month, the challenge was launched by three activists connected to the sex trade – Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott. They want the court to strike down laws against communicating for the purposes of prostitution, living off the avails of prostitution and keeping a common bawdy house.

The challenge will focus on whether prostitution laws violate a constitutional guarantee to life, liberty and security of the person by exposing sex workers to danger.

Law professor Alan Young, a lawyer for the challengers, said yesterday that he took pains to construct the case as one that involves the health and safety of sex trade workers – not one that revolves around moral judgments.

“From everything I've seen from the intervenors, it seems they want to resurrect an old and tiresome moral argument that was used in previous centuries to justify this secular law,” Prof. Young said in an interview. “Ultimately, I believe the hearing judge will reject this, but it could be a significant distraction. I do not want to have to deal with spiritual values in this case.”

However, Derek Bell, a lawyer representing the three groups, maintained that his clients “can make a useful contribution to the proceeding. … Nothing in that argument is revolutionary. The criminal law has been, and always will be, grounded in morality.”

Mr. Bell said that the prostitution laws express a clear community view that prostitution is immoral. “It is open to the state to say: ‘We're not going to legitimize prostitution by having it take place in public,” he said.

“If the Canadian public wanted these laws changed, Parliament could change them in a moment. But does the Charter require them to be changed? My clients say ‘absolutely not.'”

Prof. Young said that the groups are unlikely to consume a substantial amount of court time. “It shouldn't have any dramatic impact on the case other than to confuse and distract the judge into thinking this case is about the morality of sex work,” he said.

Yesterday's ruling was issued by judges Stephen Goudge, Eleanore Cronk and Gloria Epstein.

Court tells religious groups to scram

SEX LAWS / Challenge to prostitution laws moves forward

Michael Pihach / Xtra / Monday, July 13, 2009

Two religious groups and a conservative women's group wishing to intervene in a constitutional challenge to Canada's prostitution laws have been told to beat it by an Ontario judge.

The Christian Legal Fellowship, REAL Women of Canada and the Catholic Civil Rights League applied to intervene in the challenge, which was launched by the Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC), an advocacy group that works toward the decriminalization of sex work.
Justice Ted Matlow of the Ontario Superior Court said the participation of the conservative groups would turn the challenge into a platform for religious views and would disrupt and prolong the proceedings.

The challenge "does not provide a political platform where interested persons are permitted to speak in order to advance their personal views, beliefs, policies and interests at large," said Matlow on Jul 2.

Matlow also sent a clear message that religious morality groups don't have a "special relationship" with the courts that allows them to make arguments that "would reflect the views of only small segments of Canadian society."

Alan Young, SPOC's lawyer, is pleased with Matlow's decision.

"It's insulting and demeaning for a group to find a reason to argue about the moral value of a prostitute," says Young.

Young says Canada's prostitution laws are "irrational" and increase the level of harm to which sex workers are exposed. Whether or not one thinks a certain occupation is immoral is irrelevant, says Young. "People still are protected by the secular state."

The challenge is being made by activists Terri Jean Bedford, Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch. They argue that Canada's prostitution laws are to blame for a high number of robberies, beatings, rapes and murders of sex workers.

"The law does the opposite to protect us," says Scott.

Under the Criminal Code of Canada anyone can be arrested for living on the avails of prostitution.

"That makes it illegal for me to send my mother or father a birthday present," says Scott.

The same law also makes it illegal for sex workers to rent apartments, have roommates or refer clients.


"This [case] isn't about religion," says sex work activist Valerie Scott. "It's about safety. We want to be able to work properly."
(Paula Wilson photo)

Canada's bawdyhouse law is another weird one. It makes it illegal to flip tricks indoors, which is one reason why many prostitutes take their trade to the streets, says Scott. It's also illegal to communicate for the purposes of prostitution. That part of the law, says Scott, acts as a disincentive for sex workers who are victimized to call the police.

The efforts of the Toronto Police Service's Sex Crimes Unit, which investigates sexual offences against sex workers, is not enough to protect sex workers, says Scott.

"The way the laws are set up makes it extremely hard to work in safe conditions," she says.

Scott is pleased the conservative groups have been cut from SPOC's challenge.

"These people are not directly affected, no matter how many moral issues they bring up," says Scott. "This [case] isn't about religion. It's about safety. We want to be able to work properly."

Ruth Ross of the Catholic Civil Rights League, one of the three groups that applied to intervene with SPOC's case, is disappointed with Matlow's decision.

"There seems to be a mentality that people with moral issues shouldn't be speaking to the issue," she says. "It's an infringement on free speech."

Ross believes SPOC's case should address morality and that the prostitution laws should stay as they are.

"While no law will ever be perfect, what we have now provides a legal avenue for providing help to prostitutes, especially those not in the business of their free will," says Ross.

Ross says the Catholic Civil Rights League is in favour of all people and personal freedom but later added that the group does not support sex work. During Canada's same-sex marriage debate, the league actively argued that gay marriage infringes upon freedom of religion.

This is the first time the league has weighed in on Canada's prostitution laws, says Ross. She says the league's lawyers are considering an appeal to Matlow's ruling.

Meanwhile SPOC will spend the summer prepping for its case.

Scott expects a decision by March 2010.

Groups refused standing at prostitution law trial

KIRK MAKIN / Globe and Mail / Friday, July 3rd, 2009


An Ontario judge has turned down a request from two religious groups and a conservative women's group to take part in a constitutional challenge of the country's prostitution laws.

Mr. Justice Ted Matlow of the Ontario Superior Court said that the groups would be liable to turn the trial into a soapbox for spiritual views, which would be out of place in a strictly legal proceeding.

Judge Matlow said that the groups struck him as being unaware that the challenge "does not provide a political platform where interested persons are permitted to speak in order to advance their personal views, beliefs, policies and interests at large."

The ruling came as a blow to the Christian Legal Fellowship, REAL Women of Canada and Catholic Civil Rights League - which had argued that the court should hear a broad range of voices on a question with important moral dimensions.

Scheduled to begin this fall, the challenge was launched by three activists connected to the sex trade - Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott. They want the court to strike down laws against communicating for the purposes of prostitution, living off the avails of prostitution and keeping a common bawdy house.

The challenge will focus on whether prostitution laws violate a constitutional guarantee to life, liberty and security of the person by exposing sex workers to danger.

Judge Matlow said yesterday that he was reluctant to convey an erroneous impression that the groups have a "special relationship" with the court that permits them to present contentious moral opinions that "would reflect the views of only small segments of Canadian society."

He also said that their participation could disrupt and prolong the hearing.

Alan Young, a lawyer for the challengers, argued before Judge Matlow that the Supreme Court of Canada heard a Charter challenge to the prostitution laws in 1990 that raised quite different legal points. He said that while the court upheld the provisions, it made it clear that morality is not a factor in such challenges.

Religious groups seek standing at prostitution challenge

The case, scheduled to be heard this fall, was launched by three activists connected to the sex trade

Kirk Makin / Globe and Mail / Saturday, Jun. 20, 2009

Spirituality and morals took centre stage at the opening skirmish in what could be a battle royal over the constitutionality of the country's prostitution laws.

With the court challenge scheduled to begin this fall, two religious groups and a conservative women's group urged a Toronto judge Friday to let them participate to ensure that morality is not swept aside by legal rhetoric.

“It is okay – to be blunt – for a person to sell their body, but when that action begins to impede on others, fundamental moral values are impacted,” Ranjan Agarwal told Mr. Justice Ted Matlow of the Ontario Superior Court.

“If this forum is to be the way that laws live and die in our society ... the courts should welcome intervention of groups who represent a broad number of Canadians and can give assistance to the court,” said Mr. Agarwal, a lawyer for REAL Women of Canada, the Catholic Civil Rights League and Christian Legal Fellowship.

The challenge was launched by three activists connected to the sex trade – Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott. They are seeking to strike down laws that prevent communicating for the purposes of prostitution, living off the avails of prostitution and keeping a common bawdy house.

Their lawyer, Alan Young, a law professor at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School, contends that the three laws are incompatible with the fact that prostitution is legal in Canada.

The challenge contends that the prostitution laws violate Section 7 of the Charter of Rights guarantee to life, liberty and security of the person, by exposing sex workers to danger.

Prof. Young said he intends to argue that the laws compromise the safety of sex workers by making it impossible for them to hire staff, run secure brothels or talk to potential clients to determine which ones are potentially dangerous.

Prof. Young said he usually welcomes legal intervenors that represent various sectors of society and can bring a distinctive approach to a case. However, he urged Judge Matlow to prevent REAL Women and the two Christian groups from imposing their brand of morality on a legal proceeding.

“This is not a seminary,” Prof. Young said. “This is not a forum for theological debate. They should really be in Ottawa. This is a forum for legal arguments; it is not a forum for airing grievances...When there are too many cooks in the kitchen, there is confusion.”

Prof. Young said the Supreme Court of Canada heard a Charter challenge to the prostitution laws in 1990, which raised quite different legal points. He said that, while the court upheld the provisions, it made it clear that morality is not a factor in such challenges.

“What these three groups want is a freestanding airing of their grievance that drugs, homosexual bathhouses and prostitution are spoiling the fabric of Canadian society,” Prof. Young said. “What you really have are three groups that have very strong opinions about the immorality of prostitution.

“My mother shares that opinion,” he said. “But she would not be able to intervene in this case just because she believes prostitution is immoral.”

Lawyers for the federal Justice Department support the groups' application for intervenor status. Ontario Crown counsel Shelley Hallett said she had no position their request.

Mr. Agarwal pledged not to range far afield if he were granted legal standing. “My clients have no interest in trying to derail the process,” he said. “They believe that our Criminal Code can and does reflect fundamentals of morality. What my clients seek to do is simply stand up after five days of hearings and make oral submissions.”

Judge Matlow reserved his decision.

Treat sex work as work

SEX PLAY / Support decriminalization, rather than legalization
Todd Kinck / / Monday, June 08, 2009

I was in the green room waiting to go onto the set of Jawbreaker, a talk show hosted by Brad Fraser back around 2002. The topic of the day was sex work. I was working as a professional dominant at the time, and I had just been introduced to the other two guests: one, a young twink webcam model, and the other, Valerie Scott, a noted Canadian sex worker activist. Like any well-meaning, socially conscious individual, I stated that "prostitution should be legalized." Valerie gave me a three-minute speech that quickly straightened me out — it is decriminalization that we are after, not legalization. This might sound like a case of semantics, but as Valerie taught me, it's very important to differentiate between the two terms.

I have always looked at prostitution in the same way I look at computer consulting, tarot card readings or counselling. The client comes to your home office, or you visit them in their home or hotel room, you engage in a service-minded encounter, and you get paid for your time. When tax season comes, you declare your self-employment income, and after expenses and other things are taken into consideration, you send the government their cut or you get a refund. It is totally standard practice. There are tons of people who have self-employment income and for the most part, there is little reason for the government to get involved with the intricacies of whatever their chosen trade or service is. Income is income.

The notion that prostitution should be "legalized" suggests that there is something intrinsically wrong with the exchange of sex for money, that it is a vice that should be controlled by the state. Well-meaning people have often come up to me and made conversation at various events, with statements like, "I support legalization of sex work.... the workers should have mandatory health check-ups of course, and they should be issued licences, but there is nothing wrong with prostitution."

There are problems with the notion that we need a separate government body created to issue licences to hookers, and that the hookers should be forced to be tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). How would the government licence sex workers? What would the criteria be? Would they require blowjob training?

Testing for STIs is also problematic. The straight porn industry learned this in 2004 when a mini-HIV outbreak caused the industry to be shut down for 30 days. Giving clients of sex workers any sort of false sense of security, perhaps in the form of certificates stating that a sex worker has tested negative for STIs, will just encourage the clients to coerce the workers into unsafe sex encounters. You cannot effectively guarantee that someone is free of sexually transmitted infections with even weekly testing, when they are having sex with multiple partners on a daily basis. So let's just forget about this whole notion that sex workers should be forced to be tested, and instead continue to educate people about safer sex practices.

The formal movement towards decriminalizing sex work in Canada involves eliminating three provisions of the Criminal Code: section 210, which forbids the keeping of a bawdy house, section 212 1j which makes living off the avails of prostitution a crime and section 213 1c, which bans communication for the purposes of prostitution. Prostitution itself is legal — I have personally claimed income related to sex work and paid taxes on it. But according to the law, I was running a bawdy house, I communicated for the purposes of prostitution, and my roommate was my pimp and could have been arrested.

There is a constitutional challenge currently underway to fight to remove these three sections of the code, but one person involved has privately expressed doubt to me that they will achieve their goal of full decriminalization without a visionary prime minister or prominent cabinet minister joining the fight. So we might continue living in this period of a fucked up Criminal Code — a period where at least there is discussion going on, and awareness of the issues. Helping to create a normalcy to the fact that sex work is legitimate work is important grass roots action. The University of Toronto organized a massive academic conference in March called Sex for Sale. I spoke at this conference and it was refreshing to see students of all orientations engaged in the process of understanding, debating and supporting the decriminalization movement.

So I'm writing this column to accomplish one small thing — to point out to the average reader that there really is no point in talking about legalizing or licensing prostitutes — rather, we should aim for decriminalization. The sex worker cause parallels the queer cause: freedom to engage in sexual relationships that stray from the norm, recognition that not all relationships survive with a monogamous, two-partner formula, and understanding of negotiated sexual encounters. These are all strong themes from queer history. Even if some of the sections of the Criminal Code take a long time to eliminate, awareness of the issues can help make sex work safer for those involved in it.

Letter to the Editor / Toronto Star / Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

By Valerie Scott & Amy Lebovitch, from SPOC.

re: Sex & Charity article found in the Toronto Star, April 25th 2009. Click HERE for original article.

Your article exposes as news the way escort services have had to process our clients' credit card payments since the 1970s.

Despite the fact that prostitution is not illegal in Canada, credit card companies like Mastercard, Visa and American Express won't provide escort services or individual escorts with merchant numbers, which would enable us to process fee payments ourselves. This is because the card companies fear negative publicity from those who can only see sex workers as either villains or victims.

The solution is simple: card companies must recognize prostitution as a straight-forward business transaction. It's time for all Canadians to adopt a sensible approach to this occupation. Then we wouldn't be put in the position of having to do business with racist scam artists.

In defence of women who want to sell sex

Columnist says book tells only half the story

Antonia Zerbisias / The Star / May 13, 2009

Victor Malarek is practically shouting over the phone.

Maybe it's because he's talking on his mobile, on his way to satisfy a craving for strawberries and ice cream.

More likely because the investigative reporter, formerly with CBC's the fifth estate and now with CTV's W-FIVE, is frustrated with my objections to his new book, The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It.

It's a follow-up to his The Natashas: The New Global Sex Trade.

It's not that we disagree on many points. Human trafficking is, indeed, very wrong. Child prostitution is horrifying. Sex tourism is disgusting. What happens to women who hit the streets, where they fall prey to drugs, violent clients, brutal pimps, corrupt cops and even serial killers, is unspeakable.

As for the misogyny online, where Malarek found 16 "johns" he interviewed and "five thousand posts" he analyzed, well, tell me something I don't know. Cyberspace is one-handed nirvana for misogynists who cruise degrading porn and talk trash about women.

What I object to is Malarek's contention that all sex work is wrong; that there is, for all intents and purposes, no such thing as, to use his words, a "happy hooker.''

Which infuriates "Ginger,'' one of several women I know, maybe even the mom next door to you, who love their escort jobs.

A fortysomething divorcée with two teens, she stumbled into the trade through a friend 10 years ago. When she discovered that she could support her family working only a few days a week – with NHL players, touring rock stars and even (former) provincial premiers – she quit her social services job and never looked back.

"(Malarek) just cannot see anyone choosing to do this," Ginger tells me, echoing other professional escorts. "It's a very paternalistic, patronizing attitude he has and he chooses to ignore all the women – I know women are talking to him. I know women are saying, `Listen to me' – and he brushes them off as the happy hooker contingency."

To Malarek, those who lobby for the decriminalization of prostitution are "bozos'' who are "unrelenting and vociferous shills for the sex industry" and "staunchly defend women's rights to sell their bodies and men's rights to buy them.''

Well, as a supporter of this "happy hooker lobby," I must say that most of the groups he lists do not represent men at all, except for those men who work in the sex trade.

Instead, what the groups, such as SPOC (Sex Professionals of Canada), do is fight for the rights and safety of adults – mostly women – who choose to work as "call girls.''

After all, sex is not illegal here. Neither is buying a woman a drink and/or dinner and getting consensual sex in return. And neither, for that matter, is prostitution.

What is illegal are the means that protect sex workers from harm.

Canada's Criminal Code, for example, prevents the keeping of a "bawdy house." That means women can't set up shop together. Isn't there safety in numbers?

It also prevents people from "living on the avails'' of prostitution. That means, if you're working to put your live-in teenage son through college, he could be construed as a "pimp.''

(Note that, in Ontario, SPOC is fighting a legal challenge against these laws.)

Malarek's book really doesn't get into the legal details, except to rant against how legalization – which he conflates with the very different decriminalization – has been a failure in other countries.

But where is his research? His footnotes? His citations?

Instead, he relies heavily on American clinical psychologist Melissa Farley, whose work is subsidized by a group that equates sex work with human trafficking.

But, if there's so much human trafficking in North America, how come there haven't been mass arrests? Why do abolitionists such as Malarek (and Farley) focus only on street workers and sex slaves?

As Ginger points out: "There aren't data on average mainstream sex workers because they don't get arrested, don't have drug problems and don't fall within statistics. The only thing I do that's illegal is that I work for an agency."

An agency that supplies drivers to keep an eye on things, maintains "bad client lists'' and takes about $45 from every $200 one-hour "call." All sex is "covered'' – i.e., safe – and, according to Ginger, who has never had a bad experience, makes up only a few moments of the typical hour.

But Malarek ignores such escort services – which are legion – to complain that "in the world of prostitution, there is no such thing as safe sex. It is a world prone to violence, drug addiction, degradation, disease, depression, vulnerability.''

No argument there, with one caveat: That usually happens only when sex workers are treated like criminals, pushed to the margins and have no rights.

In fairness, Malarek reserves his harshest judgment for men who, in his opinion, should never have a reason to buy sex, no matter what. Even if they're infirm, socially awkward or butt-ugly.

"They can get a relationship!'' he shouts into the phone.

To him, it's simple. Go after the "male urges.'' Punish the johns.

But to Ginger, that's simplistic.

"I think the abolitionist theory is dangerous," she insists. "You're not going to abolish it, first of all. So that makes the book profoundly unrealistic.

"The problem is, if you punish the johns, if you go by the Swedish example, the only customers you lose are the good ones, the ones with good jobs and lives who are afraid of infringing on that with criminal charges. The ones who stay are the bad guys who don't care.''

And, as Malarek insists, there are enough bad guys buying sex as it is.

A closer look at decriminalizing prostitution

Jessie Murdock / Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Gazette / Western University, London ON

“We need to be a lot less uptight about sex and realize there are problems occurring in Canada.”

The sentiment expressed by Western philosophy professor Samantha Brennan reflects the feelings of those who favour decriminalizing prostitution in Canada.

Today, Amy Lebovitch — a sex worker and the interim executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada — will be at Western giving a presentation outlining the different types of sex work and explaining how the Criminal Code in Canada currently affects prostitution.

Lebovitch is an advocate for decriminalizing sex workers in Canada.

“Decriminalization positively views sex work as a legitimate independent business and puts control of the industry in the sex workers’ hands,” she said.

On Oct. 5, 2009 a major case involving Lebovitch will commence at the Superior Court of Ontario. She is one of three plaintiffs in the case against the Attorney General of Canada; they are challenging three sections of the Criminal Code related to prostitution.

“This does not have much impact on the legal system; the implications are more political and social,” Alan Young, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and Lebovitch’s lawyer in the case, stated.

“Prohibitionists argue that when it is decriminalized, the country will be flooded by individuals wanting to join the sex trade. I do not see this Pandora’s box scenario as a possibility.”

Advocates of decriminalizing the sex work industry argue it will reduce the stigma towards the profession.

“Some feminists argue that sex workers are not ‘bad women,’ but they are victims,” said Barb MacQuarrie, community director for the Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western.

“Sex workers are more at risk of being abused than women not involved in sex work because as a society we view them as ‘less than,’” she added.

According to MacQuarrie, Lebovitch and Brennan, decriminalizing prostitution will increase the safety of sex workers as they could centralize their work through businesses and co-ops by working together.

“The majority of clients are really great — they are not all abusers who attack women,” Lebovitch explained. “However, there are those who want to have sex without a condom; this instigates a discussion which should not occur.”

Conversely, other groups — such as Streetlight Support Services in Toronto — assert the decriminalization of prostitution would have negative consequences for workers.

“The philosophy of Streetlight has been that the sex trade industry globally displays the same patterns of ritual abuse and violence,” Inas Garwood, executive director of Streetlight, stated.

“The decriminalization of prostitution could lead to a higher risk of abuse in women and children.”

However, MacQuarrie explained, “Women who fear criminal consequences for revealing their occupation are less likely to seek medical assistance or to turn to the police for help if crimes such as robbery, assault or sexual assault are committed against them.”

Health concerns are another reason why Lebovitch and the SPOC advocate for the decriminalization of prostitution, rather than legalization.

According to Lebovitch, sex workers in countries where prostitution has been legalized are required to undergo mandatory health checks while their clients do not have the same requirement. She stated this paternalistic approach violates the rights of sex workers.

Conversely, Garwood stated, “If prostitution were decriminalized, addictions and mental health costs to our health care system would be enormous. I am not only talking about physical [health], but also mental and psychological health. A lot of my clients have disclosed their need for drugs or alcohol before going to work [in the sex trade].

“The risk of contracting [sexually transmitted infections] exists whether prostitution is decriminalized or not, but if it is, more people would be exposed to the risk,” she added.

From 2005 to 2008, the London Police Service investigated 309 prostitution cases.

“Prostitution is a continuing problem in London, just as in other cities in Ontario,” Amy Phillipo, a representative of the London Police Service, stated.

While Phillipo acknowledged decriminalizing prostitution may decrease criminal cases related to the profession, she said other issues may arise.

“Cases may decrease relating to prostitution, but there may be an increase in other crimes such as drug problems in neighbourhoods,” she added.

Garwood claimed there are alternatives to decriminalizing prostitution, advocating for expanding public outreach and public education programs, as well as diversion programs within the community rather than changing the Criminal Code.

In contrast, Brennan explained, “Sex for sale is not illegal in Canada. What is illegal is soliciting and keeping a house within which prostitution occurs. We have targeted activities people perceive as a nuisance as being illegal.”

“When a ‘bawdy house’ is discovered, its assets and property can be seized. Currently, when sex workers work in cooperation in the business, they can be charged,” Lebovitch added.

Overall, Young, Lebovitch, MacQuarrie and Brennan agreed decriminalizing prostitution would benefit sex workers by safeguarding against abuse, health concerns and allowing legal protection.

“We tend to want strip clubs and other such places on the outskirts of town and therefore, in some ways, we need to become adults about sexuality,” Brennan asserted.

“We cannot pretend that these issues don’t exist because they will not go away if ignored.