Print media from 2010

{Begining with most recent}


2010 Hero: Terri-Jean Bedford, Valerie Scott, Amy Lebovitch, and Justice Susan Himel


When we call prostitution the "world's oldest profession," surely we're being facetious. Dentistry is a profession. Teaching is a profession. Prostitution is a crime, right? Well, sort of. In fact, prostitution itself has been decriminalized in Canada since the '70s, but there's a catch. Almost any activity associated with prostitution is illegal: communicating to solicit clients, living off the avails, keeping a "bawdy house" (a term that perhaps gives away the vintage of these laws—it sounds like it was coined by the Wife of Bath). In case you haven't noticed, this has all been entirely ineffective at stopping prostitution from existing. Forget about "profession," and focus on the "world's oldest" part. As in, "has existed in some capacity in just about every society everywhere ever." And that includes penguin society!

Like it or not, hooking is here to stay, which means you have to ask what these laws actually do. Well, simple: they force an already marginalized and victimized group into dangerous, illegal situations on a constant basis. The "bawdy house" provision makes a working from home approach problematic, the "living off the avails" part means hiring any security is also a no-no, and the "communication" bit means a "client screening process" is often jumping into a car before a cop sees you. Worst of all, a sex worker fearing for her (or his) safety cannot dial 911 without risking incarceration themselves.

On Tuesday, September 28, things started to change. Terri-Jean Bedford, Valerie Scott, and Amy Lebovitch made a huge leap forward for sex workers' rights in the province of Ontario. In a surprise decision, Justice Susan Himel declared all three aforementioned laws unconstitutional in the Ontario Supreme Court, right here in Toronto. Obviously, the decision was controversial. Reactionaries like conservative lobby group REAL Women of Canada (who are about as anti-feminist, anti-choice, homophobic, and transphobic as an organization that nominally supports women's rights can possibly get) warn that decriminalization will lead to a tidal wave of streetwalking, human trafficking, and abuse, conveniently ignoring that it's our current laws that force prostitutes onto the streets and make their jobs so unsafe. Squeamishness has no place interfering in such important jurisprudence. If you don't think prostitution is "nice," try not becoming a prostitute. Otherwise, what consenting adults choose to do with their bodies and their money is none of your business.

We haven't reached the end of this story yet. Ontario's Court of Appeals put a stay in place, meaning that these unconstitutional laws will still be enforced until April 29, 2011, giving the government ample time to react. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, of course, has already declared prostitution "bad for society." And it may be a long time yet before the sex workers of Ontario are able to realize their dreams of forming trade guilds, and filing income tax (yes, this is actually a dream for some). You know, like professionals. But Bedford, Scott, Lebovitch, and Himel all put their necks on the line to strike down the kind of laws that allowed Robert Pickton to murder dozens of women for fourteen years before being arrested. And we think that's fucking heroic.

So whose bloody job is it?

Dan Gardner // The Ottawa Citizen // December 2, 2010
At a recent town hall, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff took a question from the audience about the prostitution laws.

Almost two months ago, an Ontario judge ruled that Canada’s prostitution laws put prostitutes at greater risk of violence and therefore violate Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The government immediately announced it would appeal. If the ruling stands, it will strike down laws against “living off the avails” of prostitution, keeping a “common bawdy house,” and communicating in public for the purposes of prostitution. So what does Ignatieff feel about this?

“It’s being appealed, and all I feel about it is there is a balance, which I see in my own constituency,” Ignatieff replied, as reported by Dale Smith of Xtra. “Families in family areas are very concerned about the public nuisance and public disorder that happens with prostitution.... On the other hand, the same families are concerned about the safety, the physical safety, of sex workers. That’s the balance we have to find. I’m not going to say whether that court got it right. That’s not my job. My job is then, if the government appeals, and there’s a decision and has to be new legislation, we’ll look at the new legislation with that balance in mind, because that’s the balance that Canadians want us to keep.”

As political evasion goes, this was poor stuff. Good evasion doesn’t look evasive. The politician talks and talks, he looks earnest, he sounds judicious, and he moves smoothly to the next question without having said anything even slightly interesting or substantive. Ignatieff’s performance was closer to Jon Lovitz cooing “yeahhh, that’s the ticket.”

It’s “not my job”? What an amazing statement. Whose bloody job is it? And that line about the appeal and new legislation is nothing less than astonishing.

Remember, Madam Justice Susan Himel decided — after an exhaustive trial featuring countless witnesses and heaps of documentary evidence — that the existing laws were literally aiding and abetting the robbery, rape, and murder of some of the most powerless people in society. To this, Ignatieff responds by lowering his fulsome eyebrows, noting that the decision is being appealed, and promising that, if the ruling stands, he’ll have a look at whatever new legislation the government may see fit to put forward at some unspecified date. To ensure it’s balanced. Because Canadians want balance.

Meanwhile, if Justice Himel is right, and her decision is stayed while the appeal proceeds, years will crawl by — and the prostitution laws will continue to aid and abet crimes against vulnerable people. Not that Ignatieff has an opinion about that. It’s not his job.

Now, as we have established, Canadians want balance, and so I must not be one-sided in my criticism. For all his evasiveness, Ignatieff at least acknowledged the elementary fact that prostitutes are victims of horrific levels of violence and he would prefer, on balance, that this were not so. Which is nice. As far as I am aware, Stephen Harper has made no statement on the subject, evasive or otherwise, in response to a question from the public. That may be because he doesn’t take questions from the public. Or it may be because he really isn’t all that concerned about the safety of prostitutes. Recall that when Justice Himel made her ruling, the government did not say, “the very possibility that the law is endangering women is alarming and so we will urgently investigate.” It expressed alarm that the ruling endangers the law. And it said it would appeal.

As far as I can find, Ignatieff and Harper haven’t uttered a single serious statement on the subject between the two of them. And that, unfortunately, is typical of how the political class has dealt with prostitution for decades.

In 1983, the “Fraser Committee,” a special committee of Parliament, launched a two-year investigation into prostitution and related issues. It gathered all available evidence. It commissioned new research. And in 1985, it reported that the prostitution laws were a haphazard mess that failed to reduce levels of prostitution and put prostitutes in greater danger. It recommended a modest and tightly regulated form of legalization.

The government ignored the Fraser Committee. Instead, it passed a new law that strengthened the crime of communicating in public. As Justice Himel noted, some MPs criticized the government for making “a hasty response to a complicated problem” and so the government promised it would examine the other recommendations of the Fraser Committee.

It never did.

Three years after the new law was enacted, a legislated review was conducted. It found that the new law had only pushed street prostitution from block to block, driving prostitutes into more isolated environments where they were at greater risk.

The government ignored the review.

I could go on — and on and on — but the point is clear. Serious examinations of the prostitution laws always conclude they are a patchwork desperately in need of fundamental reform. And the political class always refuses to talk seriously about it.

The government’s lawyers have argued that allowing Justice Himel’s ruling to come into force before the appeal is decided will result in “chaos” on the streets. I doubt it. But if it does, don’t blame judges. Blame politicians too cowardly to do their jobs.

Why Decriminalizing Sex Work is Good for All Women

November 1, 2010 // Crystal Jackson and Barbara Brents // Ms. Magazine

In a landmark ruling for women, the Ontario (Canada) Superior Court struck down existing laws against prostitution. This is a win for all women–at least in Canada. Decriminalizing sex work is a step toward eradicating “whore stigma,”something that affects all women and not just sex workers.

Canadian sex workers brought forth a constitutional challenge arguing that anti-prostitution laws hurt them more than protect them. The Canadian court ruled that laws criminalizing aspects of prostitution violate principles of fundamental justice and workers’ right to security (PDF). In other words, the harms to sex workers and to communities that result from existing laws outweigh the (perceived) benefits of criminalization.

What is notable about the ruling is that the judge refuted ideological and unscientific arguments that prostitution, taken as a whole, victimizes women. The ruling cited study after study showing that indoor prostitution is less harmful than street work, and that the places and ways in which prostitution can be practiced can lower the risk of violence. Sweeping claims that prostitution harms women are not reflected in the research.

This case repudiates the dominant discourse around sex work today: that the majority of sex workers are coerced, that women are trafficked into the business and that selling sex is inherently violent. In sum, that whores are not capable of critical thought and informed decision-making.

(Soho area of London by Flickr user Tom Coates)

Whore stigma is a particularly gnarly incarnation of misogyny marking women who dare to exercise economic independence or sexual independence. Think of the stereotype of a woman in a mid- or high-power position sleeping her way to the top. Think of prostitution in the media: news stories of women arrested for prostitution, or victims saved from trafficking; the popularity of HBO’s CatHouse: The Series reality show in a legal Nevada brothel; Showtime’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Basically, women exercising power in forms traditionally coded as masculine—with sexual independence, economic aspirations—are a challenge to the traditional gender model.

Whore stigma is one clue that anti-prostitution ideology is about more than just violence against women—it’s specifically about femininity. In this sense, arguments against transactional sex are a defense of both the gender binary and of heterosexuality. This is why men and transgender sex workers are invisible in prostitution debates. This is why changing laws is just the beginning, not the end, of a longtime struggle for basic human rights for sex workers.

Perhaps it is time for the U.S. to start paying attention to our neighbor to the north and other industrialized countries such as Germany and Australia (where prostitution has been legalized) and start questioning the ideological assumptions of our anti-prostitution legislation.

Crystal Jackson and Barbara Brents are co-authors of The State of Sex: Tourism, Sex, and Sin in the New American Heartland. Jackson is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Brents is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

For more good reading from Ms. Magazine, about sex work click HERE

London police announce new prostitution strategy

Will post names online of anyone with prostitution-related charges

Dale Carruthers // Londoner // October 28, 2010

London police are using a new strategy to crack down on the world's oldest profession.

An innovative campaign targeting the city's sex trade kicked off on Oct. 20. Under the eight-week blitz, police are beefing up surveillance in areas frequented by prostitutes, sending letters to the homes of johns and suspected johns, and posting the names online of anyone charged with criminal code offences related to prostitution.

"Our plan is directed at reducing the demand for sex trade workers," Police Chief Brad Duncan said at a press conference on Oct. 21.

"The message to men who communicate with known prostitutes should be obvious: the London police will engage you and, where applicable, charge you."

Only one day into the campaign, four men have been charged with communication for the purpose of prostitution, and seven other men were caught loitering in a targeted area.

"As a result, these will be 11 candidates for letters that will be forthcoming from the police service," Duncan said.

The one-page letter sent to the homes of johns and suspected johns warns of the dangers of prostitution and asks the individuals to refrain from bringing their vehicle into the area unnecessarily.

East London resident Jackie Doyle applauded Duncan's announcement.

"I'm looking forward to the positive outcome of this," said Doyle, a retired nurse. "For years (prostitution has) been an ongoing issue."

In more than five decades living in the city's east end, Duncan said the sex trade problem seems to be getting worse.

"It's just been more visible to me the last five years," she said.

Under the campaign, men engaging in the following actions will get a letter from police: picking up a sex trade worker, being found in the company of sex trade worker, continually driving around an area frequented by sex trade workers or stopping to talk to sex trade workers.

Duncan said other Canadian cities, such as Ottawa, have successfully used similar tactics to clamp down on prostitution.

"This proactive response should act as a deterrent to men showing interest in soliciting sex trade workers," Duncan said.

Prostitution ruling forces review of SCAN legislation

Katie Anderson // October 15, 2010 // Centretown News

Ottawa Centre’s MPP will have to rethink his private member’s bill if laws on prostitution become of no force and effect in Ontario.

Yasir Naqvi introduced a private member’s bill in 2008, proposing Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods legislation for Ontario – already adopted in Manitoba.

The SCAN legislation is intended to target properties that frequently house illegal activity.

If the bill is passed, homeowners, landlords and neighbours will be able to anonymously tip enforcement officials about potentially illegal activity in a residence.

Included in this proposal is the intent to further enforce Section 210 of the Criminal Code, which makes it illegal to keep a common bawdy house.

But this section is one of three laws associated with prostitution that were deemed unconstitutional by an Ontario Superior Court ruling in late September.

If the ruling survives the appeal process, the laws will lose force and Naqvi will have to revise his current proposal.

He maintains that his legislation is based on properties where illegal activity takes place. The legislation could no longer apply to a bawdy house if the law is permanently struck down.

Naqvi predicts that the recent ruling on the prostitution-based laws will spark a long legal process.

“I think we’ll see a lot of legal work that will be done,” says Naqvi. “We are walking into unknown territory right now.”

Naqvi’s legislation is not the only enforcement activity that faces potential change following the prostitution ruling.

In the last few years, Ottawa police have conducted prostitution sweeps that have resulted in several arrests on charges including communicating for the purpose of prostitution.

Christine Bruckert, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, says she believes these sweeps are a mark of Ottawa Police Services’ tendency toward enforcement measures rather than a collaborative effort with sex workers that is seen in other cities, such as Toronto and Vancouver.

“The more enthusiastic the policing are the more vulnerable sex workers are to violence,” says Bruckert.

She says neighbourhood interests don’t have to oppose the security of sex workers because community concerns are often based on the “nuisance” from theactivities surrounding prostitution and not necessarily the act itself.

She says in her opinion, the laws addressed by the recent ruling endanger sex workers by forcing them to work alone, in secret and by creating a fear among prostitutes of approaching the police.

“The first step is to appreciate that sex workers have rights just like everyone else,” says Bruckert. “We cannot have laws that endanger any one population.”

In the end, Naqvi’s proposed legislation might have to be changed, but he says the purpose  of it will remain the same: the safety of Ontario communities.

“Public safety is of paramount importance,” he says. “And also the health and safety of the women and men involved.”

BC Court Allows Challenge against Prostitution Laws

Thaddeus M. Baklinski // // October 13, 2010

The BC Court of Appeal ruled on October 12 that a Vancouver based pro-prostitution lobby group will be allowed to challenge Canada’s prostitution laws in court.

Madam Justice Mary E. Saunders overturned a December, 2008 ruling by the BC Supreme Court and told representatives from the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV) lobby group that she was granting them legal standing to challenge the Criminal Code, despite the group not being actively involved in prostitution themselves.

The 2008 Supreme Court decision found that the plaintiffs, former prostitute Sheri Kiselbach and SWUAV, did not have legal standing because they were not impacted by current laws against keeping a common bawdy house, living on the avails of prostitution and communicating for the purpose of prostitution.

Kiselbach and SWUAV appealed the ruling in January, 2009.

Justice Saunders said in her decision "that the impugned provisions of the Criminal Code deprive sex workers, whose work itself is lawful, of the ability to conduct their work safely," explaining that "the communication provisions push sex workers into isolated areas, working alone where assistance is not near at hand, that the bawdy house provisions deprive sex workers of the opportunity to work indoors in a safer setting, and that the procurement provisions limit the ability of sex workers to establish safer working environments."

"In this case," Justice Saunders wrote, "I respectfully conclude the judge (in the 2008 Supreme Court decision) failed to give sufficient weight to the breadth of the constitutional challenge and the comprehensive and systemic nature of the plaintiffs’ theory.”

Justice Saunders also mentioned the September 29 Ontario Superior Court ruling in the case of Bedford v. Canada, where Justice Susan Himel found that laws restricting prostitution were unconstitutional.

"The result in Bedford, of course, is not binding in British Columbia unless it becomes the subject of a decision from the Supreme Court of Canada. That there is a similar challenge ongoing in Ontario, led by two persons who plan to return to prostitution-related activities and one who is currently so engaged, is of interest to this case, but is not a matter that bears directly on the application here of the criteria for public interest standing," Justice Saunders wrote.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told the House of Commons on September 30 that the federal government will appeal Justice Himel's ruling.

Though Justice Himel originally stayed her ruling, which is binding only in Ontario, for 30 days to allow the provincial and federal governments to consider the implications of the decision, she yesterday granted a four-month moratorium before the ruling comes into effect, with the provision that the Crown appeal of her decision is heard promptly.

Lawyer Alan Young, who represented the "sex-trade workers" in the Ontario case, told the media, “Leaving the status of the current law open to debate does not serve the public interest, and we will do whatever we can to expedite final resolution of the issue of whether the existing legal regime will be given a second life.”

“In my view, having the impugned law remain in force for a further two to three months is a small price to pay for having the appeal heard with such great dispatch,” Young said, adding, “If this timetable cannot be achieved, we will not consent to any further extensions of the stay and the federal Crown will then need to seek a court order at a contested hearing if it wishes to extend the stay.”

Sex-trade workers consent to grace period on prostitution laws

Kirk Makin // Globe and Mail // October 13, 2010

A group of prostitutes who felled the country’s prostitution laws two weeks ago are willing to support a four-month moratorium before the landmark ruling comes into effect – for a price.

The group said on Tuesday that it will consent to the laws continuing until February, provided a Crown appeal of the Ontario decision is heard swiftly.

The offer prevents a potentially chaotic situation from erupting later this fall when Ontario Superior Court Judge Susan Himel’s ruling takes effect and prostitution is decriminalized.

Judge Himel found that laws set up to protect prostitutes actually endanger them, forcing furtive and hasty transactions in shady locations.

She said that her decision would take effect in 30 days unless Crown lawyers could persuade her to grant a delay. With the support of the group of prostitutes, chances of winning a four-month moratorium are excellent.

In an interim move on Tuesday, the applicants and the federal Crown bought time to negotiate by jointly agreeing to a briefer, additional moratorium that will expire on Nov. 28.

York University law professor Alan Young – the moving force behind the prostitution challenge – said that Judge Himel has accepted the proposal.

The moves are the latest twists in a continuing struggle over laws governing solicitation, pimping and keeping a brothel.

Prof. Young said that his offer recognizes the fact that governments need time to assess and respond properly to rulings that carry such vast ramifications.

“The issue of whether or not a constitutionally invalid law should remain in force pending appeal is a serious issue which should not be resolved in a precipitous manner without a careful consideration of the impact of the invalidation,” Prof. Young said.

If the appeal process is not expedited, he said that it could take up to five years for the Supreme Court of Canada to settle the issue.

“In my view, having the impugned law remain in force for a further two to three months is a small price to pay for having the appeal heard with such great dispatch,” Prof. Young said.

Carole Saindon, a spokesperson for the federal Justice Department, said that the Crown plans to apply to the Ontario Court of Appeal for a stay of Judge Himel’s decision pending its appeal being heard.

Judge Himel’s unexpected decision ignited the prostitution debate across the nation. It also caused immediate confusion among police and community activists, who braced for an onslaught of street prostitutes, grungy pimps and inconsiderate johns.

Prostitutes were divided on the ruling. Some applauded it as a move toward ending the constant jeopardy that many of them face as they ply their trade. Others feared being caught in red tape as they deal with health inspectors, tax collectors and licensing officials as a result of decriminalization.

One of the litigants in the case, Valerie Scott, said that she is keen to start creating legal sex-trade businesses.

“I have plans for a brothel that specializes in physically disabled gentlemen,” Ms. Scott said in an interview. “I’ve been seeing disabled clients since I was in my mid-20s.”

Ms. Scott said that she has already been accepted into a business course at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, “with their full knowledge of why I will be taking the course.”

Advocates of decriminalization have an intricate series of proposals for workable regulations and bylaws that will include community involvement and complaints processes for residents, prostitutes or clients, Ms. Scott added.

Prof. Young said that, in an ideal world, the federal government would have responded to Judge Himel’s ruling by repealing the existing provisions and working on law-reform measures to address the safety and security concerns she raised.

“Leaving the status of the current law open to debate does not serve the public interest, and we will do whatever we can to expedite final resolution of the issue of whether the existing legal regime will be given a second life,” he said.

“If this timetable cannot be achieved, we will not consent to any further extensions of the stay and the federal Crown will then need to seek a court order at a contested hearing if it wishes to extend the stay.”

Ontario court decision pours cold water on claim that average age of entry into prostitution is 14

Charlie Smith //

Every once in a while, a journalist will claim that the average age of entry into prostitution is 14.

It's an effective argument for prohibitionists, who would like to ban men from purchasing sex.

However, an Ontario Superior Court decision last month should make people question that assertion the next time it appears in print.

In a constitutional challenge against Canada's prostitution laws, Justice Susan Himel poured cold water over an expert witness's suggestion that the average sex worker begins plying her trade at the age of 14.

Himel's ruling questioned the testimony of University of Ottawa sociology and anthropology professor Richard Poulin.

"His research has focused on prostitution, human trafficking, pornography, and the dynamics of the global sex trade, with a particular focus on minors," Himel wrote, adding that Poulin supports the abolition of prostitution based on his research.

"As well, during cross-examination, it was revealed that some of Dr. Poulin’s citations for his claim that the average age of recruitment into prostitution is 14 years old were misleading or incorrect," the judge noted.

Poulin also swore in an affidavit that serial killers have targeted prostitutes working at indoor sites. Himel, however, stated in her ruling that "his sources do not appear to support his assertion."

"I found it troubling that Dr. Poulin stated during cross-examination that it is not important for scholars to present information that contradicts their own findings (or findings which they support)," Himel added.

Poulin's affidavit also claimed that "physical and sexual violence in prostitution is substantial, regardless of the legal regime in place". Under cross-examination, he "defined violence as meaning a systemic power imbalance", Himel commented in her ruling.

Without naming names, Himel also wrote: "I find that some of the evidence tendered on this application did not meet the standards set by Canadian courts for the admission of expert evidence. The parties did not challenge the admissibility of evidence tendered but asked the court to afford little weight to the evidence of the other party."

In a recent e-mail to the Vancouver Sun, Simon Fraser University criminology researcher John Lowman pointed out that the Crown's factum in the case cited only one Canadian study indicating that the average age of entry might be as low as 14 years of age.

Lowman, who has studied the consequences of Canada's prostitution laws for decades, noted that this paper by Sue McIntyre "used a purposive sampling strategy that sought to include only persons who entered prostitution as children or youth".

As a result of this methodology, Lowman maintained that it couldn't be generalized to the entire field of prostitution. He also stated in his e-mail that other Canadian studies have reported higher ages of entry.

Has Ontario court ruling made life safer or riskier for Aboriginal sex workers?

Rick Harp // October 11, 2010 // Media Indigena

A potentially divisive debate is underway among women’s advocates after a provincial court recently struck down some of the laws restricting prostitution in Canada. And as the Toronto Star‘s Antonia Zerbisias writes, “even Aboriginal women’s groups have clashed, not only with mainstream feminist activists but also with each other.”

On Sept. 28, 2010, in the case of Bedford v. Canada, Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court declared three sections of the Criminal Code unconstitutional (summarized here by Zerbisias):

  • Section 210, which prohibits maintaining, owning or being an “inmate” of a “common bawdy-house.” As a result, brothels will not be illegal.
  • Section 212(1)(j), which affects those living “wholly or in part on the avails of prostitution of another person.” With this struck down, prostitutes are able to support dependents.
  • Section 213(1)(c), best known as the “communicating law,” which prevents street prostitutes from screening clients before putting themselves at risk.

In a joint statement released the day after the decision by the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN) together with Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution and South Asian Women Against Male Violence, the authors asserted that the Ontario Court “abandons Aboriginal women and women of colour to pimps.”

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell is the President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. In a statement released by NWAC, she says

“The decision itself acknowledges systemic injustice but nowhere mentions the overrepresentation of Aboriginal women in the sex industry. This decision glosses over the fact that Aboriginal women, women in low income situations, those suffering from mental health and addictions issues are working in prostitution because of systemic racism and classism, as well as a fundamental power imbalance and issues of inequality, which is at the root of prostitution.”

But there have been Aboriginal voices raised in support of Justice Himel’s decision, most notably, the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. In a press release, the Network says that, while it agrees with NWAC that the Ontario judgment fails to address inequality and racism facing Aboriginal women, the ruling still “has the potential to actually mean less violence” for those women:

If sex workers are able to live off of the money they earn, they may be able to afford shelter, better provide for their families, or be able to hire someone else, such as a driver, as protection. If they are able to openly communicate about sex work, they may be able to negotiate safer working conditions (such as condom use) with a client or report violence without fear of being arrested. If keeping a bawdy-house is no longer illegal, then sex workers may have access to indoor working conditions, decreasing the chances of street-based violence. If police are given less opportunity to arrest people on the basis of these laws, it means less Indigenous people that are incarcerated because of sex work.

It seems pretty clear this is ultimately headed for the Supreme Court of Canada. But even they won’t necessarily end this debate, just as laws against prostitution have so far failed to end the practice.

Former sex trade workers (itself a contentious term in some circles) have taken passionate and compelling stands for and against the Himel decision, complicating matters further. And, to be perfectly honest, I’m currently on the fence over this one, as I try to wade through the claims and counterclaims made in the name of Aboriginal women (and some men) on this issue.

What about you? Have you made your mind up on this? In your opinion, has this Ontario court ruling made life safer or riskier for Aboriginal sex workers? I encourage you to share below.

Prostitution laws continue for at least another month

Sean Mallen // Vancouver Sun // October 8, 2010

TORONTO — Federal prostitution laws that were struck down by an Ontario judge last week will be extended another month.

When Justice Susan Himel handed down her decision Sept. 28, she also delayed her order from taking effect for 30 days. Now, the grace period is going to be extended an extra 30 days.

Alan Young, the lawyer who argued the case for the winning side, said Friday in a taping of Global News's Focus Ontario program that he's agreed to a Crown request for a longer grace period.

"Simply because they look like they're panicking and in disarray and I feel somewhat sorry for them and I imagine if you've had a bad law for 30 years, another 30 days isn't going to make a huge difference," Young told Global News.

"After that, I put the gloves back on for the fight."

Young said the Crown will likely go to the Court of Appeal to try to get another stay.

"But they don't have good evidence for it, because they're going to say the sky is going to fall if they don't have the law. They tried that in the hearing itself and the judge didn't buy it."

The order will be officially signed on Tuesday. It gives the federal government until the end of November to decide upon its next step.

Last week, Himel ruled in favour of three sex-trade workers who argued that laws prohibiting them from communicating for the purpose of prostitution, running a bawdy house and living off the avails of prostitution put their lives at risk.

The 131-page ruling, which took a year to complete, decriminalizes activities associated with the world's oldest profession.

The court decision strikes down laws against brothels, soliciting and pimping. While it applies only in Ontario, the ruling could have a nationwide impact if it survives appeals.

Former sex-trade workers from across Ontario and British Columbia protested in front of the Ontario Superior Court after the decision was made.

They said the ruling makes prostitutes "most vulnerable to be standing targets," that only pimps would benefit from the situation and that suggesting these laws will protect prostitutes is "misleading."

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, described prostitution as "a problem that harms individuals and communities," and promised the federal government will appeal the court ruling.

Unfortunate ruling on prostitution laws

Catholic Register // Editorial // October 7, 2010

In striking down three prostitution laws an Ontario judge sparked a firestorm of debate about various legal and safety issues related to the so-called world’s oldest profession. But, at heart, prostitution is a moral issue and until society stops running from that fundamental truth no court decision or legislative amendment will make the streets safer for the women trapped in this dehumanizing lifestyle.

The unfortunate decision by Madam Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court has prompted commentators to call for further liberalization of prostitution laws. Since prostitution is so prevalent, the argument goes, it should be decriminalized or even legalized. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. These advocates applaud Judge Himel’s ruling that would permit prostitutes to maintain a bawdy house, advertise, keep business hours, hire accountants and operate as openly as your neighbourhood bakery.

These are the same people who opt for the friendlier term of sex worker over prostitute and who liken prostitution to a career choice no different than teacher, plumber or banker. Even Judge Himel dismissed prostitution as nothing more than a “social nuisance.” In our upside-down, politically-correct, morally-confused world, the courts and legislators seem content to nudge prostitution up a ladder of social acceptability to join divorce, gay marriage and abortion as the new norms of the modern world.

The trend is alarming. Prostitution is indecent, demeaning and sinful. It inflicts physical, emotional and psychological harm. It is among the oldest exploitive practises of mankind.

Prostitution persists because society ignores such root causes as poverty, addiction, family breakdown and mental illness. The world is increasingly hedonistic, promiscuous and less spiritual. Media of all types, but particularly web sites, blur the lines between right and wrong as they devalue integrity and morality.

Judge Himel struck down three prostitution-related laws she said increased “the risk of harm to street prostitutes.” But making it easier to live from the avails of prostitution or operate a bawdy house will only cause more prostitution and a corresponding rise in its most harmful effects: assault, human trafficking, child exploitation, disease, addiction, abortions, family breakup and so on.

The way to save women from harm is to reduce prostitution, not cultivate conditions for its expansion.  And reducing prostitution is as much about society rediscovering its moral underpinning as it is about actions by legislators and judges.

Prostitution and related scourges reflect an erosion in sexual morality. On this, Pope Benedict has called for a “spiritual and human awakening.” Curtailing prostitution requires a similar awakening. It needs invigoration of such Christian moral values as fidelity, integrity, dignity and respect, and it needs laws based on those values to genuinely protect the vulnerable.

Time to bring prostitution into the light

Ali Churchill // October 6, 2010 // The Gateway (University of Alberta)

The immortal George Carlin once asked, “Selling is legal. Fucking is legal. So why is selling fucking illegal?”

There was good news for Carlin last week — an Ontario Superior Court Justice, Judge Susan Himel, struck down three Criminal Code provisions relating to prostitution on September 28. The case, launched by Terri-Jean Bedford, Valerie Scott, and Amy Lebovitch, and represented by lawyer Alan Young, overturned three of Canada’s prostitution laws. In the province of Ontario, prostitutes are now allowed to operate a common bawdy house, live off the profits of prostitution, and solicit for purposes of prostitution.

Prostitutes will have the opportunity to sell their wares in a safe and controlled environment, where they can employ people to ensure their safety and even call the police for help without fear of legal prosecution. Although prostitution itself wasn’t technically illegal, pretty much every action surrounding it was, and as such, violence against those involved in the sex industry was rampant. Those participating in the industry had to function outside the law, without basic protection to ensure their safety.

Bedford, Scott, and Lebovitch, who have all worked in the sex trade, are qualified to talk about the state of the industry in the years leading up to Himel’s decision. They haven’t painted the rosiest of pictures. Young gave the courts an overview of what he called “shocking and horrifying” stories of abuse suffered by prostitutes as a result of the industry being pushed underground. Even though these dangers still exist, by decriminalizing prostitution, the Ontario courts have given prostitutes a chance to create an industry where they can ensure their own safety.

Of course, no sane thought goes unpunished. There are those taking advantage of the 30-day window in which to overturn the Court’s decision. Federal conservatives squirmed as their tight pants got even tighter when Himel released her decision, complaining that the change will make prostitution even easier.

Well, yes, and that’s really the point. It’s about improving the lives of prostitutes and giving them a chance to work in a safe environment, rather than treating them as criminals.

Foremost amongst the dissenters is Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien, whose problem with Judge Himel’s decision centers on his belief that the move will only facilitate pimping and increase drug dependency. It seems he has missed the point.

Preventing continued drug abuse would be best combated with increased social and educational programs, not by shaming and charging those that work in the sex-trade industry. As for pimps, if the industry is regulated but not criminalized, there is a greater possibility that prostitutes will be able to form unions in which they are able to set their own standards of safe employment. By driving the sex industry further into the margins of society, prostitutes are regularly forced to go without the basic personal safety considerations they should enjoy.

The potential improvements in the industry resulting from this ruling are further highlighted by looking at incidences like the Robert Pickton murders. An internal report released by the Vancouver police in August of this year details the RCMP’s failures, listing the variety of ways in which the disappearances of prostitutes from the East Hastings area went ignored from the 1990s onward.

While the majority of the report focuses on the in-fighting, computer problems, and inadequate training that caused the investigation to stall, it stands to reason that had lines of communication between sex workers on the East side and police been more open, there would have been greater information pointing to Pickton’s involvement, which could have potentially saved lives.

The point to be made is that simply making prostitution illegal won’t deter people from buying and selling sex. If the federal Conservatives were really willing to help those victimized by the sex trade, they could do so by funding better drug counselling, job training, and education.

Like other controversial decisions that have sprung up from the east and spread across Canada, if Judge Himel’s decision stands, there is a good chance that it may be reproduced in other provinces.

And, just as in 2003 when Ontario was the first Canadian province to legalize gay marriage, we can expect that Alberta will be dragged kicking and screaming into the new age. Judge Himel’s decision won’t eradicate violence from prostitution, but at the very least, it will give the people involved a fighting chance to fuck on their own terms.

York prof helps decriminalize Ontario prostitution

Crown has 30 days to appeal before ruling becomes law

Raymond Kwan // October 6, 2010 // Excalibur (York University)

TORONTO (CUP) — Alan Young played a pivotal role an Ontario court’s decision to strike down key provisions in Canada’s anti-prostitution laws.

Some specific prostitution-related acts were decriminalized by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on Sept. 28, including pimping, running brothels and soliciting.

Young, a professor at Osgoode Hall law school at York University, represented the prostitutes and, with help from 20 of his students, was able to manage the case mostly for free; the students compiled most of the evidence and convinced prostitutes, academics and community workers to testify.

Kendra Stanyon, one of Young’s students involved with the case, said she is very happy with the court’s decision.

She said that she was partly motivated to work on the case because the government was ignoring recommendations in reports that could have made prostitution a safe trade.

“Almost every report came back saying the same things that we have said in our case now, which is that sex work is made more dangerous when you prevent women from moving indoors,” she said.

“The government’s response to the reports was one of inaction and was very frustrating for me,” Stanyon added.

In her 131-page report, Justice Susan Himel concluded that prostitutes are exposed to dangers on the street that force them to choose between pursuing their interests and their right to personal safety as protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Crown lawyers have been given 30 days to come up with arguments strong enough to dissuade Justice Himel.

The court’s decision sent ripples throughout the political establishment.

Parts of Canadian prostitution law will be decriminalized in 30 days if the Crown does not appeal effectively. (Photo by Excalibur)

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced on Sept. 29 that the government would appeal the decision, adding that prostitution is harmful to individuals and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said his government would support the appeal.

Young, however, said he feels the federal government is simply trying to buy time and avoid the issue.

“It’s a knee-jerk reaction to every case they lose,” said Young. “If they really care about women in the sex trade, they’d accept the judgment and change the law.”

Stanyon argues that the decriminalization of prostitution in other countries like New Zealand has not resulted in an explosion of crime and urges the public not to buy into the government’s claims that Canada will become a haven for sex tourism.

“[I] feel that that’s a scare tactic,” said Stanyon. “If you look internationally at other countries that have enacted similar decriminalization and regulatory schemes for prostitution ... they saw no statistically-relevant rise in sex workers or pimps. People weren’t seeking them on the streets or walking around on top of condoms everywhere.”

Young also disagrees with the government’s claim. “I’m not sure that’s necessarily such a bad thing, but the reason I don’t agree is because that’s not the Canadian way. You can only create a tourist hotspot if the community accepts it, and I don’t think Canadians are ready for it.”

Stanyon added that the public should acknowledge everyone’s right to personal safety.

“We’re not encouraging entrance into sex work ... it’s a health and safety issue, and these citizens have every right to operate their business and going about their job in a healthy and safe environment,” said Stanyon.

“It’s going to take generations before we see real significant changes in the sex trade, and I don’t know which direction it’ll go,” added Young. “This is just opening up the door slightly to allow women a few more options when they pursue their business.”

Ontario Strikes Down Prostitution Laws

October 5, 2010 | | Philadelphia Church of God

Prostitution in Canada got a big legal boost last week. On September 28, Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel ruled to strike down three key sections of the Canadian Criminal Code dealing with prostitution.

“The conclusion I have reached is that three provisions of the Criminal Code that seek to address facets of prostitution … are not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice and must be struck down,” wrote Justice Susan Himel in her 133-page ruling. The three federal laws struck down pertain to operating brothels, procuring a prostitute or earning money off prostitution, and communicating in public places for prostitution.

Himel’s decision comes with far-reaching consequences. By repealing these laws, “sex workers cannot only form guilds, hire bodyguards and pay taxes,” noted Lezlie Lowe, “but men and women who trade sex for money can better count on police protection, and street prostitutes can conduct their business in less shady spots than the front seats of 2004 Pontiac Bonnevilles.”

In other words, Ontario’s illicit sex trade will likely expand and become more mainstream.


Advocates for sex-trade workers and some feminists heralded the “victory.” “It’s like emancipation day for sex-trade workers,” said Terri-Jean Bedford, one of the women who launched the case. Others, however, state that this ruling will do little to deal with issues of addiction and poverty facing the majority of women in the sex trade.

Studies show that tolerance of prostitution generally results in a booming sex trade industry. When prostitution was legalized in the Australian state of Victoria in 1994, for example, the sex trade increased. According to the 2005 report “What Happens When Prostitution Becomes Work? An Update on Legalization of Prostitution in Australia,” Victoria’s tolerance of prostitution “encouraged an unprecedented demand for ‘sexual services’ resulting in more and more women being prostituted for sex and profit ….”

In Canada, many believe it’s only a matter of time before Justice Himel’s decision ripples far beyond the province of Ontario. Although Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has given notice that the Canadian government will appeal the judge’s decision, victory over Himel’s radical decision is far from certain. If the recent ruling withstands appeal, the Calgary Herald noted last Thursday, “the ruling could have implications across the country … and could help set similar precedents in other courts” (emphasis ours). Many fear Himel’s ruling could touch off a national trend whereby prostitution laws across Canada are watered down or repealed.

Prostitution, the solicitation of sexual services for money, has been a plague on human cultures around the world all of recorded history. Whether hired by a married man (adultery) or an unmarried individual (fornication), the prostitute (called a “harlot” in Scripture) is demeaned and degraded by the act.

The Word of God is clear that both adultery (Exodus 20:14) and fornication (1 Corinthians 5:1) are strictly forbidden as being grievous sins. Prostitution demeans the purpose of family and the proper role of sex within marriage. God created marriage, family and sex for a noble purpose and has proscribed specific, immutable, spiritual laws in order to safeguard the institutions of marriage and family.

In the meantime, Canada’s national moral slide continues. Stay tuned.

‘It is not important for scholars to present information that contradicts their own findings’: anti-prostitution witness in Ontario

Laura Agustin // October 2, 2010

The judge’s text explaining why she decided Ontario’s prostitution laws to be unconstitutional is a model of thoughtfulness and reason. The hearings took place in October of 2009, and I like to think Judge Himel took a year to read through the evidence submitted as well as all the historical legal material. The latter were undoubtedly the most important to her thinking, the meanings of the concepts in the past which she found to be indefensible in the present. I say this because the submitted research results nearly all came from qualitative studies and the testimonies of both sex workers and ‘experts’ were not much use to her, for different reasons. The judge’s thinking process is helpful to me because I am interested in the idea of evidence – what qualifies, how it’s judged.

Below are excerpts addressing the Judge’s experience of listening to opposing testimonies, opinions about the harm of laws on society and on those who sell sex. Whilst it is clear that a lot of testimonies just cancelled each other out, creepy ideas about research were revealed, too. The worst witness statement is the one used as the title of this post. Does anyone think that because a person is an academic he has any principles? I have the impression that the judge was fairly appalled by the advocating and declaiming she was forced to listen to. In fact, I am surprised that the anti-prostitution witnesses did not think strategically about moderating their strident tone before appearing in a court of law.

Evidence from prostitutes themselves

[85] The applicants submitted affidavits from eight witnesses who described their perceptions and experiences of working as prostitutes. During oral argument, the applicants’ counsel submitted that the purpose of these witnesses was to provide “corroborative voices” . . . [86] The affiants came from varied backgrounds and from across Canada, but largely shared the experience of finding prostitution in indoor venues generally safer than street prostitution (indeed, a few experienced no violence at all working indoors). . . they entered into prostitution without coercion (although financial constraints were a large factor) and most reported being addiction-free and working without a pimp.

[87] The respondent tendered nine affidavits from prostitutes and former prostitutes, whose stories painted a much different picture. The respondent’s witnesses gave detailed accounts of horrific violence in indoor locations and on the street, controlling and abusive pimps, and the rampant use of drugs and alcohol.

[88] While this evidence provided helpful background information, it is clear that there is no one person who can be said to be representative of prostitutes in Canada; the affiants are an extremely diverse group of people whose reasons for entry into prostitution, lifestyles, and experiences differ.

The idea of expert witnesses

[99] While neither party disputed that the other party’s witnesses were, in fact, experts, a great deal of argument and evidence was devoted to criticizing these witnesses. Both parties alleged that certain experts were biased, that conclusions were generalized beyond the sample studied, that studies were methodologically flawed . . .  [114] The following factors are relevant to the consideration of the weight to be given to expert evidence:

  • a) Unwillingness of the expert to qualify an opinion or update it in the face of new facts provided (often in cross-examination);
  • b) Bold assertions without a properly outlined basis for the claim;
  • c) Refusal to restrict opinions to expertise or the expertise demarked by the judge as required by the court;
  • d) Lack of sufficient independence from the party proffering the expert; and
  • e) Prior history as an advocate on the topic.

[182] In reviewing the extensive record presented, I was struck by the fact that many of those proffered as experts to provide international evidence to this court had entered the realm of advocacy and had given evidence in a manner that was designed to persuade rather than assist the court. For example, some experts made bold assertions without properly outlined bases for their claims and were unwilling to qualify their opinions in the face of new facts provided. While it is natural for persons immersed in a field of study to begin to take positions as a result of their research over time, where these witnesses act primarily as advocates, their opinions are of lesser value to the court.

[183] The evidence from some of these witnesses tended to focus upon issues that are, in my view, incidental to the case at bar, including human trafficking, sex tourism, and child prostitution. While important, none of these issues are directly relevant to assessing potential violations of the Charter rights of the applicants.

[352] I find that some of the evidence tendered on this application did not meet the standards set by Canadian courts for the admission of expert evidence. The parties did not challenge the admissibility of evidence tendered but asked the court to afford little weight to the evidence of the other party.

[353] I found the evidence of Dr. Melissa Farley to be problematic. Although Dr. Farley has conducted a great deal of research on prostitution, her advocacy appears to have permeated her opinions. For example, Dr. Farley’s unqualified assertion in her affidavit that prostitution is inherently violent appears to contradict her own findings that prostitutes who work from indoor locations generally experience less violence. Furthermore, in her affidavit, she failed to qualify her opinion regarding the causal relationship between post-traumatic stress disorder and prostitution, namely that it could be caused by events unrelated to prostitution.

[354] Dr. Farley’s choice of language is at times inflammatory and detracts from her conclusions. For example, comments such as, “prostitution is to the community what incest is to the family,” and “just as pedophiles justify sexual assault of children….men who use prostitutes develop elaborate cognitive schemes to justify purchase and use of women” make her opinions less persuasive.

[355] Dr. Farley stated during cross-examination that some of her opinions on prostitution were formed prior to her research, including, “that prostitution is a terrible harm to women, that prostitution is abusive in its very nature, and that prostitution amounts to men paying a woman for the right to rape her.” [356] Accordingly, for these reasons, I assign less weight to Dr. Farley’s evidence.

[357] Similarly, I find that Drs. Raymond and Poulin were more like advocates than experts offering independent opinions to the court. At times, they made bold, sweeping statements that were not reflected in their research. For example, some of Dr. Raymond’s statements on prostitutes were based on her research on trafficked women. As well, during cross-examination, it was revealed that some of Dr. Poulin’s citations for his claim that the average age of recruitment into prostitution is 14 years old were misleading or incorrect. In his affidavit, Dr. Poulin suggested that there have been instances of serial killers targeting prostitutes who worked at indoor locations; however, his sources do not appear to support his assertion. I found it troubling that Dr. Poulin stated during cross-examination that it is not important for scholars to present information that contradicts their own findings (or findings which they support).

[358] The applicants’ witnesses are not immune to criticism. . . During cross-examination, Dr. Lowman expressed discontent with portions of his affidavit, citing “careless” language and “poorly reasoned argument.” Dr. Lowman rightly takes responsibility for the content of his affidavit, which was drafted for him by law students. In his affidavit, Dr. Lowman made a direct causal link between the Criminal Code provisions at issue and violence against prostitutes; however, during cross-examination he gave the opinion that there was, rather, an indirect causal relationship. Such inattentiveness on such a crucial issue is indeed concerning. During cross-examination, Dr. Lowman gave nuanced and qualified opinions, which more accurately reflect his research.

Note: I was asked to be an ‘expert witness’ a few years ago and couldn’t see what it was I’d be expert in, exactly. I was relieved it didn’t come off in the end and much more, now, although I don’t go in for stridency, myself

Ottawa to appeal prostitution ruling

Les Whittington // September 30, 2010

OTTAWA—Canadians face a long, thorny national argument over sex-for-money after thefederal government said it will appeal an Ontario court ruling that struck down Canada’s prostitution laws.

“Prostitution is a problem that harms individuals and communities,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said as he made the announcement Wednesday in the Commons. “That is why I am pleased to indicate to the House that the government will appeal and will seek a stay of that decision.”

As expected, the government launched its appeal a day after an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled that certain prostitution-related laws are unconstitutional.

Nicholson also said Ottawa will ask the courts to suspend the decision by Justice Susan Himel while the case winds its way through the legal system.

This could mean several years of uncertainty about what laws will ultimately be enforced on the sale of sex in Canada.

It is also likely to spark a country-wide debate on an emotional issue that has challenged lawmakers and the courts in this country for decades.

Prostitution is not illegal in Canada but the court struck down three provisions that criminalized most aspects of prostitution.

In her ruling, Himel said laws against keeping a common bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution, and living on the avails “are not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice.”

NDP Leader Jack Layton said it was not surprising that the government would appeal a decision of such legal importance.

“It needs to — and will, I’m sure — open up a debate on how we can ensure that women who find themselves involved in prostitution and as sex workers are better protected,” Layton told reporters.

Asked for the NDP’s position on the legalization of prostitution, he said, “We have taken the view that aspects of the law need to be changed to protect women.”

But he said, “We also need to make sure that organized crime is not allowed to grow and spread, so I think there is going to be a major debate across the country on these issues and that could be a good thing.”

Ontario will join the federal government in appealing the ruling to the Ontario Court of Appeal and asking for the existing laws to remain in effect past the current 30-day stay until the appeal is heard, provincial Attorney General Chris Bentley said.

“These laws are important. They protect people from being lured or coerced into prostitution, they protect people from being under domination of those who would prey,” he told reporters at Queen’s Park.

“They protect communities from the adverse effects of prostitution-related activity.”

Ontario is hoping a stay keeping the current laws in effect until the appeal will be granted because “we need legal certainty,” Bentley added.

The province intervened on behalf of the federal government when the case was initially heard.

“All laws can be improved upon, but we believe these laws are important to protect communities, to protect young people,” Bentley said, noting he hopes an appeal can be heard “expeditiously.”

He would not comment on the prospect of a judicial ruling radically altering laws surrounding prostitution instead of leaving such decisions to Parliament.

“I won’t address that,” Bentley said.

The federal government should accept the prostitution ruling and the prospect of a “brand new era,” said New Democrat MPP Peter Kormos, a lawyer and his party’s justice critic.

To fight the ruling is hypocritical given the way other, thinly veiled sex trade business is carried out, Kormos added.

“Municipalities across Ontario license and tax so-called massage parlours, what you call rub-and-tug joints, which are, in fact, houses of prostitution. Everybody knows it. The cities that are licensing them and taxing them know it, so let’s stop the hypocrisy.”

In Ottawa, the federal Liberals said the Conservatives should have tackled the prostitution problem years ago.

“The Conservatives left a policy vacuum in place for five years which allowed sex trade workers who are victims to continue to be victimized, our children and our women, to continue to be exploited and those sex trade workers who wish to be in that particular legal activity, not to be able to ensure their own safety,” Liberal justice critic Marlene Jennings told the media.

During the appeal process, the government should “undertake the actual consultation and to start bringing forward policies that will fill the vacuum and ensure that sex trade workers are protected,” Jennings said.

With files from Rob Ferguson

National Post editorial board: Finally, some sanity in our prostitution laws

National Post editorial board // September 29, 2010

The Ontario Superior Court struck a blow for sane legislation on Tuesday when it struck down laws against communicating for the purposes of prostitution, living off its avails and running a “common bawdy house” — i.e., a brothel. Like it or not, the exchange of money for sexual services between consenting adults is legal in Canada. And as a general rule, if we lack the constitutional power or the intestinal fortitude to outlaw something, we should resolve to live with the consequences and not resort to erecting artificial, counterintuitive laws designed to prevent legal behaviour.

Prostitution is not a trade any parents would choose for their children. No matter where or how it’s carried out, it’s unlikely to be particularly safe or salubrious. “Any time you are alone with a john, it is dangerous,” the Crown argued in the case decided on Tuesday. “There is no safe haven when you are involved in prostitution. There is overwhelming evidence that johns can become violent at any moment.”

That sounds alarmist, but even if it’s true, the laws struck down made the problem worse, not better. The communication law is designed to deal with street prostitution, which is widely and correctly seen as an urban menace. But it’s at cross purposes with the living off the avails and bawdy house laws, which criminalize behind-closed-doors prostitution and incentivize street prostitution.

The Ontario Superior Court struck a blow for sane legislation on Tuesday when it struck down laws against communicating for the purposes of prostitution, living off its avails and running a “common bawdy house” — i.e., a brothel. Like it or not, the exchange of money for sexual services between consenting adults is legal in Canada. And as a general rule, if we lack the constitutional power or the intestinal fortitude to outlaw something, we should resolve to live with the consequences and not resort to erecting artificial, counterintuitive laws designed to prevent legal behaviour.

Prostitution is not a trade any parents would choose for their children. No matter where or how it’s carried out, it’s unlikely to be particularly safe or salubrious. “Any time you are alone with a john, it is dangerous,” the Crown argued in the case decided on Tuesday. “There is no safe haven when you are involved in prostitution. There is overwhelming evidence that johns can become violent at any moment.”

That sounds alarmist, but even if it’s true, the laws struck down made the problem worse, not better. The communication law is designed to deal with street prostitution, which is widely and correctly seen as an urban menace. But it’s at cross purposes with the living off the avails and bawdy house laws, which criminalize behind-closed-doors prostitution and incentivize street prostitution.

NS advocacy group celebrates Ontario’s prostitution ruling

Global News // September 29, 2010

HALIFAX, NS – A Nova Scotia group that supports sex trade workers is celebrating a landmark decision from Ontario’s Superior Court.

The group Stepping Stone has been advocating for the decriminalization of prostitution, saying current laws endanger prostitutes.

On Tuesday an Ontario judge declared three anti-prostitution laws unconstitutional.

The three laws are living off the avails of prostitution, keeping a bawdy house, and communicating for the purpose of prostitution.

The Ontario judge ruled that those laws put the lives of sex trade workers in danger.

The federal government announced Wednesday that it will appeal the court ruling. However, if the ruling stands sex trade workers can move their business inside, hire security, and report crimes against them.

Representatives from Stepping Stone say these changes could prevent the violence and deadly consequences sex trade workers have experienced in the past.

“We know...based on our work here at Stepping Stone that it is going to result in a safer work environment for sex workers to eliminate the violence,” says the Executive Director of Stepping Stone, Rene Ross.

“It’s going to open up communication between sex workers and reporting crimes to law enforcement,” says Ross.

Ross Landry, Nova Scotia’s Justice Minister, says it’s too early to say what impact the Ontario ruling may have in the province.

“It’s a federal issue,” says Landry, “and we’ll see if the government does their appeal and see how it plays out at that point.”

The federal government has 30 days to file an appeal in the case.

Judge decriminalizes prostitution in Ontario, but Ottawa mulls appeal

Kirk Makin // Globe and Mail //

A Superior Court justice gutted the federal prostitution law in Ontario on Tuesday, allowing sex-trade workers to solicit customers openly and paving the way for judges in other provinces to follow suit.

Justice Susan Himel struck down all three Criminal Code provisions that had been challenged – communicating for the purposes of prostitution, pimping and operating a common bawdy house.

The decision will take effect in 30 days unless Crown lawyers return with arguments that are strong enough to persuade her to grant a further delay, Judge Himel said.

Her landmark ruling drew immediate fire in Ottawa, which has little time to regroup and battle the judgment. A domino effect of judicial decisions could quickly topple prostitution laws across Canada, as happened several years ago with prohibitions against gay marriage.

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson asserted that it is the government’s prerogative to decide how best to protect prostitutes and the communities in which they ply their trade. “The Government is very concerned about the Superior Court’s decision and is seriously considering an appeal,” he said in a statement.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak both said they support the feds in seeking to appeal the ruling that strikes down the federal prostitution law.

Judge Himel, however, found current laws offer little protection. Her judgment pointed at evidence that established violence against sex workers is endemic – from a string of gruesome serial killings by Vancouver pig farmer Robert Pickton, to a rash of missing prostitutes in Alberta and frequent violence against sex trade workers in the Atlantic region.

In her 131-page ruling which took her a year to produce, Judge Himel found that laws set up to protect prostitutes actually endanger their safety, forcing them to furtively engage in hasty transactions conducted in shady locations.

“By increasing the risk of harm to street prostitutes, the communicating law is simply too high a price to pay for the alleviation of social nuisance,” she said. “I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public.”

“We got everything,” yelped a York University law professor behind the challenge, Alan Young, as he scanned the judgment seconds after it was released. “We did it.… Finally, somebody listened.”

Judge Himel specifically rejected a request from the Crown to suspend the effects of her decision for 18 months on the grounds that doing so would force sex trade workers to continue working under hazardous conditions. She said the 30-day delay gives the Crown one last chance to persuade her that she should suspend her judgment.

Prof. Young said that, in light of how uncompromising Judge Himel’s findings were, the Crown faces a tough uphill battle in obtaining an additional stay.

“In 30 days, the ruling kicks in and people can start growing their businesses,” he said.

The litigants – Terri-Jean Bedford, a flamboyant dominatrix, and two former prostitutes, Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch – expressed shock that they had won any portion of their three-pronged assault on the law, let alone all three.

Ms. Bedford spontaneously leaped from her chair at a Toronto news conference Tuesday afternoon after being asked if she has plans to celebrate. “I’m going to spank some ass. Legally!” Ms. Bedford said, waving her trademark leather riding crop in the air.

“It’s a great day for Canada,” she added. “It’s like emancipation day for sex trade workers.”

Ms. Scott said that prostitutes will begin pressing immediately for a regulation regime that includes workers’ compensation, health standards and inclusion in the country’s income-tax scheme. “We don’t have to worry about being raped or robbed or murdered,” she said.

“We would like to tell residents and business owners: Don’t be afraid,” Ms. Scott added. “We are not aliens. Sex workers across the country … want to work with municipalities and to be good citizens running good businesses.”

Regardless of whether or not the decision is appealed, it is likely to plunge Parliament back into a divisive debate over criminalizing the operation of an activity that is itself perfectly legal.

Prof. Young warned the press and public not to fall for an inevitable onslaught of misinformation and scare stories that government officials will issue as it bids to prop up the law.

“This was a big bite out of the heart of government,” he said. “They are going to feel this one. I don’t know what this means now; whether or not we will see five-storey brothels like the ones in Germany.”

However, Prof. Young also said that the public need not fear that prostitutes and pimps are about to run amok in their communities. Nor, he said, should people allow any distaste they may have for prostitution to cloud the central issue in the case.

“This case is all about protecting the security and safety of people working in the sex trade, regardless of what you think of sex-trade work,” he said. “We have had a moral aversion to the sex trade for hundreds of years, but any time you can do something that increases peoples’ safety, you have done something good.”

In her ruling, Judge Himel cited approvingly efforts made by countries such as New Zealand, Australia and Germany to decriminalize and control the sex trade in a safe manner.

She emphasized that several other provisions relating to the sex trade can still be used by police to prevent neighbourhoods from turning sleazy, and to curb child prostitution, procuring or prostitutes who impeded pedestrian or vehicular traffic.

Judge Himel also stressed that pimps who threaten or commit violence against prostitutes can still be prosecuted using other sections of the Criminal Code.

Both sides in the case spent years amassing a vast body of international evidence, including dozens of witnesses.

The Crown argued that prostitution can be equally dangerous whether it is conducted in a car, an open field or a luxurious boudoir. It urged Judge Himel to also reflect on the fact that prostitution is inherently degrading and unhealthy, and should not be encouraged as a “career choice” for young women through a slack legal regime.

Prof. Young countered that prohibiting communication renders prostitutes unable to “screen” potential clients, hire security or move behind the relative safety of closed doors.

Several cities – including Toronto, Victoria, Windsor, Calgary and Edmonton – charge fees to licence body-rub establishments despite the general understanding that many sell sexual services.

Prof. Young ridiculed them on Tuesday for hypocritically reaping licensing fees while pretending not to know that they are fronts for prostitution.

“For a decade, they have been charging exorbitant licensing fees for rub-and-tugs,” he said. “Now, at least we won’t have to charge them with living off the avails.”

Anti-prostitution law struck down
MICHELE MANDEL // Canoe News// September 28, 2010

TORONTO — Plying the world's oldest profession just became safer thanks to a landmark ruling by the Ontario Superior Court.

In the stunning 131-page decision, Justice Susan Himel struck down as unconstitutional three prostitution-related charges — communicating for the purposes of prostitution, operating a common bawdy house and living off the avails — because they prevent sex workers from moving indoors and protecting themselves.

"I have found that the law as it stands is currently contributing to danger faced by prostitutes," Himel wrote after spending a year sifting through 25,000 pages of evidence.

"By increasing the risk of harm to street prostitutes, the communicating law is simply too high a price to pay for the alleviation of social nuisance."

With her riding crop in hand, the leather-clad dominatrix who led the court challenge jumped for joy.

"It's like emancipation day for sex trade workers," an ecstatic Terri Jean Bedford proclaimed at a news conference Tuesday. "I've been abused by the justice system for a very, very, very long time so it is poetic justice."

But before you worry that 10-storey brothels will be opening on every corner and hookers will descend en masse into your neighbourhood, relax. The judge gave apoplectic government authorities 30 days before her decision comes into effect.

And that will give them plenty of time to file for a stay of execution to keep the status quo until they can fight the ruling -- no doubt all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada -- with a final decision estimated to be from two to five years away.

In the meantime, Osgoode law professor Alan Young and his students were celebrating a victory won on a "shoe string budget" against a dozen well-paid government lawyers.

"I'm overjoyed," he told reporters. "The Charter still has teeth."

The legal argument he made last fall was about safety, not morality, Young said, and he believes the shadow of Robert Pickton helped their case.

The serial killer was able to kill 26 prostitutes from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside because they were easy prey on the street, the lawyer said. When worried sex workers tried to bring their clients to a safe house instead, the police swooped in and shut it down.

"The streets are killing fields," Young said. "I think the judge understood our argument better because she saw the net result."

While prostitution has always been legal, most of the activities involved in plying the trade were not. And as criminals, prostitutes had nowhere to turn for help.

Brigitte Benoit, right, of the Sex Professionals of Canada, applauds the decision during a news conference in Toronto Tuesday. (Jack Boland)

"This decision means sex trade workers can now pick up the phone and call the police and report a bad client," said Valerie Scott, one of the three prostitutes who challenged the Criminal Code provisions. "We no longer have to be afraid."

Scott foresees a time when sex workers will pay into workers' compensation and file their taxes. "We want to work with municipalities, we want to be good citizens," she insisted.

"I would like to tell residents and business owners, don't be afraid. We are not aliens," she added with a smile. "No lightning bolts will now hit the sidewalks and frogs will not be all over. It'll be alright."

For Bedford -- who's served time in prison on prostitution charges and was convicted in 1998 for operating Thornhill's Bondage Bungalow -- the judge's decision made the 50-year-old cry.

In her 14 years as a street prostitute, Bedford told the court she was "raped and gang raped too many times to talk about" and beaten on the head with a baseball bat.

"But the worst thing to happen to me was not having anyone to report what I was going through," she said of her time on the stroll. "It was a hard time. Everything's bad about it."

So she has fought a long legal battle to ensure prostitutes can legally work inside. And this decision has brought that day one step closer.

So what was she going to do to celebrate?

With a sly smile, the dominatrix whipped out her riding crop. "I'm going to spank some ass," she laughed. "Legally."

Ontario court strikes down Canada's prostitution laws; Ottawa considers appeal

September 28, 2010 | The Canadian Press

TORONTO — A sex-trade worker who challenged Canada's prostitution laws hailed Tuesday as "emancipation day" after provisions that effectively criminalize prostitution were struck down as unconstitutional by an Ontario court.

Laws against keeping a common bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living on the avails of the trade "are not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice," the Ontario Superior Court ruled.

They put sex-trade workers in danger, the court said.

"You can't imagine how happy I am today because I've been abused by the justice system for a very, very, very long time," dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford said at a news conference while clasping her leather riding crop.

"This is poetic justice."

Prostitution was not illegal in Canada, but the court struck down three provisions that criminalized most aspects of prostitution.

"These laws, individually and together, force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their right to security of the person as protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Justice Susan Himel wrote her in decision.

Bedford was elated.

"It's like an emancipation day for sex-trade workers," she said.

The judgment is subject to a 30-day stay during which the law remains in place, and Bedford's lawyer said the federal government can seek an extension of that stay period.

The court's decision was a blow to the law-and-order Conservatives in Ottawa, who immediately signalled they are "seriously considering" an appeal.

"We will fight to ensure that the criminal law continues to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution to both communities and the prostitutes themselves, along with other vulnerable persons," Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said in a statement.

The government had argued that striking down the provisions without enacting something else in their place would "pose a danger to the public."

But Valerie Scott, 52, one of the women who launched the challenge along with Bedford, urged people not to believe any sky-is-falling, Armageddon scenarios.

"I would like to tell residents and business owners: don't be afraid," Scott said.

"Lightning bolts will not hit the sidewalk. There won't be frogs all over. It'll be all right."

Scott said the ruling will allow sex-trade workers to hire bodyguards and file income taxes.

"Sex workers can now pick up the phone and call the police and report a bad client," she said.

While the ruling strikes down those key Criminal Code offences -- which deal with adult prostitution -- it does not affect provisions dealing with people under 18.

Alan Young, the lawyer for those challenging the laws, said even they were surprised the decision was in their favour and he said it demonstrates the lasting power of the charter.

"Justice Himel today proved that 25 years after the enactment of the charter it has teeth," Young said at the news conference.

"It can bite and this is a big bite out of the Harper government."

Bedford -- who has been fighting the issue in the courts since her "Bondage Bungalow" north of Toronto was raided by police in 1994 -- argued the provisions forced sex-trade workers from the safety of their homes to face violence on the streets.

Himel also disagreed with the government's characterization that it would put the public in danger to strike the laws down without new ones in place. She said the danger to sex-trade workers outweighs any harm to the public.

It now falls to Parliament to "fashion corrective action," Himel said.

"It is my view that in the meantime these unconstitutional provisions should be of no force and effect, particularly given the seriousness of the charter violations," Himel wrote.

"However, I also recognize that a consequence of this decision may be that unlicensed brothels may be operated, and in a way that may not be in the public interest."

While the decision strikes down the application of the law in Ontario, it remains to be seen if courts in other provinces will follow the Ontario decision. Young said he expects they will wait for the outcome of any appeals from Ottawa.

In the best-case scenario, Young said, these changes will actually come into effect in 2 1/2 years or so after the case finishes winding its way through the courts.

The federal government had argued that prostitution is inherently dangerous, no matter where it is practised.

The government also warned that Canada could become a sex tourism destination if prostitution-related activities are decriminalized.

The Christian Legal Fellowship, which was granted intervenor status, argued the provisions reflect society's views that prostitution "offends the conscience of ordinary Canadians."

Young said he knows some people will be "aghast" that prostitution has been deemed "even more legal than it was before."

"There are a lot of people who have moral objections to what we did, but let me just tell you that this case is all about protecting the security and safety of people who work in the sex trade, regardless of what you think of sex-trade workers," he said.

Ontario Court Strikes Down Prostitution Laws

FIRST Decriminilize Sex Work Now, September 28, 2010

NATIONAL – Sex workers across Canada are celebrating the Ontario Superior Court’s decision today, which struck down Canada’s prostitution laws. The Court held that the bawdy house law, the communication law and the law that prohibits living on the avails are unconstitutional because they violate sex workers’ rights to safety, life, liberty and freedom of expression.

“We’re excited to start working on the next steps,” said Susan Davis of the BC Coalition for Experiential Communities (BCCEC). “Sex workers have already laid the groundwork for building a safe and vibrant working community for ourselves, and we’ve already started implementing our plans.” BCCEC’s new Opening the Doors report (link below) lays out detailed plans to increase the safety of all sex workers and can be a template for working in a decriminalized environment. The report was written by sex workers, who are in the best position to know what is best for themselves and their industry.

“Although the government will likely appeal this verdict, this decision is a huge step towards ensuring that sex workers will enjoy the same rights and protections as other Canadians, including the protection of police and other support systems,” said Tamara O’Doherty, a FIRST spokesperson and a criminologist at UFV.

“We call on all provinces and police forces across Canada to stop enforcing the prostitution laws immediately,” said O’Doherty. “This would be a crucial first step in reducing violence against sex workers. It’s time for Canada to acknowledge that sex workers are people too, and that sex workers are entitled to safety and equality.”

The plaintiffs – Amy Lebovitch, Terri-Jean Bedford, and Valerie Scott, of Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) – argued their case in front of the Superior Court of Ontario in October 2009, with Alan Young as counsel.

“Much of the violence and abuse experienced by sex workers is a result of the conditions created by the criminal laws,” said Katrina Pacey, lawyer with Pivot Legal Society. “The laws have forced sex workers into the shadows where they face very dangerous conditions and can’t turn to the police for protection without risking arrest. It’s wonderful that the court has recognized the harm of the laws, and has freed sex workers from the threat of criminal prosecution.”

Ontario judge strikes down prostitution laws

National Post // Shannon Kari  September 28, 2010

TORONTO — A ruling that struck down three of the country’s prostitution laws is based on a balancing of the constitutional rights of sex-trade workers and not about morality, an Ontario Superior Court judge said in a potentially landmark decision.

The ruling, which could ultimately lead to legalized brothels in Canada, was immediately praised and assailed.

Sex-trade advocates said the judge rightly acknowledged that the law forces prostitutes to conduct their work, as it were, in a climate of inherent danger, while conservative groups argued prostitution is immoral and against societal interests.

The federal Justice Minister said he is seriously considering an appeal of the ruling, which applies only in Ontario but could be the basis of similar challenges across the country.

In her decision released Tuesday, Justice Susan Himel concluded that prohibiting sex-trade workers from operating a common bawdy house, living off the avails of prostitution and communicating for the purposes of prostitution, violate the Charter of Rights.

“I have found that the law as it stands, is currently contributing to the danger faced by prostitutes,” Judge Himelwrote in a 131-page ruling.

The three sections of the Criminal Code ruled unconstitutional, “force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their right to security of the person,” she said.

The long-awaited decision stems from a constitutional challenge initiated last year by three women involved in the sex trade.

“It is important to state at the outset what this case is not about: The court has not been called upon to decide whether or not there is a constitutional right to sell sex or to decide which policy model regarding prostitution is better,” Judge Himel said. “Rather, it is the court’s task to decide the merits of this particular legal challenge, which is whether certain provisions of the Criminal Code are in violation of the Charter.”

Terri Jean Bedford, seen here with lawyer Alan Young in 2009, called the ruling "a great day for Canada." Brett Gundlock/National Post

Alan Young, a Toronto law professor who led the court challenge, said he was “overjoyed” with the ruling.

“I believe something good happened today. It will take some time for people to realize that. But any time you can remove laws that put people into harm’s way, you have done something important,” said Mr. Young.

“We want to be good citizens and now we can,” said Valerie Scott, executive director of the Sex Professionals of Canada and one of the three women in the constitutional challenge.

“Justice Himel has seen right through all of the hypocrisy,” said Ms. Scott. “We can now set up guilds and associations, and we can set occupational and health standards.”

The ruling does not go into effect for 30 days and the federal government is expected to seek a longer stay.

The decision prompted an immediate response from federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, who issued a statement saying that he is “seriously considering” an appeal. “We will fight to ensure that the criminal law continues to address significant harms that flow from prostitution to both communities and the prostitutes themselves, along with other vulnerable persons,” he said in the statement.

The federal and Ontario governments both argued in favour of the existing prostitution laws before Judge Himel, maintaining that they serve broader societal interests. Any acts of prostitution are “inconsistent with respect for human dignity” and should be prohibited, the Ontario government suggested.

The Christian Legal Fellowship was one of three groups granted intervenor status in the case and argued that prostitution is immoral and should be stigmatized.

While prostitute safety is a “legitimate concern,” there are broader issues that Judge Himel should have considered, said Ruth Ross, executive director and general counsel of the Fellowship. “There must be concern for the security and care of all of society. There needs to be a balancing,” said Ms. Ross.

While the ruling could lead to legalized brothels, one of the lawyers for the three women stressed that the focus of the court challenge was concern for women in the sex industry.

“This is about the safety of prostitutes,” said lawyer Stacey Nichols. “The very basis of the evidence presented to Justice Himel, is that the way the laws stand made it unsafe for prostitutes, particularly street prostitutes.”

More than 25,000 pages of evidence were presented to Judge Himel, including data about reforms to prostitution laws in other countries.

The judge noted that the decriminalization of consenting adult prostitution in New Zealand and licensing scheme have led to increased safety and there was no evidence of more trafficking in the sex industry.

In contrast, the laws in Canada make “in-call” prostitution illegal and also prohibit a sex worker from hiring anyone to help screen clients,. “The provisions place prostitutes at greater risk of experiencing violence,” the judge wrote.

National Post, with files from Linda Nguyen, Postmedia News

Ontario court strikes down anti-prostitution laws News Staff // Tue. Sep. 28 2010

{Link to video}

An Ontario court has struck down several key provisions in Canada's anti-prostitution laws, saying they are dangerous to sex-trade workers.

A ruling by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice said the laws against keeping a common bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living on the avails of the trade "are not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice."

"These laws, individually and together, force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their right to security of the person as protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Justice Susan Himel wrote her in 131-page decision, which struck down those provisions.

"I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public."

Dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford and two other sex-trade workers went to Ontario's Superior Court of Justice to ask the court to rule on the Criminal Code laws relating to prostitution.

In an afternoon press conference Bedford said Tuesday was like emancipation day for sex-trade workers.

"It's important that women have safety and security in this business," Bedford said later Tuesday on CTV's Power Play. "It is legal, and like with any other legal business in Canada there are health and safety laws that go along with it."

Prostitution is not illegal in Canada, but nearly everything related to it is.

The struck-down provisions deal with adult prostitution. Prostitution laws dealing with those under the age of 18 remain unaffected.

Lawyer Alan Young, who represented the women, said the ruling "means the sex trade is changing in Canada."

"Whether Canadians like prostitution and think it's morally valuable or a moral vice really is not important," Young told Power Play. "This was a safety issue to ensure that people who are legally allowed to sell sex can do it in an environment that doesn't put them in harm's way."

Young said the case was based on the fact that the provisions the court struck down compromised the safety of sex workers. For instance, the prohibition on communicating for the purpose of prostitution prevented sex workers from screening their clients, while the provision against operating a bawdy house prevented them from moving their business off the streets, where it is more dangerous.

In her ruling, Himel said Parliament had to "fashion corrective action" to put new laws in place.

"It is my view that in the meantime these unconstitutional provisions should be of no force and effect, particularly given the seriousness of the charter violations," Himel wrote.

"However, I also recognize that a consequence of this decision may be that unlicensed brothels may be operated, and in a way that may not be in the public interest."

The Christian Legal Fellowship, which was granted intervenor status, argued that prostitution "offends the conscience of ordinary Canadians."

The government argued removing the prohibitions without replacing them with new laws would "pose a danger to the public."

The decision is subjected to a 30-day stay and the federal government can seek an extension of that period.

The federal government has previously argued that prostitution is inherently dangerous, no matter where it is carried out.

It has also argued that striking down the laws would make Canada a sex tourism destination.

Rona Ambrose, the minister of state for the status of women, told reporters Tuesday the government is "concerned with the decision and we are seriously considering appealing it at this time."

Deputy NDP Leader Libby Davies said Tuesday's ruling "breaks down the myth that these laws were actually protecting sex workers and local communities, because not only were they not protecting sex workers, they were actually harmful."

Davies said she has often heard from her constituents in Vancouver's downtown eastside who say the provisions prevented them from reporting violence or exploitation.

"We need to distinguish between what is consenting between two adults and what is exploitative, coercive and violent and focus the law-enforcement on those aspects," Davies said.

With files from The Canadian Press

Ontario Court Strikes Down Canada's Anti-Prostitution Laws

2010/09/28 | Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

{Link to video}

Canada's prostitution laws are unconstitutional because they're contributing to the danger faced by sex-trade workers, an Ontario court ruled Tuesday in striking down key provisions of the legislation.

The Ontario Superior Court ruled that laws against keeping a common bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living on the avails of the trade "are not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice."

"These laws, individually and together, force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their right to security of the person as protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Justice Susan Himel wrote her in decision.

While the ruling strikes down those key Criminal Code offences — which deal with adult prostitution — it does not affect provisions dealing with people under 18.

Prostitution was not illegal in Canada, but the Ontario Superior Court struck down three provisions that criminalized most aspects of prostitution.

The challenge was brought by dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford and two other sex-trade workers who said the provisions forced them from the safety of their homes to face violence on the streets.

The government had argued that striking down the provisions without enacting something else in their place would "pose a danger to the public."


Joe Raedle-Getty Images

In her ruling, Himel said it now falls to Parliament to "fashion corrective action."

"It is my view that in the meantime these unconstitutional provisions should be of no force and effect, particularly given the seriousness of the charter violations," Himel wrote.

"However, I also recognize that a consequence of this decision may be that unlicensed brothels may be operated, and in a way that may not be in the public interest."

The parties can make submissions seeking an order for a stay of the decision for up to 30 days, but lawyer Alan Young — who brought the challenge —says as it stands today no one can be charged under the anti-prostitution provisions.

The federal government had argued that prostitution is inherently dangerous, no matter where it is practised.

The government also warned that Canada could become a sex tourism destination if prostitution-related activities are decriminalized.

The Christian Legal Fellowship, which was granted intervenor status, argued the provisions reflect society's views that prostitution "offends the conscience of ordinary Canadians."

Bedford's "Bondage Bungalow" north of Toronto was raided by police in 1994 and she was convicted of keeping a common bawdy house in 1998.

Bawdy politics:

Critics say new regulation endangers sex workers' lives

Antonia Zerbisias / The Toronto Star / Friday, Aug 27, 2010

It's hard to picture Claire Jones in bed with organized crime.

The curvy sex worker, who has been plying her prodigious assets for seven years now, could one day face five years in jail if she works with other “girls'' at her luxury downtown condo.

And she does, at least sometimes.

New regulations announced earlier this month by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, regulations aimed at strengthening “the ability of law enforcement to fight organized crime,'' put her at risk.

Enacted in the dead of summer without Parliamentary debate, the regulations give government the powers to wiretap, deny bail, and move in on people without the usual safeguards such as warrants.

They affect everything from illegal gaming operations to auto theft rings.

But what Jones worries about is that they also include “the keeping of a common bawdy house.''

That's defined in the Criminal Code of Canada as “a place that is kept or occupied, or resorted to by one or more persons, for the purpose of prostitution or the practice of acts of indecency.”

As for what constitutes “organized crime,'' the law says all it takes is three or more people committing serious offences for financial benefit.

So, in the eyes of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government, a trio of prostitutes partying together with their “dates'' are tantamount to The Sopranos, and deserve the same treatment as gun runners or drug gangs. Instead of a maximum two-year term, sex workers could now face “at least five years'' in prison, have all their assets seized and their children taken away.

That despite how prostitution is not illegal in Canada.

What is illegal is keeping that common bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living off the avails of the trade, which means that, for example, a sex worker putting her adult child through university is against the law, and would designate that child as a “pimp.''

What independent sex workers who do “in-calls'' are worried about is that the new regulations could push them into the streets, where it's both unclean and unsafe.

And anyway, do you want them on your corner?

Make no mistake. There are so-called bawdy houses all over Toronto.

Says Valerie Scott of Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC), “I laugh when people say they've never met a sex worker. Yes you have. You just don't know it. And if you live in a condominium building, there are one or two sex workers in there. You just don't know it.”

All of which makes this new regulation absurd, says Scott, especially since there are many tough laws dealing with the very real problems of human trafficking, child exploitation plus other crimes associated with organized crime.

The new regulations should leave the consenting adult sex workers – small business operators, in essence—alone.

“Lumping us under organized crime and giving us a five-year prison sentence for working indoors, in safe clean environments, is ridiculous,'' says Jones, which, of course, is not her real name. “We're not trafficking in drugs, we're not trafficking in people, we're providing a service.''

But, to the minority Conservative government, it's all part of law-and-order agenda which includes a $9 billion investment in new prisons.

“This government engages a lot in symbolic politics,'' says lawyer Alan Young, who has been fighting a constitutional challenge on behalf of Ontario members of SPOC, arguing that the current laws put prostitutes at risk. “There are some things the Conservatives do that actually have a dramatic impact on the criminal justice system — and they may be negative — but there are a lot of things they do that have very little impact. They simply are being done to send messages that we are the tough old boys from a different moral era.''

Still, the government pushes on with its crusading, crime-fighting image.

Ironically, as reports over the past few weeks have revealed, police forces bungled the Pickton case. Sex workers who had evidence that might have prevented more deaths were discounted, just because they were deemed not credible as witnesses.

“I actually don't think the government cares about sex workers; to them it's just ‘oh they're going after organized crime,''' says NDP MP Libby Davies, in whose Vancouver east riding serial killer Robert Pickton picked off his victims. “The whole underpinning of the missing women is that they weren't ever seen as people, they were seen as disposable garbage by everybody.''

In Canada, an average of seven sex workers a year has been reported murdered since 1991. Nobody knows how many have been battered or raped. But it must be a significant number. A recent survey of 200 San Francisco street sex workers showed that 70 per cent had been attacked, an average of 31 assaults per sex worker.

Too often violence goes unreported for fear of arrest.

Jones, a happily married of four with a degree in computer science, moved into the sex trade during the last bust. She, like other sex workers and just about all the experts on prostitution, say that the safest, and the cleanest, place to work is indoors.

“Where are you going to shower? Where you going to clean? How safe is that?'' she wonders. “Every client has a shower when they come through my door.

“Are you going to do it in the back seat of a car? And where are the used condoms going? You're picking up somebody in the street, how safe that? You have no idea who they are.

“We screen our clients through emails, telephone numbers and, indoors, it's all prebooked , preplanned. The clients are awesome. I've made great money. And I've not had a single bad experience.”

“These regulatory changes are just going to drive sex workers more and more into vulnerable situations,'' insists Davies. “The more emphasis there is on an enforcement regime, the more that there's a fear of reporting violence.''

Still, the government pushes on with its crusading crime-fighting image. Which all goes to reinforce Young's case, fought by half a dozen crown attorneys and resulting in some 88,000 pages of evidence. He's out to prove that, with the laws putting sex workers at risk, their human rights are being violated.

A decision by Justice Susan Himel is expected next month.

“It's kind of funny because everything that has happened since the case was argued simply underscores what we're trying to establish,'' notes Young. “The revelation about Pickton underscored that there has to be a safe haven for street workers, whether they take it or not, when you see how inept the police were in responding to the missing women.

“And then you have Harper saying, well we're going to make bawdy house more serious. So his message is, we're not going to let you move indoors to a safer place. There's a real sort of Alice in Wonderland absurdity to what's happening right now in legal and political responses to the sex trade.”

What's more, say experts, the new regulations could lead to even more abuses of sex worker rights.

“Yes, I am fearful as to how the police will use these new powers to keep us all ‘moral,'” says Dr. Michael Goodyear, assistant professor of medicine at Dalhousie University.

He has conducted extensive research on sex work, both from the legal and health perspectives – and one of the changes may reduce organized crime, he adds.

“There is actually more evidence to suggest that prohibitions of morals—alcohol, drugs, sex—create an atmosphere facilitating organized crime and violence,'' Goodyear adds. “This was spelled out in the Declaration of Vienna, which Canada refuses to sign.'' As Davies, who was part of a 2006 task force examining the prostitution laws, points out, there's no solid reason to include bawdy houses in the new regulations.

“I asked that they provide me with research and evidence as to why these changes are necessary — which I know they don't have because they never do,'' she says. “It's their own political optics.”

But the bottom line is, say the workers, bawdy work may be the only capital crime in Canada.

“I think we have a de facto death penalty in this country for sex workers and it's called the communicating law and the bawdy house law,'' says Scott. “And I wish the federal government would either decriminalize it or just formalize the death penalty so we know where we stand.''

Sex workers question police DNA collection

Is a national databank in the works?

Jeremy Hainsworth / Xtra West, Vancouver / Thursday, March 11, 2010

A police campaign to quietly collect sex workers’ DNA across Canada is raising red flags.

Sex workers say it’s a violation of their rights. They don’t trust the police or government’s intentions.

And, they say, this collection opens the door for authorities to collect DNA from other groups too.

“If the government said everyone must submit their DNA, they’d be up in arms,” says Sue Davis of Vancouver’s Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education Society. “It’s a very hot-button issue.”

Prof Michael Goodyear of Halifax’s Dalhousie University studies prostitution issues. He agrees with Davis.

“Imagine if we wanted to collect nurses’ DNA in case they were murdered,” he says. “Most murdered people are pretty easy to identify.”

Davis says an Edmonton Police Service officer recently told her the DNA profiles would be used by Project KARE (Edmonton’s missing persons task force) to identify dead sex workers.

“How about protecting me so I don’t die?” she says.

Davis says changing the prostitution laws would remove the need for such data collection.

Though prostitution is not itself a crime in Canada, “communicating for the purposes of prostitution” and “living off its avails” are both illegal.

That’s the crux of this problem, say all the sex workers and advocates Xtra interviewed for this story: the laws around prostitution force workers out of the public eye and into violent or possibly fatal conditions. Change the laws and there will be no need for any DNA collection, they say.

But collecting DNA? “This is a huge violation of our rights,” says Amy Lebovitch of Sex Professionals of Canada.

RCMP K Division spokesperson Cpl Wayne Oakes says the DNA samples are taken voluntarily from those “involved in high-risk lifestyles.”

Oakes says information gathered can only be used if a person becomes the subject of a missing persons or homicide investigation.

He says Project KARE “has not and will not share any of the information collected.”

Davis says the officer she spoke to told her more than 700 workers have given samples in the Edmonton region.

But, she says, when she asked the officer how many prostitutes were currently working in the city, she was told 30 to 40. She wants to know what happened to the rest of the samples.

Edmonton isn’t the only area collecting sex workers’ DNA.

Corine Arthur, of the Surrey Women’s Centre Society, says sex workers there were told by police their DNA was needed so police could rule out still-living women whose DNA may have been found at the Port Coquitlam farm of convicted serial killer Robert William Pickton.

“We couldn’t get anybody to confirm or deny that was the truth at the time,” she says.

RCMP E Division spokesperson Cpl Annie Linteau confirmed to Xtra West Mar 8 that DNA was collected for elimination purposes from people who had been at the Pickton farm.

“That DNA will be held until the close of the investigation,” Linteau says.

Davis says she’s also heard of similar DNA collections in Halifax.

But a Halifax Regional Police Service spokesperson denies this.

“I’ve never heard of anything like that unless it’s being done through an organization that helps sex-trade workers,” says Const Brian Palmater.

That’s not the story from Oakes. He says the debate over the practice originated in Halifax. “They were engaged in this process very early on,” Oakes says.

Stepping Stones is a sex-worker support program in Halifax. Spokesperson Rene Ross says she’s heard “snippets” about DNA collections in the past. “I haven’t heard anything in quite a while,” she notes.

The Vancouver Police Department has not engaged in DNA collection, according to spokesperson Const Lindsey Houghton.

“Before the VPD were to get involved in something like this, we would have to explore the legal ramifications and implications and develop stringent policies around the collection, retention and use of the samples,” Houghton says.

Word has also surfaced of DNA collections in Winnipeg where a number of sex workers have been killed, say officials at Sage House, which provides support for street-involved women and transgendered people.

On Sep 25, 2009, the RCMP, the Winnipeg Police Service and the Province of Manitoba announced the formation of a task force to review cases involving missing and murdered women. A spokesperson for the police declined to comment.

All of it leads Davis to ask if some form of national database of sex workers’ DNA is being created by the RCMP in association with other police agencies.

“I can totally see that happening,” she says.

Lebovitch says such collection just makes police work easier once sex workers are dead.

“What about while we’re alive?” she asks. “How will this stop violence against us? It’s not addressing the problem.”

Moreover, she wonders what will happen when authorities across Canada have a bank of sex workers’ DNA.

“Are they going to sell it to the highest bidder? Maybe [for] some study on sex worker DNA?” she asks.

Which, says Micheal Vonn of the BC Civil Liberties Association, leads to another concern around such highly personal data.

“There is a very important principle that information collected for one purpose cannot be used for another,” Vonn says. “It’s not always the case.”

Prostitution laws endanger lives of sex-trade workers, former escort says

February 8, 2010

By Dalson Chen, The Windsor Star

Former escort Valerie Scott has a message for those who believe prostitution should be criminal on moral grounds: Get over it.

On Monday, the law school held a panel discussion on how Canada’s Criminal Code endangers the safety of sex workers.

“This really can’t keep going on,” Scott said at the University of Windsor’s faculty of law building.

“If people have a moral problem with … the commercialization of sex — sex as a commodity — you need to get over that. Because your moral problem is killing people.”

The panelists were: Scott, who is executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada; sociology professor Jacqueline Lewis; lawyer Alan Young; and professional dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford.

Last fall, Scott and Bedford, represented by Young, launched a constitutional challenge of Canada’s prostitution laws, arguing that the laws deny the security and liberty of those in the sex trade.

Exchanging money for sex is not illegal in Canada. However, doing so in a fixed location is illegal (the offence of running a bawdy house). It’s also illegal to communicate in public for the purposes of prostitution.

The result, Lewis said, is a “defacto form of prohibition” that makes it criminal for sex workers to take measures to protect themselves.

According to Scott, the laws do “the opposite of protection” by pushing sex workers to be “always on the run,” plying their trade in “unlit alleyways and streets,” making them easy victims for predators.

Scott said the trade would be much safer if the law allowed sex workers to bring clients to a fixed location. “When I go to his place, I don’t know what I’m going to,” Scott said. “I don’t know if there are three guys hiding in the next room.”

To make a point about the “irrational” and “arbitrary” nature of the prostitution laws, Scott gave a nickel to each audience member — then announced they were doing something illegal. By accepting her nickels, they were living on the avails of prostitution, which is prohibited under the Criminal Code.

“It’s as though society is saying sex workers are so unlovable, that if you are with one, we’ll make you a criminal, even if you aren’t,” Scott said.

When the Superior Court of Ontario held a hearing on the constitutional challenge in October, groups such as the Christian Legal Fellowship, the Catholic Civil Rights League and REAL Women of Canada argued that protecting public morals is a necessary part of the Criminal Code.

At Monday’s panel discussion, Young said such groups “have got to grow up a little bit.”

“Understand that the law can’t possibly protect every one of your moral preferences,” he said.

“There’s a horribly ugly side to the sex trade. I’m not naive. But I don’t see things in black and white.”

According to Young, criminal law is a “blunt instrument” that is too cumbersome to deal with a social issue such as prostitution. “If you want to solve problems in the sex trade, you don’t use criminal law.”

Young said the current laws did nothing to protect sex workers from the likes of Robert Pickton, who was convicted in 2007 of murdering multiple women on his pig farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C.

“The sanctity of life trumps moral preferences,” Young said.

Bedford — whose professional name is “Madame de Sade” — said her first arrest and conviction under Canada’s prostitution laws happened in Windsor. “Are you nervous that I’m here?” she joked to the audience of law students.

*Note from SPOC.  Valerie Scott is a current sex worker.

From back alleys to brothels

Friday, February 5, 2010

By MJ Deschamps, Centretown News

Imagine going to work not knowing if you’ll be ripped off, battered or sexually abused. Not knowing if you’ll come home at the end of the day.

For sex workers in Canada, that's the norm. Violence and crime have become just another part of the job.

However, violence is not something that is actually inherent in the profession – it’s the product of a badly organized structure and a set of laws surrounding sex work.

If society wants to look at sex workers as “troubled” or “misguided” children of sorts, then they should also look to the government as the neglectful parents.

In this country, selling sex is legal, but prostitutes aren’t able to do it safely due to solicitation laws in the Criminal Code. Without being able to work in bawdy houses or brothels, sex workers are left without any protection, and become at risk for violence.

“Currently it’s legal to do our job, but not legal to conduct any aspect of our job,” says Toronto sex worker Brigitte Benoit, who is a member of the activist group Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC).

Enforcement policies have ultimately led to the elimination of safe work spaces for sex workers, says Benoit.

“If we had control over a venue, prostitutes could feel safer, hire security, and have access to showers and safe-sex supplies.”

In October, fellow SPOC members and sex workers Valerie Scott, Amy Lebovitch and Terri-Jean Bedford brought their complaints around the issue to the Superior Court of Ontario. They are challenging sections 210-213 of the Criminal Code that prohibit bawdy houses, living on the avails, and communicating for the purpose of prostitution. The women say these prohibitions are a violation of their human rights.

Attempts have been made in the past to strike down parts of these prostitution laws, but this challenge is the first broad sweep of provisions in two decades.

By striking down all the Criminal Code sections pertaining to solicitation, it would effectively decriminalize prostitution.

Government laws are forcing Canadian citizens into dangerous environments, just so they can make a living, says University of Ottawa criminology professor Christine Bruckert.

Bruckert, a former stripper, spent three years studying the personal and professional lives of sex workers in Ottawa.

She looked at how, within the current justice context, sex workers continually experience violence from clients, and from police.

“Allowing for bawdy houses isn’t the perfect solution, but it is definitely the better alternative to forcing sex workers into dark corners and into jails” says Bruckert.

“If you look at countries that do have decriminzation, rates of violence go down dramatically and working conditions go up.”

Until the government moves to change legislation, sex workers will have to continue to look out for themselves, and each other.

On the SPOC website, they maintain a “bad date” list, to try and bring attention to some violent clients in the Toronto area. For now, says Benoit, that’s really all they can do.

The list includes detailed descriptions of bad “Johns”, the names they gave, vehicles they drove, partial phone numbers and addresses as well as a description of the violent act they committed.

“Colleague was picked up by a client at Queen St.E and Pape Ave. Both walked to a nearby gas station where the male stabbed her in the head and sexually assaulted her,” reads a posting from December 2009.

“Violence isn’t something that naturally comes with the job,” says Bruckert. “It’s a product of the way the industry is organized.”

And though prostitution is legal in Canada, violent crimes against sex workers often don’t get reported because of the stigma and fear of being charged under the other laws that criminalize sex work.

A 2006 government commission found that between 1994 and 2003, “at least 79 prostitutes” had been murdered on the job in Canada. This of course, does not begin to reflect the real number, especially when you consider the hundreds of ‘missing’ Aboriginal women across the country.

The report includes only cases where the police were able to actually determine that the death occurred during prostitution-related activities.

When Robert Pickton allegedly confessed to murdering 49 women – most of them sex workers from the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, the country was horrified, but nothing was done to make the lives of other sex workers safer.

“It’s becoming a real health and safety issue,” says Benoit. “We want recognition of our human rights and safe spaces to work in”

Prostitution sweeps happen frequently in Ottawa - about once every couple of months, according to Sergeant Jim Elves. Sex workers are often charged and thrown into jail for trying to do their jobs.

Although most sweeps happen because of citizen complaints of ‘nuisance’, he says he does not think that bawdy houses are a good solution to getting sex workers off the streets and out of the public eye.

“The only way to solve the problem is to get rid of it altogether,” said Elves.

As the world’s oldest profession, however, it doesn’t look like prostitution will be going away anytime soon.

So, in order to reduce stigma and violence against sex workers, society’s approach to the profession needs to change.