Late last week, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled and granted public interest standing for Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV) and Sheryl Kiselbach to challenge laws related to adult prostitution.
Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV) is an organization run by and for street-based sex workers in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, BC. The group was formed in 2007 as a way to address the violence and marginalization in the DTES community and to work towards challenging Canada’s prostitution laws.
Sheryl Kiselbach, a former sex worker with 30 years of experience who now works with street-based sex workers, joined the group in this important challenge. They filed a constitutional challenge to Canada’s criminal code, which was stopped by the federal government who brought in a motion preventing the case from going to trial. At this time, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the group did not have standing since they had not been charged with a prostitution-related offence. This decision was reversed by the
B.C. Court of Appeal and appealed by the federal government to the Supreme Court of Canada on January 19th, 2012.
“This decision opens the door for new, safe, and better ways for marginalized people to bring human-rights claims to court in a way that protects them and makes this kind of litigation more realistic,” said Katrina Pacey, litigation director for Pivot Legal Society and counsel for Kiselbach and SWUAV. “Specifically for our clients who work in street-based sex work, they are women who struggle with violence. They struggle with dire poverty, with addiction, with homelessness… They’re not looking for their clients to be criminalized either. They’re looking for consenting adults to be permitted to engage in consensual sex, and for the police to protect them when they ask for it instead of judging or punishing anyone in the industry just for the sake of being in the industry.”
As feminists, it is important to acknowledge the ongoing conflict between and within “waves” and womens’ groups around sex work and to strongly advocate for the decriminalization of prostitution.
We need to continue to challenge the views of organizations that support the abolition of prostitution and to reinforce the urgent need for harm reduction strategies that meet women where they are at.
We need to respect the choices made by women and support their own agency. Abolition will only take action to remove these choices and agency, further criminalizing women and perpetuating the already-existing cycle of violence. Kiselbach and SWUAV have taken valuable steps to elevate the voices of these women and to create access to justice for marginalized people in Canada.
(photo via the Pivot Points blog)