“The court announced Thursday morning it will hear the federal government’s appeal of a landmark lower-court ruling last March that said some of the country’s anti-prostitution rules placed unconstitutional restrictions on prostitutes’ ability to protect themselves. The Attorney General of Canada’s application for leave to appeal was granted without costs. The court will also hear a cross-appeal by three former and current sex workers that allows them to argue that the rest of the prostitution laws they had challenged are also unconstitutional.”
This decision will allow the Bedford case to be heard before Canada’s highest court. According to Katrina Pacey, litigation director for Pivot Legal Society, this case involves “fundamental rights for sex workers to safety and freedom from criminalization, which we feel is one of the most important and pressing social justice issues of our time.” Pivot Legal Society will be joining together with PACE and Sex Workers United Against Violence Society to form a coalition and apply for intervenor status:
“Our purpose at the Court of Appeal was to bring a strong voice from the Downtown Eastside, making it very clear that for sex workers in this community, law reform is a matter of life and death. The laws are a major impediment to creating safety for many sex workers who face horrific violence while working on the street.” Read more
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. Read more
Very pleased to have Jasmine back for a second post at Gender Focus. Jasmine Peterson is currently a graduate student in Clinical Psychology at Lakehead University (Ontario), and a feminist activist.
Prostitution is a cultural phenomenon that has been present in some form or another throughout history; it has often been referred to as ‘the world’s oldest profession’ which is not an accurate statement, but highlights the fact that sex work has been prevalent throughout the world for centuries.
In Canada, prostitution itself is a legal activity. However, many of the activities related to prostitution are illegal: operating or being found in a brothel or bawdy house, procuring sexual services, living on the avails of prostitution, or soliciting in a public space.
This is an issue for a number of reasons: it is difficult to engage in prostitution without breaking the law even though prostitution itself is legal, it contributes to and is a function of the cultural stigma against sex workers (which can also lead to street prostitutes being jailed more frequently than their clients), but most concerning is that these laws prohibit those who engage in sex work to communicate in a public space. This leaves workers more susceptible to the dangers of the industry (specifically violence and fear of legal reprisal for reporting such violence once it’s been committed).
A group of Vancouver sex workers – The Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society – have spent the past few years pitted against the federal government in legal proceedings. The case has made its way to the Supreme Court. What is really at the center of this legal battle is the safety of sex-trade workers. The sex-trade workers would like to see the activities associated with prostitution decriminalized as an integral step in ensuring their health, safety, and freedom of expression – basic human rights (read about it here).
The debate about decriminalizing activities surrounding prostitution is a rather divisive one, with some polarizing views. Read more