Sunday, June 9, 2013
Ian Macleod, Ottawa Citizen
Prostitution laws hurt women, forum told in advance of landmark court hearing
OTTAWA Prostitution laws force women to risk danger and even death in order to avoid arrest, a sex worker forum heard Saturday.
In advance of this week's landmark Supreme Court hearing on the constitutionality of criminal laws against prostitution-related activities, a panel representing sex workers, missing and murdered aboriginal woman and illicit drug users called for decriminalization of the sex-for-money trade.
"People are dying because of these laws," sex worker Lindsay Blewett told the downtown gathering, one of six across the country Saturday to support the repeal of the Criminal Code sanctions.
Prostitution itself is not illegal in Canada, though many of its key activities have been banned under the three sections of the Criminal Code. They include operating a common bawdy house, communicating in a public place (or place open to public view) for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or obtaining the sexual services of a prostitute, and living off the avails of prostitution of another person.
Thursday's Supreme Court hearing stems from a 2012 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that struck down the ban on bawdy houses in the province. The Ontario high court reasoned the ban on bawdy houses increased the dangers prostitutes face by forcing them to work outside.
But the court upheld the law against communication for the purposes of prostitution, effectively making street prostitution illegal. It reworded the law against living on the avails to clarify it would only apply in cases of exploitation because it could otherwise be used against people such as a prostitute's bodyguards, accountant or receptionist.
The case involved three women: retired dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford, former prostitute Valerie Scott and Vancouver sex worker Amy Lebovitch. They argued the laws related to prostitution violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protections of freedom of security of the person and freedom of expression.
The federal government opposed the Ontario ruling and was granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Emily Symons, chair of the advocacy group Prostitutes of Ottawa/Gatineau, Work, Educate, Resist which organized Saturday's Ottawa forum, said making it illegal for sex workers to communicate in public with their clients put the women at unnecessary risk.
"Communications isn't just about money," she told the gathering of about 30 people. "Communications is about consent and it's about establishing boundaries. It's important that sex workers be able to communicate freely with their clients and discuss what they're willing to do and not willing to do," to avoid potential later misunderstandings and conflicts.
As well, the women, "need to take the time to assess a client before jumping into his vehicle. When sex workers fear being taken up in a (police) street sweep, they can't take the time to talk to the client," without risking arrest.
Symons said that same fear of drawing police attention influences some women to work alone and in dark, isolated areas, rather than in pairs or groups in safer well-lit and well-populated areas.
"What we see here is that street-based sex workers are forced to choose between their liberty and their security of person. Do I want to be safe and possibly be arrested and charged, or do I want to abandon all my safety strategies and be pretty confident that I'm not going go to jail tonight?
"That's not a fair decision that any person should have to make."
She said striking down the bawy house law won't be effective without also repealing the law against communication for the purpose.
"So if bawdy house is struck down, but communicating is upheld as being constitutional, then they'll start charging indoor workers with communicating. Or if the reverse happens, then they will start charging street-based sex workers with bawdy house, which she said can be interpreted to include outdoor locations that a prostitute regularly uses, such as parking lot.
"The safest way to work as a sex worker is to work indoors because you have control over you're location. You know who's in there, you know where the kitchen knives are, you can hide some pepper spray, you know where all the windows and all the exits are. It's your space that you control and that's the safest.
"But unfortunately, this is a criminal offence in Canada and sex workers cannot set up safe spaces to operate in."
Decriminalization not legalization is the solution, she argued.
"Legalization means that we remove the Criminal Code laws and make new ones, so sex work can take place but only in this (regulated) specific way and if you don't, then your (still) committing a criminal offence. Legalization treats sex workers like a vice that needs to be controlled."
Copyright © The Calgary Herald
Created: June 12, 2013
Last modified: July 2, 2013
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