Sunday, June 9, 2013
March supports legal prostitution
Sex-trade workers want same basic rights and protections as people in other lines of work
When Kerry Porth remembers her life as a sex worker in Vancouver, she can't help but wonder how she survived when so many other prostitutes died a gruesome death at the hands of notorious serial killer Robert Pickton.
"They were women just like me," Porth told The Province.
"Looking back, realizing just how much risk I was at. It was a real eye-opener."
Porth was one of dozens of activists who marched through downtown Vancouver on Saturday ahead of a highly anticipated Supreme Court case this week that will determine the future of Canada's prostitution laws.
The case, to be heard Thursday, stems from a 2012 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that struck down a ban on bawdy houses in the province, but upheld the law against communication for the purposes of prostitution, effectively making street prostitution illegal.
On Saturday, about 40 activists marched through downtown Vancouver with protest signs and red umbrellas in hand. The colourful activists, decked out in red sequins and feather boas, drew a crowd as they made their way down busy Granville Street chanting slogans like "My body, my business!"
The march was one of six taking place in cities across the country showing solidarity with the three sex workers Terri-Jean Bedford, Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch taking on the controversial laws.
Katrina Pacey, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society who will be travelling to Ottawa to speak at Thursday's hearing, took part in the march with her young daughter and two-month-old son in tow.
The aim of the event, she said, is to raise awareness that sex workers deserve the same basic rights and protections as workers in all other lines of work.
"That's the world I want my kids to grow up in," she said.
For Vancouver's sex-trade workers, Porth who helped organize the march and is a board member for the Pivot Legal Society said activists are especially worried about the communication law.
That law forces street prostitutes into isolated areas, away from people, she said. In the case of Pickton, Porth said, the law forced his victims "into the darkest areas of Vancouver, where they were picked off one by one."
What likely saved Porth's life in the four years she was a sex worker, she said, was that she saw most of her customers at her home, unlike many of Pickton's victims, who spent their nights on the streets waiting for johns.
Porth who believes Canada's prostitution laws have been "an utter failure" wants to see Canada to follow the lead of countries that have legalized prostitution, such as Germany and the Netherlands, where registered sex workers pay taxes and receive health benefits.
"I don't think we need a giant, heavy-handed federal law to govern what is actually consenting behaviour between adults," she said.
Former prostitute Jennifer Allan, who also helped lead the march, spent 15 years in the sex trade. Having worked both on the streets of the Downtown Eastside and in brothels, Allan said she is hopeful decriminalizing prostitution would bring about services to help vulnerable prostitutes get off the streets.
"I can tell you that the girl standing on the street corner in the Downtown Eastside does not want to be there," she said. "That's not her dream job. The Downtown Eastside is the place where the dangerous offenders come to find their prey."
© The Province
Created: June 10, 2013
Last modified: June 27, 2013
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