DTES sex workers’ rights groups heading to Ontario Court of Appeal

Last September, three courageous Toronto sex workers succeeded in their fight to haveCanada’s prostitution laws declared unconstitutional. They were challenging the following sections of the Criminal Code:

  1. The Communication Law which makes it a criminal offence to communicate in public for the purpose of prostitution.
  2. The Bawdy House Law which prohibits using any indoor space repeatedly for the purpose of prostitution. 
  3. The Living on the Avails Law which prohibits receiving proceeds from someone else’s prostitution. 

Madam Justice Himel of the Ontario Superior Court found that the laws force sex workers to choose between their safety and their liberty. Here is the gist: if a sex worker wants to work safely, she/he has to break the law. If she/he does not want to break the law, then the only option is to work in dangerous circumstances. The Court held that the laws prevent sex workers from taking steps to work in safer circumstances, such as working indoors, working with other sex workers, and hiring security guards etc. 

The provisions place prostitutes at greater risk of experiencing violence. These risks represent a severe deprivation of the applicants’ right to security of the person.”

We were not surprised to hear that the federal government would be appealing the decision. So in June, the case of Bedford et al. v. AG Canada will be heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal. 

Pivot has joined together with the PACE Society and the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society to “intervene” in the appeal. An “intervenor” is a person or group (or in our case, a coalition of groups) who are not originally a party to legal proceedings but are given permission by the court to participate in the proceedings. Our goal is to bring the Courts attention to the particular circumstances of street based sex workers and the ways in which the laws have incredibly harmful, and sometimes fatal, consequences for them. 

A number of other groups are also intervening and will argue that the prostitution laws should be struck down, including Maggie'sPOWER, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, the BC Civil Liberties Association, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

I am very fortunate to be counsel in this intervention, along with a brilliant team of lawyers including Joseph Arvay QC, Elin Sigurdson, Kat Kinch, Lisa Glowacki and Lisa Kerr. The appeal is scheduled for the week of June 13 and we will be blogging throughout so keep checking the Pivot blog for more news. 

To read the Bedford decision, click here