Bringing the voices of DTES sex workers to the Supreme Court of Canada

Today marked a big milestone in our journey to bring the voices of Downtown Eastside sex workers to the Supreme Court of Canada. Our legal argument in the case of Bedford v. Canada was filed with the Court. 

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Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.

Pivot joined together with PACE Society and Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence to intervene in this landmark litigation, which was brought by three courageous Ontario sex workers fighting for decriminalization of sex work in Canada. Our “factum” (written argument) was the product of months of hard work by our dedicated legal team. One of the most wonderful aspects of this process has been working with such an amazing, dedicated team of lawyers, including Elin Sigurdson, Lisa Glowacki, Lisa Kerr, Kat Kinch, Maia Tsurumi and Joseph Arvay QC.

In terms of our factum, we wanted to say something about all of the laws that are the subject of this litigation. But we are only given 10 pages to make our argument so we made a decision to focus on the Communication Law, because it is incredibly harmful to street-based sex workers. We argue that this law, which criminalizes “street solicitation” and was introduced by parliament as a way of curbing “nuisance,” makes sex work exponentially more dangerous. The gist of our legal argument is that a law that has the stated purpose of preventing public nuisance cannot be justified when it results in a risk of serious harm and death to marginalized women.

Street based sex workers represent the most marginalized segment of the industry and experience the highest rates of abuse, violence and murder. We make the case that their vulnerability to violence is, in large part, the result of the Communication Law, which effectively prohibits important safety measures and strategies. As a result of this law, sex workers’ focus becomes avoidance of police detection, so they rush into vehicles without adequate time to screen clients, work alone in dark and isolated areas of the city, and are deprived police protection, thereby increasing the risk of serious violence.

Our argument also specifically mentions the final report from the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, where Commissioner Oppal concluded that:

There is a clear correlation between law enforcement strategies of displacement and containment of the survival sex trade to under-populated and unsafe areas in the period leading up to and during the reference period and violence against the vulnerable women.

There is a lot more in our legal argument than I could include here, so if you want to know more, I recommend you have a look at our factum, which you can access here. Now we start preparing for the hearing on June 13 in Ottawa. If you want to watch, it will be webcast on the SCC website. The hearing will likely start at 6:30 am PST, and it is going to be an extremely interesting day. We will be blogging from Ottawa and will be sure to keep you posted!

- Katrina