Vancouver- On June 12, 2013, Canada’s highest court will hear the case of Attorney General of Canada, et al. v. Terri Jean Bedford, et al. and will be asked to rule on the constitutionality of Canada’s prostitution laws. Sex Workers United Against Violence Society (SWUAV), PACE Society (PACE) and Pivot Legal Society (Pivot) have filed for leave to intervene in the case in order to ensure that the voices and realities of street-based sex workers in the Downtown Eastside inform a decision that will have profound implications for sex workers across the country.
Rights not rescue
“In deciding whether to grant leave to intervene the Court considers whether the party has a genuine interest in the litigation and whether it will bring a unique and relevant perspective to the Court” says lawyer Kat Kinch. “This coalition has unique and specialized knowledge about the impacts of the prostitution laws on street-based sex workers in Downtown Eastside and their intervention will add an important dimension to this case.”
This case began in 2007, when three sex workers in Ontario brought a constitutional challenge to the Criminal Code provisions that prohibit keeping common bawdy houses (as it relates to prostitution), living off the avails of prostitution and communicating for the purpose of prostitution. In September 2010, the Ontario Superior Court struck down all three provisions as violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Last year, the Ontario Court of Appeal agreed that the bawdy house and living on the avails provisions are unconstitutional, but reversed the lower court’s decision on the communication law.
If leave is granted, the coalition intends to use that opportunity to argue that even in the absence of a prohibition on working indoors, the communication law will continue to have unacceptably harmful effects on street-based sex workers. There is a strong body of evidence that demonstrates that socio-economic and other forms of disadvantage preclude many street-based sex workers from accessing safer indoor spaces. The communications law compounds those disadvantages by forcing sex workers to forgo screening clients and working collectively in high visibility areas in order to minimize risks.
“Despite the fact that selling sex is legal in Canada, sex workers have been put in harms way by a set of laws that prevents them from working more safely” says Pivot board chair Kerry Porth. “A positive decision in this case will be important in practical terms and will also make a strong statement that sex worker’s safety matters.”
The Ontario Superior Court decision can be found here: http://canlii.ca/t/2cr62
The Ontario Court of Appeal decision can be found here: http://canlii.ca/t/fqqwq