Ottawa- Today, June 13 Pivot Litigation Director Katrina Pacey will appear before the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of sex workers from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). The Vancouver lawyer has traveled to the Supreme Court with a group of current and former sex workers from Canada’s poorest urban neighbourhood.
Rights not rescue
Pivot joined together with PACE Society and Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV) to intervene in the case of Attorney General of Canada v. Terri Jean Bedford, et al., which was brought by three courageous Ontario sex workers fighting for decriminalization of sex work in Canada. SWUAV, a grassroots organization run by and for street-based sex workers in the Downtown Eastside, held a draw to see which women would get to make the journey to the Country’s capital city.
“As soon as we decided to intervene in this case, we knew it was important to support women, some of whom have never been on a plane, to travel across the country to the Supreme Court of Canada,” says Pacey. “This case is not about abstract principles. It was was really important to get women physically to the Court, because when I get up and speak, but I am just a conduit for their voice – it is their lives, their community, and their vision for working with safety and dignity that the court must hear.”
The four women from SWUAV who have made the trip to Ottawa, are joined by Sheryl Kiselbach, a former sex worker with 30 years of experience and violence prevention coordinator with PACE Society. Both SWUAV and Ms. Kiselbach are plaintiffs in a parallel Charter challenge brought in British Columbia in 2007, but sidetracked as the federal government attempted to get the case struck on technical grounds, until the Supreme Court unanimously decided the case should proceed.
“Our case was stalled because the federal government was determined to keep the voices of women like me and the women from SWUAV out of the courtroom,” says Kiselbach. “Well, we are here and we are proud to be in Ottawa sharing our reality, representing our community and supporting the sex workers who brought this challenge forward.”
The Pivot, PACE, SWUAV coalition will focus their submissions on the Communication Law, which criminalizes “street solicitation.” This law significantly affects the safety of street based sex workers, who are the most marginalized segment and experience the highest rates of abuse, violence and murder. That vulnerability to violence is, in large part, the result of the Communication law, which effectively prohibits important safety measures and strategies because sex workers’ main focus becomes avoidance of police.
Pacey will make the case that a law which has the stated purpose of preventing public nuisance cannot be justified when it results in a risk of serious harm and death for women like those who have travelled with her from Vancouver to be in court today.
The case will be heard this morning, June 13 beginning at 9am EST at 301 Wellington St Ottawa and the proceedings will be live streamed at http://www.scc-csc.gc.ca/case-dossier/cms-sgd/webcast-webdiffusion-eng.aspx?cas=34788
There will be a rally in support of the decriminalization of sex work outside of the Supreme Court building at noon.
At 4:15 p.m., Katrina Pacey, Sheryl Kiselbach and others members of the team will be available to speak to media on the steps of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Katrina Pacey, Litigation Director Pivot Legal Society (604) 729-7849