Sex worker groups in the Downtown Eastside hope an Ontario judge’s decision yesterday to strike down key parts of Canada’s prostitution laws will make it safer for Vancouver’s sex workers.
The Ontario Superior Court found that criminal laws pertaining to keeping a bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living on the avails of prostitution were unconstitutional because they violate sex workers’ right to safety.
Prostitution is technically legal in Canada, but many of the related activities are not.
Vancouver sex worker Susan Davis called it “an incredible day” because the ruling meant sex workers wouldn’t have to fear phoning police.
“It’s a way for real marginalized women to ask for help without fear of being labelled a criminal,” agreed Kerry Porth, executive director of the Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education Society.
“(The laws) worked individually and collectively to make sex work the most dangerous occupation in Canada, particularly street-based or survival sex work.”
Several women’s groups, including the Elizabeth Fry Society, reacted to the decision with outrage, arguing that prostitution is rooted in the exploitation of women.
Katrina Pacey, a lawyer with PIVOT Legal Society, who headed a challenge of prostitution laws in B.C. in 2008, said the decision is “persuasive,” but not binding in B.C.
If a sex worker is charged tomorrow, she could use the Ontario court’s decision to help argue the accused’s case, but there is no guarantee that the strategy would succeed.