Supreme Court of Canada will deliver ruling on prostitution laws before Christmas
When government officials want to minimize media coverage, they often save their information dumps for a Friday. And if they want to seriously curtail public awareness, they do this before a long weekend.
This reduces discussion in the media because by the following week, it's old news.
So what are we to make of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision to release one of its most-anticipated rulings on a Friday (December 20) before Christmas and Boxing Day?
At the end of this week, Canada's highest court will render its verdict in the federal government's appeal of Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, Lebovitch and Scott.
Terri-Jean Bedford, a dominatrix, operated the "Bondage Bungalow". Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott work for Sex Professionals of Canada, which advocates for legalization of the sex trade.
The three Ontario women won a landmark ruling in 2010 in the Ontario Superior Court advancing the rights of sex workers.
At the time, Justice Susan Himel's decision stated that Criminal Code prohibitions on keeping a common bawdy house, living off the avails of prostitution, and soliciting in public for the purpose of prostitution were unconstitutional. Himel concluded that these laws violated sex workers' legal rights to freedom of expression and security of the person.
In 2012, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld Himel's ruling concerning laws about keeping a common bawdy house and living off the avails.
However, three of the five judges on the Ontario appellate court panel upheld the ban on communicating in public for the purpose of solicitation, which overturned this aspect of Himel's decision. The Ontario high court stated in its ruling that street soliciting "poses real and grave dangers" to sex workers.
Last June, Vancouver-based Pivot Legal Society's litigation director, Katrina Pacey, appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada to argue this case on behalf of Downtown Eastside sex workers.
Pivot joined forces with the PACE Society and the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence as interveners to oppose the continued criminalization of adult sex workers who want to work cooperatively or hire their own security.
Other interveners included the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Vancouver Rape Relief Society, Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, Real Women of Canada, Candian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, among others.
No matter how the court rules, some of the interveners are going to be disappointed with the outcome.
My bet? The court will uphold Himel's decision overturning bans on keeping a common bawdy house and living off the avails.
But I'm guessing that the Supreme Court of Canada justices will retain the ban on soliciting in public as a reasonable limit on sex workers' charter rights under section 1 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
The timing of this decision will minimize any controversy, especially if the judiciary essentially expands sex workers' legal rights and offers them greater protection in the future.
Parliament is also shut down for Christmas. This will undermine the Conservative government's ability to criticize the Supreme Court of Canada in front of the press gallery.
And if the judiciary upholds the ban on street soliciting, municipal politicians won't go berserk over the presence of prostitutes in the roads and alleys of their neighbourhoods.
Instead, local governments will cash in on licensing fees that will come in a result of the expansion of the sex trade and the end of prohibition.
According to an analysis of 100 countries' prostitution laws on the ProCon.org website, 50 percent had legalized the selling of sex, including Canada,
In our country, prostitution is legal, but it's illegal to do it in public, live off the avails, or operate a brothel.
Another 39 percent of countries in the survey outlawed all forms of prostitution. And 11 percent, including the United States, have "limited legal prostitution".