Lawyer who argued Supreme Court prostitution case rejects MP's suggestion that clients can be targeted
A Vancouver lawyer who represented sex workers before the Supreme Court of Canada has poured cold water on the idea of the federal government targeting the buyers of sex.
Elin Sigurdson told the Georgia Straight by phone that the Nordic model presents a model of "asymetrical criminalization".
She said that this approach—which has been endorsed by Conservative MP Joy Smith—"isn't consistent" with the Supreme Court of Canada's recent ruling striking down three of the country's prostitution laws.
"The client is criminalized, but not the sex worker," Sigurdson said. "In that context, the same issue of danger and jeopardy will persist when one of the parties rather than the other is criminalized. We would take the view that it couldn't be upheld under this decision of the Supreme Court of Canada because you're going to find the exact same problems persisting."
The Supreme Court of Canada decision gives the federal government a year to bring forward legislation that is consistent with the ruling, which struck down laws against keeping a common bawdy house, communicating in public to sell sex, and living off the avails of prostitution.
Sigurdson called the ruling a victory for sex workers and sex-worker advocates across the country who’ve been working for decades for decriminalization.
"It’s extremely significant because it represents the court acknowledging the dangers that are faced on a daily basis by sex workers who are involved the street-level sex trade and who have been stigmatized and marginalized to the point where they’ve found themselves completely disregarded by the law," she said. "This is a moment when they’ve been recognized in their full humanity and as true participants in Canadian society. It’s extremely exciting and it presents a real opportunity for change. It’s a chance for Canada to become a world leader recognizing human rights of people who have often been truly discarded.”
Sigurdson also stated that it's "extremely important" to recognize that the Supreme Court of Canada ruling will have no impact on Criminal Code prohibitions on the child sex trade.
"So any sex work involving underage people is criminal and that is rightly so," she emphasized. "Any human trafficking remains criminal and everybody agrees that situation of exploitation [and] coercion of minors must remain enforceable and police should pay greater and closer attention. This situation actually presents an opportunity to have a more transparent industry, in which eyes can be laid on people who may be underage and who shouldn’t be in coercive and exploitive circumstances. So you know, I think the scope of the decision is really important. It’s about adult consensual sex work. It’s not about children who very clearly should not be involved in the sex trade.”