Sex laws will be challenged
Critics of Canada’s prostitution laws will file two Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenges within the next few months, arguing that current legislation puts sex-trade workers at risk.
Prof. Alan Young of York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School told the Georgia Straight that he is bringing a case before the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario between March and April. “We are going to challenge three provisions in the Criminal Code that create problems for sex-trade workers,” Young said.
These include prohibitions against maintaining a bawdy house, living off the avails of prostitution, and communicating for the purpose of selling sex. Citing the communicating law in particular, Young said that sex-trade workers are exposed to danger because the law prevents them from assessing whether or not a potential client would turn out to be a violent date.
“How the hell can would you know that a car is safe to get into if you can’t talk on the street?” Young asked.
In Vancouver, the Pivot Legal Society will lodge a separate case before the B.C. Supreme Court. Pivot lawyer Katrina Spacey told the Straight that her group will be ready in six months.
SFU criminologist John Lowman, an expert on prostitution, told the Straight that he expects the charter challenges to succeed because the “evidence is so overwhelming”.
In a paper submitted to the House of Commons Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws, he noted that at least 96 prostitutes in B.C. were murdered in the 15-year period following the enactment of the communicating law in 1985. This compared to 11 in the 25 years before the law came into effect.
The parliamentary subcommittee came out with its report last December without any specific recommendation for law reforms. Lowman described the report as a “disgrace”.
“The government will have to change the law,” Lowman said. “The vast majority of Canadians will truly believe that women do not deserve to die because they are engaged in prostitution.”
Amanda Bonella, a former sex-trade worker who started a drop-in centre for prostitutes in Surrey, told the Straight that the killing continues. She said that in the last quarter of the past year, two working women were murdered in Surrey.
“It’s very cold and desolate being here in Surrey because there is not a lot of acknowledgement that there is such violence,” she said. “No attention has been paid to it.”
Bonella also said that Surrey prostitutes are being pushed to work in more isolated areas, making them more vulnerable to predators. “Surrey doesn’t look like there is a stroll, compared to Vancouver,” she said. “That’s because one girl isn’t allowed by the police to work in a particular area but is allowed in another, and so they cannot work together.”
Bonella noted that some girls have claimed they have been asked by the police to sign so-called “no go” papers defining which areas they can and can’t work. Cpl. Roger Morrow, spokesperson for the Surrey RCMP, strongly denies this claim. “We don’t give pieces of paper telling people [they] are not allowed to go anywhere,” Morrow told the Straight. “We don’t have that authority.”
Mayor Dianne Watts told the Straight that no-go orders are issued by the courts on women found violating the communicating law and that these cover areas near schools.
Watts said the city isn’t going after sex workers. “I would like to see each and every man trying to buy the services of these young girls”¦arrested, charged, sent to john school, and fined,” she said. “It’s about the men, not the women.”
Bonella said the city can do more by also providing services for women. She said the drop-in centre is operating on the sale of clothing offered through the centre’s Web site (www .surreygirlz.org).
Lowman recalled that in 1985, a parliamentary committee recommended that the government decide under what circumstances prostitution, which is legal, can occur. The Conservative government at that time instead enacted the communicating law.
“That was the Conservative government, and again we hear today [Conservative Prime Minister] Stephen Harper saying he does not believe that the law is related to the [Robert William] Pickton case,” Lowman said. “If anybody really cares about prostitutes, they must not vote Conservative, because these people clearly don’t see what problems the law is causing.”