Judge denies sex-trade group its day in court

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      A former sex worker says she is “very disappointed” that a judge has rejected her bid to pursue a constitutional challenge against Canada’s prostitution laws.

      Sheryl Kiselbach, 58, told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview that she worked in the sex trade for 30 years. Kiselbach, a violence-prevention coordinator with the Prostitution, Alternatives, Counselling & Education Society, claimed that the laws criminalizing sex workers increase their exposure to violence. She said her worst incident as a sex worker occurred about 28 years ago, when she was stabbed by a customer who was later charged with attempted murder.

      “Part of the reason I do safety workshops is because of so many unsafe things that happened to me, and I didn’t know what to do,” Kiselbach said.

      On December 15, B.C. Supreme Court justice William Ehrcke ruled that Kiselbach and a group of current and former sex workers—the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society—do not qualify for “public interest standing” to challenge Criminal Code prohibitions on soliciting sex in public, keeping a common bawdy house, and transporting someone to a common bawdy house.

      “The impugned laws do not presently cause Ms. Kiselbach to work in unsafe conditions because she is not currently engaged in sex work,” Ehrcke wrote in his decision.

      The plaintiffs applied for a judicial declaration that the laws violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees of freedom of expression, freedom of association, security of the person, and equality. Ehrcke’s ruling nullifies a six-week trial, which was scheduled to start on February 2.

      The decision cited a three-part legal test to gain public-interest standing for a constitutional challenge: the litigant must demonstrate “a genuine interest in the validity of the legislation”; the matter must be “a serious constitutional issue”; and there must be no other “reasonable and effective” way to bring the matter before the court.

      Ehrcke upheld the Crown’s contention that there are other ways to address the constitutionality of prostitution laws, noting that an active sex worker has launched a charter challenge in Ontario. Ehrcke also pointed out that constitutional issues can be raised by sex workers charged in hundreds of cases in B.C. every year.

      Kiselbach said that the plaintiffs are ready to continue their fight. “Me and my coworkers say, ”˜We’ll just open up a bawdy house, we’ll get busted, and we’ll challenge them,’ ” she said.

      Pivot Legal Society lawyer Katrina Pacey, who represented the two plaintiffs, told the Straight in a phone interview that an active sex worker could face serious repercussions by launching a constitutional challenge. “She might lose her clientele,” she said. “She might be outed within her community. She might be evicted. She might lose her licence to operate as an escort.”¦If she is in the Downtown Eastside, perhaps she’s collecting social assistance and they decide she should be cut off welfare.”

      In a June paper posted on the Web site of Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter, UBC associate law professor Janine Benedet and law student Thea Hoogstraten claim that the constitutional challenges against prostitution laws “present grave concerns for anyone who is committed to ending violence against women and to fighting for women’s equality”.

      “The arguments in both the BC and Ontario applications fail to address the deeply gendered nature of prostitution,” Benedet and Hoogstraten wrote.




      Dec 19, 2008 at 7:57am

      Excellent article. Bravo for both Ms. Kiselbach & her lawyer! My question about Canadian prostitution laws has ALWAYS been, "Why aren't the men charged?!" If not for them, we wouldn't have prostitution - & the violence, exploitation & poverty that accompanies it. Way past time that this was addressed legally, constitutionally & socially.


      Dec 23, 2008 at 10:24am

      Why are men seeing prostitutes? According to http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/men/article627388.ece, in Britain, men see prostitutes to avoid the emotional commitment that most women want. It is clear that most men don't care much about the emotional commitment bit. At least in a format where they are with one person most of the time. Let's face it though, finding that incredible soulmate is fantasy. We know most women don't think like men. And vice versa, although recently women (and media and their marketing/advertising agents-- have been pressuring men to be more like women and women like men to some degree). I think that emotional commitment is a bit weird anyway (and I know I am not alone). It feels and smells like control, like enslavement. Many men feel that way. It is definitely conditional: if you have sex with me, you must have sex with me and only me and you better not look, watch, speak to another woman for as long as we are an item. Okay, I am making it a bit worst that it usually is, but usually is the operative word here, but it feels and smells like emotional commitment is not exactly what it sounds like. It is one of those many euphemisms that many women use. If one dig a bit deeper, I can have emotional commitment with a good friend of mine and often do. I speak to him about everything. Women have often emotional commitment as we know that they share everything, even the thing that they do with their boyfriend in the sack. Could it be that many women, thus, are cheating emotionally? I think that what is really happening is that women NEED emotional commitment (and having a baby) more than men who NEED sex more than emotional commitment (and having a baby). Personally, I think the institution of marriage is bogus. Historically, it was as a way to garantee that family money would be kept in the family. I do understand the idea of safe-sex and the insurance that any kid born out of a relationship would be taken care of by two people, but let's face reality, how many single women do we have living now? Partly, women go crazy because they want and need a baby. As a result, many of them find a man and use all kinds of ways to indicate they want a relationship. They self-induce this state of love (mostly superficial, even though they might state or believe otherwise) and try to conjure this state to men. Movies and songs do the rest to entranch those beliefs. Personally, I think the prehistoric men and women had the best of both world. Women had all the emotional commitment that they needed (they had several husbands protecting them) and men could enjoy sex with whoever. In turn, they would have emotional commitment as well! I don't see the problem. In fact, I think things would be better for women than now. Christianity again has messed things up, sadly. But, I digress!

      Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions. (Einstein)