A lawyer who will argue a landmark sex workers' rights case in the Supreme Court of Canada was among a group of demonstrators marching through downtown Vancouver.
Katrina Pacey of Pivot Legal Society joined the protest for sex workers in advance of an appeal going before the country's highest court next week.
The case concerns three Toronto women who won a precedent-setting decision in Ontario Superior Court in 2010 striking down three antiprostitution laws: keeping a common bawdy house, living off the avails of prostitution, and communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution.
In 2011, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the ruling regarding the laws around keeping a common bawdy house and living off the avails.
However in a 3-2 margin, the panel of judges overturned the earlier decision on communicating in public—basically upholding the Criminal Code prohibition on street soliciting.
"I think what it's going to take is really articulating clearly to the Supreme Court of Canada what steps sex workers know they can take and would take if the law wasn't there," Pacey told the Georgia Straight. "They're very significant steps. They involve being able to take time to screen clients, referring to a bad-date sheet, standing with others who can spot and check out what vehicle you're getting into, being able to access the police. All of that is life or death kind of stuff. What we're going to have to do is really articulate that absolutely clearly to the court—and make sure that we can show them how the evidence supports that that meaningfully improves sex workers' safety. I think that will make the difference. I don't think the Court of Appeal was convinced that those steps actually improve sex workers' safety, and they absolutely do."
Pacey, who also argued the matter as an intervenor in the Ontario Court of Appeal, described the case as being of "ultimate significance".
"It's about whether or not Canada's prostitution laws stay or go, which is really important to sex workers who have lived under a scheme of laws that deprived them of every safety measure that would possibly improve their safety—including being able to work indoors, being able to work together, being able to access police protection, being able to screen clients," she said. "They're deprived of all of that because of the laws. So the argument is that Canada, which respects a person's security and liberty, can't possibly justify laws that then put sex workers at that level of risk."