“I feel like a debutante,” said Valerie Scott. “I feel like a citizen.”
Scott was a litigant in a landmark Ontario case that has made it legal for prostitutes to work out of brothels and to hire protection.
The Globe and Mail (interesting video on that link, by the way) reported that on Monday a five-person appellate panel in Ontario “said it is senseless to have a law that compels prostitutes to work in dangerous isolation, given that prostitution itself is legal.”
The Ottawa Citizen clarifies that bit for us state-siders by saying “The court’s analysis begins with the fact that Parliament has not chosen to pass any laws making prostitution illegal,” though there have been laws to criminalize certain activities associated with it. Keeping a “bawdy house,” “living on the avails of prostitution” (pimping), and communicating for the purpose of prostitution (soliciting) were three of those criminalizing laws. They were struck down in 2010 by Judge Susan Himel who said such provisions were too broad and that laws meant to protect women and neighborhoods were endangering prostitutes lives, said the Toronto Star at the time of the 2010 ruling.
Scott, along with Amy Lebovitch and Teri-Jean Bedford, a dominatrix, “took on the legal might of the federal and provincial governments, their battle waged on a shoestring legal aid budget and the volunteer services of expert witnesses and lawyers.”
On Monday the court agreed with Himel’s decision on bawdy houses and “living on the avails,” unless the circumstances constituted exploitation – that would be illegal. The only part the court didn’t agree with was that soliciting, which Himel had said limited a street sex worker’s ability to screen a prospective client in a public place, thus putting her in greater danger. Three of the five appellate court judges felt that Himel hadn’t recognized that street prostitution is associated with other problems like drug trafficking and organized crime, The Star reported on Monday. So that remains illegal.
The other two new protections won’t go into effect for 30 days, allowing both sides time to appeal. It also gave the government a year to redraft the legislation and the country will certainly be talking about it, so the dust hasn’t settled just yet.
Not everyone was thrilled about the ruling which another story from The Star says has had a mixed reaction among prostitutes and sex worker advocates. Angel Wolfe, whose mother was murdered by a serial killer of prostitutes, argued that the ruling would make it more difficult for police to get warrants and uncover abuse and child trafficking.
Chanelle Gallant, spokeswoman for Maggie's: Toronto Sex Workers Action Project told The Star that most sex workers – 95 percent - are arrested under the part of the ruling that was struck down (solicitation), leaving the street prostitutes still just as vulnerable.
It’s very much worth mentioning that almost all the Canadian newspaper stories cited above invoke the name Robert Pickton, the serial killer who murdered Angel Wolf’s mother and who is clearly well-known enough in Canada not to require backstory. Macleans magazine provides a detailed chilling account of what made it so easy for Pickton, a pig farmer, to find sex workers on the streets of Vancouver’s crime-ridden Downtown Eastside and engage in “what police now believe to be the largest serial killing spree in Canadian history.” A combination of crime, street violence and an unwillingness of many prostitutes to report victimization to authorities made it “the perfect combination of vulnerabilities for an urban predator.” Authorities suspect Pickton “murdered and butchered” more than 30 women but he was only tried, convicted and jailed for six.
The Pickton nightmare happened in British Colombia, far away from Ontario’s new sex worker laws which are not binding in BC, reports The Province, only in Ontario.
All of it seem to be happening a million miles away from the United States which still seems to be sweating the fact that women have sex – never mind attempting to protect sex workers. A comment on the Overheard on CNN blog on the bawdy house subject noted “Ontario legalizes brothers. The U.S. wants to regulate contraception…Which country was founded on freedom again?”
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