Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was quick to take to the microphones in the foyer of the House of Commons on Dec 2 to announce how pleased he is to hear the decision to stay Justice Himel’s ruling on Canada’s prostitution laws until April 29, 2011.
“It’s our position that these provisions are not only constitutionally sound, but they also denounce and deter the most harmful and public aspects of prostitution as well as the criminal activity that surrounds it,” Nicholson says.
“The provisions also ensure that police have the tools necessary to continue to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution, both to the communities and the individual themselves, along with other vulnerable persons.”
Nicholson was very circumspect, however, to ignore the concerns raised by Justice Himel about the safety of sex workers, and instead kept his focus on harm to communities, even when asked point-blank about it.
“The laws are in place, they work well in this country, and I’m pleased we received a stay today from the Ontario Court of Appeal,” Nicholson says.
Nicholson pointed to the mid-’80s when street solicitation laws were struck down.
“If the activity is carried out on streets and the police are unable to intervene, this can have a devastating effect on communities and neighbourhoods.”
The NDP critic on the file, Libby Davies, has harsh words for Nicholson and the decision.
“The government has refused to recognize how harmful these laws are for sex workers, which goes back to the heart of Judge Himel’s ruling,” Davies says. “What I want to see is the government address this issue, and that’s what they’re refusing to do.
“I think [Justice Marc Rosenberg] in his ruling today, by setting it to April 29, it is putting pressure on the government to expedite their appeal, so that’s good, but my primary concern is that the government has continually refused to recognize the harms and dangers that sex workers face under the current laws, and they’ve refused to address this issue. They’re just stalling. They believe that the status quo is acceptable, and Judge Himel’s decision clearly showed it was not.”
Davies also says Nicholson’s concerns about what happened in the mid-’80s, which led to the law on communication for the purposes of prostitution, are part of the issue that needs to be addressed.
“It was that law in 1985 that set us on a disastrous course that has caused us so much difficulty over the years and put sex workers at risk,” Davies says. “That was one of the laws [Himel] struck down. There is a lot of evidence to show that the communicating law has been very problematic.
“I think it’s very unfortunate that the justice minister… actually refuses to recognize that, of what this law has done. Their response today is just saying everything is okay, keep the status quo, we don’t want anything to change. They’re really denying the reality that’s out there.”
Liberal justice critic Marlene Jennings was also critical of Nicholson’s silence on the substance of Judge Himel’s decision.
“With the Ontario Court of Appeal’s extension of the stay, Harper and Nicholson now have extra time to say why they still haven’t addressed even one of Judge Himel’s concerns regarding the safety and security of sex trade workers,” Jennings says.