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Ontario prostitution laws in limbo, stay extended

Sex workers still work in fear: SPOC

Amy Lebovitch, spokesperson for the Sex Professionals of Canada Credit: Amy Lebovitch (via www.spoc.ca)

Sex workers will continue to solicit in fear of criminalization and violence now that the judge has decided to extend the stay until the spring, the Sex Professionals of Canada tell Xtra.

Amy Lebovitch, spokesperson for the group, says sex workers are disappointed in the Dec 2 decision by Ontario Court of Appeal Judge Marc Rosenberg to extend a stay of proceedings imposed after Justice Susan Himel decriminalized prostitution on Sept 28.

The stay will now continue until April 29.

“These laws are affecting people right now,” says Lebovitch, who is one of three sex workers represented by Osgoode Hall law professor Alan Young. “This may not be clear to a lot of people. These laws are affecting people as we speak. I’m obviously not very happy with this.”

Sex workers have a right to be safe, without fear of being arrested, she says.

Himel’s ruling strikes down three criminal code provisions surrounding prostitution, declaring them unconstitutional: laws that forbid soliciting, keeping a bawdyhouse and living off the avails of prostitution. Himel concluded that the current laws are harming sex workers by putting them in danger and punishing victims.

If the laws fall in the spring, the biggest change will be that sex workers will be free to work indoors and in groups, without triggering Canada’s bawdyhouse laws, says Young. It also means hookers will be able to hire drivers, bouncers and bodyguards to keep themselves safer.

In his decision, Rosenberg says that while he found some of the government’s arguments “less than compelling,” he was unwilling to leave the prostitution laws in a legal grey area.

“That leaves me with hope, that the judge did see that,” Lebovitch says. “The judge wasn’t sure how to rule. He didn’t want to leave a legal grey area that could lead to chaos.

“But the thing is, there’s already a legal grey area. Prostitution is not illegal, but everything surrounding it is.”

The Sex Professionals of Canada will now focus their efforts on education and advocacy, she says. They will begin to work with other groups in strategizing the framework in the hope decriminalization happens.

But Lebovitch isn’t sure the public is completely on the side of sex workers.

“The feedback from the media has been quite positive through all this most of the time,” she says. “But I think the public is getting more educated on the issue. Before they perhaps recognized that the laws were in place, and figured they were necessary.

“But maybe now they see the laws are harmful to us.”