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Reform employment laws for prostitutes now: BCCLA

Civil liberties group urges BC government to be proactive with Ontario ruling

The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) is urging the BC government to reform employment laws to cover prostitution in the wake of an Ontario court ruling last week that threw out prostitution sections of the Criminal Code as unconstitutional.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel ruled that communicating for the purpose of prostitution, keeping a common bawdyhouse and living off the avails of prostitution laws endanger the people they purport to protect. The Sept 28 decision, which so far only affects Ontario, was hailed as a victory by sex workers and their allies across the country.

A similar case brought by Sex Workers United Against Violent Society (SWUAVS) is awaiting decision in BC’s Court of Appeal.

The BCCLA is urging the BC government to be proactive instead of waiting for that decision. Executive director David Eby is hopeful the BC court will rule the same way as Himel but says the provincial government needs to be ready for that.

“There’s no time to waste,” Eby says. “The [Himel] judgment is pretty clear about how the tide is changing about how judges see Canadian sex-work law.”

The government of BC needs “to immediately recognize their responsibility to create workplace safety standards and employment standards tailored to sex-trade workers,” says Jason Gratl, who represented the BCCLA in the SWUAVS Charter challenge.

Society board member Megan Vis-Dunbar says prostitution is licensed in many BC municipalities, through body rub and massage parlours, and advertised widely in newspapers and on street corners.

Deriving income from licences and advertising, the BCCLA says, is living off the avails of prostitution.

“Given the de facto legality of sex work in many forms in Canadian communities, it is only right that we offer the same workplace protections from exploitation and unnecessary danger that we offer all workers in British Columbia, and BC should be proactive on this issue now.”

Criminal justice issues are in the portfolio of Attorney General Mike de Jong. He is in India for the Commonwealth Games and unavailable for comment.

Sex worker advocacy organizations have proposed a number of different models of regulation of the sex trade, and the BCCLA is calling on the provincial government to examine those models for implementation in provincial law.

The federal government is appealing the Ontario ruling.

A week after the Ontario decision, the Vancouver Police Department announced its arrest of two women accused of owning and running a bawdyhouse on E Hastings St in Vancouver.

“Both women are charged with one count of keeping a common bawdyhouse, one count of living on the avails of prostitution, and one count of procuring a person into the sex trade,” police said in a press release.