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Sex-laws challenge moves forward

A group of Vancouver sex workers seeking to challenge the constitutionality of Canada’s sex-trade laws is going to the BC Court of Appeal in November after being handed a defeat in BC Supreme Court in late 2008.

It’s a fight for safety, human rights and equality before the law, says the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society (SWUAVS), which brought the case.

BC Supreme Court Justice William Ehrcke ruled in December that the Downtown Eastside group would not be permitted to challenge laws that criminalize many facets of sex work.

The plaintiffs do not have the legal right to initiate such a challenge because it must be brought by an individual active sex worker, Ehrcke ruled, rejecting SWUAVS’ argument that the highly public nature of the court process makes it difficult if not impossible for active sex workers to challenge the law since they might get arrested.

Ehrcke’s refusal to hear the case was roundly condemned by sex-trade worker groups and human rights advocates.

Now a panel of appeals court justices will hear the case Nov 23-24.

And, this week, Court of Appeal Justice Pamela Kirkpatrick granted the BC Civil Liberties Association, the Trial Lawyers Association of BC and West Coast Women’s Leaf Education and Action Fund (LEAF) intervener status in the case, which means all three groups will be allowed to make submissions at the appeal.

“These groups have come forward because of the important social justice issues that are before the Court,” says Katrina Pacey, Pivot lawyer and counsel for the plaintiffs/appellants.

“In this appeal, my clients are fighting for access to justice for all marginalized persons and for the recognition that sex workers face incredible barriers in their efforts to protect their human rights,” Pacey says.