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Sex work laws on trial

Constitutional challenge continues

WORKPLACE HAZARD. "Sexual predators are well aware that the law is a gift to them," says Sex Professionals of Canada's executive director Valerie Scott. Credit: Paula Wilson

After hearing from witnesses in June the constitutional challenge of some of Canada’s sex work laws is back in court from Oct 6 to 9 for closing arguments.

“It’ll be our legal team and the crown’s duking it out,” says Valerie Scott, executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC).

Scott and fellow sex work activists Terri Jean Bedford and Amy Lebovitch filed the case in 2007, challenging that several sections of the Criminal Code related to sex work violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Although it is legal to sell sex in Canada, many of the activities related to the sale of sex are considered criminal offences.

Specifically SPOC’s case takes issue with Section 213(1)(c), which makes it illegal to communicate for the purposes of prostitution; Section 210, which makes it illegal to run a common bawdy house; and Section 212(1)(j), which makes it illegal to live off the avails of prostitution.

These laws, say Scott, are putting sex workers at risk because it makes it illegal to take safety precautions including hiring security staff and working in groups.

“Sexual predators are well aware that the law is a gift to them,” she says. “It serves us up on a silver platter to them because we’re too afraid to call the police. We’re too afraid to work together, we’re always alone and isolated.”

Although originally denied intervener status in the case a group of Christian organizations — Christian Legal Fellowship, Real Women of Canada and the Catholic Civil Rights League — won an appeal on Sep 22. The groups will begin presentations to the judge in the case, justice Susan Himel, beginning Oct 19.

“They have a real substantial and identifiable interest in the subject matter of the application and, as acknowledged by the Attorney General of Canada, an important perspective different from the parties,” states the decision.

Scott admits she was surprised at the overturned decision. “The logic of this case has nothing to do with morality. It has everything to do with safety.”

Following the interveners’ presentations there will be a chance for counter arguments by SPOC’s senior lawyer, Osgoode Hall law school professor Alan Young.

Scott hopes for a decision in the case early in 2010. “There’s a lot there’s an awful lot to wade through and come up with a decision… it’s going to take [Himel] several months,” she says.

No matter which way Himel rules Scott expects the decision will be appealed.

“If the decision is at all favourable to us for certain the Crown, the Attorney General of Canada, will appeal,” she says. “If the decision is unfavourable to us then we scramble to find more money and then we go to appeal court where we ask for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.”