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Top court will hear appeal in BC sex worker case

Government filed appeal to block case from proceeding

The Supreme Court of Canada said March 31 it will hear the federal government’s appeal of a BC Court of Appeal decision allowing sex workers to challenge Canada’s criminal laws relating to adult prostitution.

The BC Court of Appeal ruled on Oct 12, 2010, that former sex worker Sheryl Kiselbach and Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV) would be allowed to return to the province’s Supreme Court to challenge Canada’s prostitution laws.

However, the federal government then filed leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

“I can’t believe that the government is trying, yet again, to stop us from bringing this case to court,” says Kiselbach in a news release from Pivot Legal Society. “I am disgusted that the federal government, which has done nothing to protect sex workers’ rights and safety, are now using taxpayers’ dollars to limit access to justice for this vulnerable and silenced group.”

SWUAV lawyer Katrina Pacey says the government appeal of the BC case is another “sad example” of the government’s using its immense resources to sidetrack important public-interest cases.

“This appeal is yet another attempt by the federal government to block sex workers from having their day in court,” Pacey says.

Kiselbach and SWUAV wanted to challenge the laws but were thwarted in December 2008 when BC Supreme Court Justice William Ehrcke ruled neither SWUAVS nor Kiselbach could bring the case as they had not been charged with any of the offences — a standard precursor to a constitutional challenge.

The appeals court overturned that decision, paving the way for the case to be heard.

In September 2010, the Ontario Superior Court ruled in a similar case brought by three sex workers there that the laws prohibiting communicating for the purpose of prostitution, bawdyhouses and living on the avails were unconstitutional.

That decision is binding only in Ontario. The BC plaintiffs are trying to get a similar ruling.