Saturday, June 8, 2013
Future of prostitution in hands of Supreme Court
Nine Supreme Court judges who have more experience with red robes than red light districts are tasked with deciding the fate of Canada's prostitution laws.
It's not something that gives lawyer Leslie Robertson a great deal of confidence.
"I don't really have faith that the right decision will prevail," she said.
For her, and for the 30-odd people attending a teach-in at the Jack Purcell Community Centre on Saturday, the right decision is the wholesale decriminalization of sex work.
The teach-in was part of a national day of action in support of "Terri Jean Bedford et al." as the Supreme Court docket refers to Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott whose lawyers will argue before the red-robed Supremes that the country's sex laws are rubbish.
Though Robertson is pessimistic about the judiciary, it was an Ontario Superior Court judge who had the courage or temerity, depending whom you ask to strike down portions of the Criminal Code dealing with keeping a bawdy house, living off the avails of prostitution and communicating for the purposes of prostitution.
"I was actually really surprised," Robertson said of Judge Susan Himel's 2010 decision.
Himel had pulled no punches:
"These laws, individually and together, force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their right to security of the person," she said.
"(They) are not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice."
At the teach-in, Robertson presented the legal history of the case, explaining how the feds and province appealed Himel's decision, and how the Court of Appeal gave a compromise ruling that infuriated sex workers and the government alike, setting the stage for Thursday's date with the Supreme Court.
Emily Symons then spoke, explaining why decriminalization and not legalization is essential.
The chair of POWER an Ottawa-based sex workers' advocacy group that organized the teach-in said legalizing sex work treats it "like a vice that needs to be controlled."
Where it's been tried, regulation has driven parts of the industry underground.
And it implies that sex workers can't be trusted to organize themselves.
If Symons can teach piano anywhere she pleases, why can't people set up a different kind of business without the government getting involved?
"It's not illegal to live off the avails of someone working at Walmart," she said.
Meanwhile, the current legal regime is just plain dangerous, forcing sex workers to work off the radar for fear of getting arrested.
Created: June 14, 2013
Last modified: July 2, 2013
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