Alex Blaze

Ontario court rules in favor of sex workers' rights

Filed By Alex Blaze | September 29, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Canada, ontario, prostitution

Ontario's high court just overturned several of the country's laws criminalizing various acts of sex work, like working together and indoors ("keeping a bawdy house") and soliciting:

bedford-scott-wide.jpgIn a 131-page ruling, Judge Susan Himel found national laws banning brothels, solicitation of clients and managing sex workers violated a provision of the constitution guaranteeing "the right to life, liberty and security".

She called on the Canadian parliament to regulate the sex trade rather than ban such practices.

"These laws... force prostitutes to choose between their liberty, interest and their right to security of the person," she said.

One of the three prostitutes who brought the case, Terri Bedford, had told the court she had been beaten and raped many times.

She described the judgement as "like emancipation day for sex trade workers".

"The federal government must now take a stand and clarify what is legal and not legal between consenting adults in private," said Ms Bedford, who added that she now hoped to work as a dominatrix.

And, because the war on sex is really all connected, Canada's LGBT paper mentions that these laws were used to close down bathhouses:

The biggest change is that sex workers will be free to work indoors and in groups, without triggering Canada's bawdyhouse laws, says Young. It also means hookers will be able to hire drivers, bouncers and bodyguards to keep themselves safer.

It could protect the country's bathhouses, which have suffered through police harrassment, usually using the periodic enforcement of the bawdy house law.

"It prevents a return to the bathhouse raids of the 1970s, that can't happen again under this regime," said Young after the press conference. However, "because of the political mobilization of the gay community, their spaces for quasi-public sexuality have been largely immunized from the police, and every intrusion has resulted in a withdrawal of charges."

Bathhouses have been raided repeatedly in Canada, most recently in Hamilton (2004) and Calgary (2002.)

Conservatives say they worry about human trafficking, but the BBC didn't explain how keeping sex workers from ever seeking help from law enforcement would keep them from being exploited.


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There was a similar ruling in November 1982 in the provincial court in Calgary, Alberta province. The new Constitution had only been in effect a short while. I happened to be there in Court that day on business, and loved the costume comedy aspects of the hearings. Imagine, the hunky Royal Canadian Mounties, in their shiny black boots and uniforms. The lawyers, in the British style black robes and wigs. The judge, Madame Justice Southerington, a beautiful young judge, in her own traditional get-up. Then, imagine, the several street-walkers dressed in their micro-animal patterned mini skirts. Others in cowgirl boots. Plunging necklines on the blouses. What a show this all was. Pursuit of happiness it all was.

This is really quite amazing news. Other places have gone down the same path as this as a matter of policy, but there's something about a judicial judgment that such laws are unconstitutional that's meaningful.

I wish the US would get it's act together and follow suit. Here "living off the avails of prostitution" is known as "pimping" and lovers, roommates, and even adult children of prostitutes have all been caught and prosecuted by that law. It essentially makes it illegal for people engaged in prostitution to live with family members, biological or chosen.

It's an interesting decision because if one starts out with the goal of improving sex workers' and their customers' health and safety, the laws around sex work would be completely different than what they currently are. It's always funny how the anti-prostitution crowd always says that they're about protecting people from being exploited but never seem to consider what that would actually look like.

Yeah, I know. Even if someone thinks that sex work is inherently degrading and needs to be stopped, how will putting sex workers and their loved ones in jail improve the situation?

It reminds me of the anti-gay argument that children "deserve" opposite sex parents. But that point aside, their remedy only further hurts kids with LGBT parents by taking away their parent's healthcare and their legal support.

In both cases, they don't really want to help us, they want us to stop existing. And they are under the odd notion that if they make our lives illegal that we will disappear as if we never existed.