prostitution laws currently working their way through the courts in Canada. One
is in British Columbia; the other is in Ontario.
The B.C. challenge began
in 2007 and was initiated jointly by Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United
Against Violence (DESWUAV), a non-profit society composed of street-based sex
workers, and by Sheryl Kiselbach, a former sex worker with 30 years of
experience in the sex industry.
In December 2008, however, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the
plaintiffs did not have the legal right to initiate such a challenge because it
must be brought by an individual, active sex worker. Justice Ehrcke rejected the
plaintiffs’ argument that the highly public nature of the court process
effectively prohibits active sex workers from launching a challenge due to fears
of arrest and retaliation, as well as social censure and discrimination.
While Justice Ehrcke’s decision was a blow, it’s really just one
step in what could potentially be a long road toward having such a challenge
heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. On January 12 2009, the next step was
initiated when DESWUAV and Kiselback filed an appeal. It’s set to be heard on
November 23 and 24, 2009. The basis on which the B.C. case is challenging the
prostitution laws is actually pretty interesting; you can read more about it here.
challenge also began in 2007 but differs in that one of the three plaintiffs is
a current sex worker. Amy Lebovitch is
an active worker. She is joined by Terri Jean Bedford, a former dominatrix and
street-based worker, and Valerie Scott, also a former worker and current
executive director of Sex Professionals of
While the B.C. case has already been rejected and is now going to appeal, the
Ontario case will not be heard until this fall. Lebovitch, Bedford and Scott’s
lawyer will argue that the laws that prevent communicating for the purposes of
prostitution, living off the avails of prostitution and keeping a common bawdy
house are incompatible with the fact that prostitution is legal in Canada. The
challenge contends that the prostitution laws violate Section 7 of the Charter
of Rights guarantee to life, liberty and security of the person, by exposing sex
workers to danger.
An interesting development in the lead up to the Ontario case transpired
yesterday when REAL Women of Canada, a conservative women’s group, and two
religious groups – the Catholic Civil Rights League and Christian Legal
Fellowship – made an appeal to a Toronto judge to be allowed to participate in
the hearing. The three groups argue that if Canada’s prostitution laws are to be
decided by the courts, the courts should account for moral as well as legal
“It is okay – to be blunt – for a person to sell their body, but when that
action begins to impede on others, fundamental moral values are impacted,”
Ranjan Agarwal, the lawyer for the three groups, told Mr. Justice Ted Matlow of
the Ontario Superior Court.
So who are these three groups that want a say in Canadian criminal law
* * * * * * *
REAL Women of Canada
is the same organization that expressed outrage that the proposed Canadian Human
Rights Museum might include exhibits focusing on gay rights or feminism. They
instead advocated for exhibits showcasing the “selfless dedication” of “those
defending the family and traditional marriage.”
REAL Women also
As a prostitute sells sex as a service to a customer, the dignity
of women and men is demeaned, allowing the customer to buy the right to treat
another person as an object. It has nothing to do with love or personal
relationship, and removes the dignity and bonding of the sexual act from its
context of a loving relationship.
You can read their full position
statement on prostitution here.
The Catholic Civil Rights
League describes itself as Canada’s only lay organization devoted
exclusively “to bringing Church teaching to bear on issues of public
Homosexual practices, adultery, prostitution, and pronography are
all sinful acts in the teachings of the Church. It has always been recognized
that with all serious sins, the state has a responsibility in exercising its
authority to promote the common good whether through the Criminal Code, tax
policy, education standards or the other broad areas of its
Legal Fellowship is “a national association of Christian legal
professionals, law students and interested friends who recognize the
responsibility of integrating Christian faith and law.”
There are many instructive
articles available on their site. Titles include: How
Much Diversity Can Canadian Courts Tolerate?, Same Sex Marriage: What Churches and Religious
Organizations Can Do in Response, Influencing Your Canada for Christ…As A Barrister,
and The Practice of Holiness and the Practice of
Law: Are they mutually exclusive?
Here’s a quote from one
of their articles entitled, Immorally Relative Codes of Conduct & The Value of
Christian Virtue in the Practice of Law:
Will constitutional democracy collapse tomorrow, or even in our
lifetime? Perhaps not. Structural institutions of free government may stand
for a time. The very essence, for which they stand, however, sometimes ceases
to exist. Thus, more is at stake here for lawyers than just our temporal
professional reputation. We bear the serious duty and responsibility of
preserving constitutional governance under the rule of law. When it comes to
matters of trust, history and the public will hold us accountable to God’s
naturally existing higher moral standard, for it is that internal standard
against which they measure their own conduct. Thus, to retain the trust of the
people and preserve constitutional democracy under the rule of law, we must
first return to being a profession with Christian principles where each one of
us personally measures our conduct against God’s divinely given higher moral
standard. God’s divine roadmap provides directions down a narrow road of
righteousness that inevitably leads to institutional integrity. Not a bad
destination if we are interested in preserving a constitutional democracy
under the rule of law.
If anything could be more important than
preserving constitutional democracy for our children, it is our great
commission to proclaim his Word to the world. If others do not see Jesus in
us, and in our behavior, we will never reach them. We should be encouraged
that everyday many Christian lawyers around the world follow a Biblical
roadmap in the way they practice law and live their lives. In their walk, we
see the Lord use them to accomplish great things for His Kingdom, serving as
shining examples to others passing by along the way.
I just want to point out that I’ve included none of my personal opinions
about these groups here. I’ve simply presented their own words from their own
websites. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether you want these three groups
influencing the laws under which all Canadians must abide.
In response to these groups’ petition to be included in the upcoming
constitutional challenge, Alan Young, the lawyer for Lebovitch, Bedford and
Scott reminded the judge that the Supreme Court of Canada heard a Charter
challenge to the prostitution laws in 1990, which raised quite different legal
points. He said that, while the court upheld the provisions, it made it clear
that morality is not a factor in such challenges. He argued:
What these three groups want is a freestanding airing of their
grievance that drugs, homosexual bathhouses and prostitution are spoiling the
fabric of Canadian society. What you really have are three groups that have
very strong opinions about the immorality of prostitution. My mother shares
that opinion, but she would not be able to intervene in this case just because
she believes prostitution is immoral.
The lawyer for the three groups, however, argued that they would
stick closely to the details of the case if granted legal standing:
My clients have no interest in trying to derail the process. They
believe that our Criminal Code can and does reflect fundamentals of morality.
What my clients seek to do is simply stand up after five days of hearings and
make oral submissions.
And everyone needs more oral submission, right?
[with content from The Globe & Mail’s Religious groups seek standing at prostitution