By JEFFREY YIP, QMI AGENCY
Following months of pressure from the federal government, Craigslist removed the “erotic services” section from its website Saturday.
The government was concerned the section on the classified website was promoting child prostitution and human trafficking.“Obviously we want to stop trafficking. Obviously we want to stop any involvement of children in prostitution,” said John Lowman, a prostitution expert and SFU criminology professor.“But basically it’s a moral crusade being fought by prohibitionists and the Conservative government … In Canada, prostitution is legal,” he claimed.
He also questioned the ad removals.
“Police agencies were having some success finding people involved in trafficking and child prostitution by monitoring Craigslist. So they’re closing down one of the best law enforcement tools they appear to have.”
Susan Davis, an activist and sex worker, agreed with Lowman.She said closing the section made life more difficult for sex workers.“Many rely on it for their income. Some women I know only run ads on Craigslist. Now what are they suppose to do?”
The removal came after Friday’s Red Umbrella Day, an international event calling for the end of violence against sex workers.
“It’s unfortunate they’ve taken away a relatively safe way for workers to meet [and] screen clients,” Davis said. “We’re going to see an increase in street prostitution and all the problems associated with that.”
Despite the removal, new ads were found under other categories, such as “therapeutic” or “casual encounters”.
“I didn’t think this was possible within my lifetime,” said Kerry Porth, executive director of the PACE Society, which promotes safe working conditions for the city’s prostitutes.
“For once, the court has finally heard what sex workers and our allies have been screaming for years.”
In a trial started in 2009 by three Toronto prostitutes, Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel ruled that the laws that forbid running a bawdy house, communicating for the purpose of prostitution and living of the avails of prostitution are unconstitutional.
The provisions “are not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice,” Himel wrote in a 131-page decision, released Tuesday.
The laws “force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their security of the person as protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Prostitution is not illegal in Canada, but many aspects of prostitution have been criminalized by Parliament. The Ontario ruling takes effect only in that province, but if upheld on appeal would apply across the country.
Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the government is “very concerned” about the court’s ruling and is “seriously considering” an appeal. It has 30 days to do so.
Data from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics suggest the number of homicides against prostitutes has remained steady over the past two decades. From 1991 to 1999, police reported 72 prostitute slayings. From 2000 to 2008, there were 70.
“I don’t think that any of us thought when we began this trial . . . that the outcome would be this sweeping and overwhelmingly incredible,” said Sue Davis, an active sex-trade worker and member of the B.C. Coalition of Experiential Communities.
“I think it gives hope to sex workers all over Canada.”
She dismissed critics’ concerns that Ontario could become a hot spot for sex tourists now that brothels can be legal.
“There will not be a sudden flood of women working on the street — a sudden flood of men seeking sex,” Davis said. “Nowhere has that proven to be the case.
“What will happen, though, is that we will be able to move forward on labour organizing, having review boards and complaints processes so that we can finally weed out some of the exploitive people that do operate in the sex industry, and eliminate child exploitation and human trafficking.”
She and other advocates said the battle is still far from over.
Katrina Pacey, a lawyer with Vancouver’s Pivot Legal Society, said groups must continue to lobby local and provincial governments to make conditions safer for prostitutes all across Canada. email@example.com
Ontario Superior Court judge strikes down prostitution law
Globe and Mail Update
Published Tuesday, Sep. 28, 2010 1:12PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Sep. 28, 2010 1:56PM EDT
Ontario’s prostitution law fell Tuesday after a judge ruled that it endangers the very women it is meant to protect.
More related to this story
- Amending prostitution law puts kids at risk, court told
- In prostitution case, Crown’s witnesses characterized as liars and alarmists
- Court challenge takes on sex work prohibitions
In a landmark decision striking down the core of the controversial law, Ontario Superior Court Judge Susan Himel said that the law forces women to operate their business furtively in an atmosphere of constant secrecy and danger.
“By increasing the risk of harm to street prostitutes, the communicating law is simply too high a price to pay for the alleviation of social nuisance,” Judge Himel said in her 131-page ruling which took almost a year to produce.
“I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public,” she later added.
The ruling means that the law can no longer be enforced in Ontario. If the decision were to be upheld on appeal, it would topple the use of the prostitution provisions across the country.
In the short term, however, the Ontario Crown is expected to seek a stay of execution that would permit police to temporarily continue enforcing the law.
Three prostitutes launched the challenge in an attempt to bring Canada into line with other nations that have relaxed their enforcement of prostitution, including New Zealand, Australia and Germany. In particular, the litigants challenged three key provisons relating to communicating for the purpose of prostitution, living off the avails and keeping a common bawdy house (brothel).
The litigants would have viewed winning on one of them as a major triumph. They hardly dared to imagine gutting the law entirely.
“We got everything,” the lawyer behind the challenge, Alan Young, yelped as he read the concluding portions of the decision. “We did it!”
Mr. Young said that the judge refused to suspend the effect of her decision while the government moves to fill the legislative gap.
“It takes effect right now,” he told reporters at Toronto’s downtown courthouse.
If upheld on appeal, the decision will plunge Parliament back into the extremely divisive and complicated job of criminalizing an activity that is not itself illegal.
Indeed, successive governments have been branded hypocritical for taking a legal act and erecting criminal impediments to every aspect of carrying it out.
Judge Himel said that any doubt about the dangers to women was dispelled when serial killer Robert Pickton’s targeted women in a killing spree at his Vancouver pig farm.
She heard evidence during a weeklong hearing last year that as many as 300 sex-trade workers, most of whom were street prostitutes, have disappeared since 1985.
“It is estimated that street sex work makes up less than 20 per cent of prostitution in Canada, but they appear to account for more than 95 per cent of the homicide victims and missing women,” said a key witness for the litigants, Simon Fraser University criminologist John Lowman.
Judge Himel stressed that several other provisions relating to the sex trade remain in effect. These include prohibitions against child prostition; impeding pedestrian or vehicular traffic; and procuring.
She said that these are sufficient to give police the power to keep prostitutes from bothering passersby or turning neighbourhoods into sleazy dens of iniquity.
Judge Himel also said that pimps who threaten or commit violence against prostitutes can still be prosecuted using other sections of the Criminal Code.
“In conclusion, I respectfully reject the argument made by the (Crown) that a legal vacuum would be created by an immediate declaration of invalidity in this case,” she said.
However, Judge Himel gave the Crown a 30-day window in which to make arguments against legalizing bawdy houses on account of a concern that “unlicenced brothels may be operated in a way that may not be in the public interest.”
Mr. Young tried to prove that the women’s constitutional right to life, liberty and security were jeopardized by repressive laws that exacerbate the perils of a notoriously hazardous profession. The litigants argued that there is no harm to a sexual act between a consenting prostitute and her client.
Sporadic attempts have been made over the years to chip away at aspects of the prostitution law, but the challenge was the first in two decades to aim for a broad sweep of its provisions.
With the Charter challenge almost certain to reach the Supreme Court of Canada, both sides amassed a vast body of evidence, including dozens of witnesses.
Lawyers for the federal and Ontario Crown focused on proving the inherent dangers of prostitution – whether it is conducted in a car, an open field or a luxurious boudoir. They also argued that prostitution is inherently degrading and unhealthy, and should not be encouraged as a ‘career choice’ for young women through a slack legal regime.
The prosecutors urged Judge Himel not to intrude on the terrain of legislators who have studied and vigorously debated prostitution provisions. They said that, even if prostitution were made legal and moved indoors, it would still entail a high degree of danger its practitioners.
“Any time you are alone with a john, it is dangerous,” federal Crown Michael Morris told Judge Himel. “There is no safe haven when you are involved in prostitution. There is overwhelming evidence that johns can become violent at any moment.”
However, Prof. Lowman countered that prohibiting communication renders prostitutes unable to “screen” potential clients, hire security or move behind the relative safety of closed doors.
He said that he purposely delayed his challenge until after the Pickton trial, cognizant that the Supreme Court insists on strong evidence of actual harm, rather than abstract arguments.
Prof. Lowman also testified that, according to public opinion polls and research, a majority of Canadians believe that prostitution between consenting adults should be legal.
“So do the Bloc, Liberals and NDP, according to the 2006 parliamentary report of the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws,” he said. “Clearly, Canadians are ready to end what one judge has characterized as the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ state of Canadian prostitution law.”
Several cities – including Toronto, Victoria, Windsor, Calgary and Edmonton – charge fees to licence body-rub establishments despite the general understanding that many sell sexual services.
“We have this strange situation where the biggest pimps in the country right now are municipal governments,” Prof. Young told the court. “It’s just another irrationality of the law.”
The hearing grew heated when Prof. Lowman said that many of the Crown’s experts have a history of lying to foreign legislators, conducting simplistic research, fabricating scare stories and employing absurd rhetoric to help stall the global liberalization of prostitution laws. He accused them of travelling the world trying to convince permissive governments of their errors.
Vancouver Sun August 19, 2010 9:55 AM
While prostitution has never been a particularly safe profession, there is
abundant evidence that it is much safer when practised indoors.
Prostitutes who work for massage parlours or escort agencies are much less
frequently assaulted than those who work on the street. Of the well over 100
prostitutes who have been murdered in Canada during the past few decades,
almost every one has been a street worker.
Prostitutes who work indoors also don’t face the wrath of the public, as do
street prostitutes. Out of sight, out of mind, you might say.
Since the members of the public aren’t confronted by prostitutes who work in
massage parlours or escort agencies, they don’t complain to the police.
Consequently, police often don’t enforce bawdy-house laws, which criminalize
running, and being found in, a place used for prostitution. Indeed, such places
even receive business licences from municipalities.
As odd as that might seem, it’s been a good thing, since it helps to drive
prostitutes indoors, where they’re likely to be a good deal safer.
But it was not always so. Two high-profile murders in massage parlours in Vancouver and Toronto
in the 1970s led to a police crackdown. Many bawdy houses were closed, which
meant that prostitutes were forced onto the streets.
Needless to say, many people were not happy about the increased visibility
of prostitution, and they made their displeasure known to the police and politicians.
The crackdown appeared to have another effect.
While the murder of prostitutes had been a rarity before the bawdy-house
raids, a Simon Fraser University
criminologist documented 12 murders between 1978 and 1984.
This isn’t proof that the raids contributed to the murders, although since
there were more women working the street, and since we know the street is
dangerous, it’s reasonable to assume the raids played a role.
The police learned their lesson, though, and went back to allowing bawdy
houses to operate unmolested by the criminal law.
It’s unfortunate, though, that the government has failed to learn the same
As part of its professed attempt to crack down on organized crime, Ottawa last week
designated a list of crimes as “serious offences.” This will give
police increased powers to investigate such crimes, and could increase
dramatically the sentences for those convicted of the new serious offences.
Among these is keeping a common bawdy house.
This means that under the guise of fighting organized crime, police will be
able to crack down on bawdy houses, just as they did in the 1970s.
And the result will almost assuredly be the same: Women will be forced into
the street and will face significantly greater danger. And the public will be
forced to confront an increase in street prostitution.
It’s unfortunate that the federal government would make this move given our
experience in the 1970s. But given that the justice system has just finished
dealing with Robert Pickton, who murdered many street prostitutes, it’s nothing
short of astonishing.
If Ottawa is
genuinely concerned about the plight of vulnerable women, it will reverse this
short-sighted move in short order.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver