Court hears challenge of prostitution laws

Fri Jun 17, 2011 4:37pm EDT
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By Allison Martell

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's anti-prostitution laws violate the country's constitution because they prevent sex workers from taking steps to keep themselves safe, lawyers for prostitutes argued this week in an Ontario appeals court.

Accepting money in return for sex is not illegal in Canada, as it is in most of the United States. But most related activities, such as communicating for the purposes of prostitution, are illegal, and the government wants to keep it that way.

It is appealing a lower court decision that struck down key provisions of the federal laws in Ontario on the grounds that the provisions put sex workers in danger. The government argued that it is prostitution itself, not the laws, that endanger prostitutes.

"The court below erred in assuming that an individual is entitled to engage in prostitution," the federal government, backed by the province of Ontario, argued in written submissions to the court.

The pith of the federal argument is that it is not Parliament's responsibility to ensure the safety of people who break the law while doing so.

Justice Susan Himel's lower court ruling in September declared that restrictions on operating a common bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution or living off its avails put prostitutes in harm's way.

She said the laws made it illegal for them to hire a body guard or verbally "screen" for violent johns before stepping into a car.

"You can't communicate," said law professor Alan Young, who challenged the law on behalf of three current or former sex workers. "So you're basically told by the law that when you're going to do street prostitution the law requires you to jump in the car without talking."   Continued...