Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Arguments to begin over sex-trade ruling

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TORONTO -- Johns openly soliciting prostitutes near schoolyards, brothels with naked women dancing in the windows and Canada becoming a destination for trafficking young girls -- these are some of the doomsday scenarios the federal government cautions may occur if Ontario's highest court agrees this week to uphold an earlier decision to decriminalize the sex-trade industry.

Ottawa and the provincial government will begin arguments to a five-justice panel today at the Ontario Court of Appeal on why a lower-court judge erred last year when she struck down three prostitution-related laws as unconstitutional.

In a controversial, 130-page decision that took more than one year to prepare, Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel concluded the provisions prohibiting operating or working in a brothel, communicating for the purpose of prostitution and living off the avails of prostitution contravene a person's right to safety and liberty and endanger sex workers by forcing them to ply their trade underground.

To the three women who launched the constitutional challenge five years ago, this appeal has little to do with morality or public opinion of selling one's body for money but the obligation the law has to protect all its citizens, regardless of occupation.

"The laws are not working at all," said complainant Valerie Scott, a longtime prostitute and massage-parlour worker. "We need occupational health and safety options. We need to be treated like the legitimate business we are."

Scott, who is also the legal adviser for the national Toronto-based group, Sex Professionals of Canada, argues the governments are using "fear-mongering" tactics to scare the public about the realities of the sex-trade industry. She contends that if prostitutes were permitted to work openly, they would be able to organize in groups for protection, get away from pimps and not be afraid to report abuses by clients to the police. They also would be able to have more financial security, pay taxes and support themselves without fear of prosecution.

But in a lengthy factum filed three months ago, the government stated its position that sex workers should have no expectations of being safe when they choose to enter into an illegal trade, one that is rife with crime, drugs and violence. Furthermore, the dangerous conditions surrounding the underground industry are a result of their efforts to evade the law, and should not justify those laws being changed.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2011 A6

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