Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Prostitution laws likely headed to top court as feds appeal

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TORONTO -- Canada's three main prostitution-control laws appear destined for scrutiny by the country's highest court after the federal government announced Wednesday it wanted to appeal a decision that effectively legalized brothels.

As a result, the lawyer who successfully challenged the ruling on behalf of sex-trade workers said he had no choice but to try to appeal the ruling that also upheld the ban on street prostitution.

In response to a challenge from three sex-trade workers, Ontario's top court last month struck down the ban on bawdy houses on the basis it increased the dangers prostitutes face because they are forced to work outside.

The five appellate justices also reworded the law against living on the avails of prostitution to clarify it would only apply in cases of exploitation because it could otherwise apply to people such as a prostitutes' bodyguards, accountants or receptionists.

In its application to the Supreme Court for leave to appeal, the federal government said the Ontario Court of Appeal judgment creates a "legislative void."

"This represents a fundamental shift in criminal law and social policy in respect of provisions that have been in force, in some fashion, since prior to Confederation," the application states.

It also has an impact on police and prosecutions, both inside and outside Ontario, the government brief states.

Sex-trade workers, who hailed the Ontario court ruling as a recognition of their rights and said it would enhance their safety, expressed disappointment at Ottawa's decision.

Vancouver sex worker Amy Lebovitch called the federal government disrespectful toward prostitutes.

"We're telling them we need this to be safe and they're saying, 'Too bad,' " Lebovitch, 33, said.

Toronto lawyer Alan Young, who acted for Lebovitch and the two other sex-trade workers, noted six justices have already had their say.

"I'd like to see how the government of Canada gets around two very strong judgments that to me border on being incontrovertible," Young said.

The lawyer also said he would have been content to leave alone the Appeal Court ruling that upheld the ban on street soliciting but said he couldn't do that now.

"If we're going to be dragged to review those rulings, we might as well then appeal the ruling on communication because we always felt that law had many constitutional flaws."

Prostitution itself is not illegal in Canada, though many of the key activities were banned under the three laws considered by the Appeal Court.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2012 A11

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