Saturday, March 31, 2012

Changes to Ontario's Prostitution Laws

On March 26th, 2012 a panel of five judges released their ruling for the Ontario Court of Appeals in regards to the prostitution laws. This is just the latest phase of the constitutional challenge that has been going on here for a few years.

In October of 2010, Justice Himel of the Ontario Superior Court decriminalized prostitution, because she found the laws unconstitutional. The sections of the Canadian Criminal Code that she struck down were Section 210 {bawdy house}, Section 212-j {living on the avails of prostitution}, and Section 213-1-c {communicating for the purposes of prostitution}. You can see the full ruling here.

This past Monday the Ontario Court of Appeals ruled that Section 210 was indeed unconstitutional and that after 12 months the decriminalization of the bawdy house law will take effect. The Court agreed to changing Section 212-j to reflect that living on the avails of prostitution will be illegal only in situations of exploitation, and has given the policy-makers 30 days to rewrite this law. The one disagreement that the Court had with Justice Himel's ruling was in regards to Section 213-1-c; while two of the judges did think that the communication law was unconstitutional, three decided to uphold the law. So for the time being communication for the purpose of prostitution will remain illegal.

At this point the changes to the laws will only effect Ontario. It is likely that the Crown will appeal this ruling and take it to the Supreme Court of Canada.

This isn't something Aymi nor I have talked about much on this blog, but we are both for the full decriminalization of consenting adult sex work. The models that we agree with can be found in both New Zealand and New South Wales, Australia. This is different than legalization, and you can see a bit about the difference between legalization and decriminalization here.

So with that said, it is no doubt that I am happy about the changes to the bawdy house and procuring laws, but I am very disappointed about the continued criminalization of outdoor sex workers.

I do think that ideally sex workers should be conducting business indoors, however most outdoor sex workers have various barriers that often make that impossible. This ruling to me is throwing an extremely marginalized population under the bus. It has been proven that the communicating law not only puts outdoor sex workers in more danger, the law also doesn't work. It is being upheld for ideological reasons and nothing more.

Outdoor sex workers make up anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the entire sex worker population here in Canada, yet they are the ones who are criminally charged and targeted with violence most often. To top this off, many of the sex workers who are working outdoors are often referred to as "survival" sex workers, living from hand to mouth, facing homelessness and other effects of serious poverty.

It is so much easier to scapegoat a whole group of people, instead of targeting the issues that got that group of people to where they are today. It is certainly more challenging to combat poverty and institutionalized bigotry than it is to blame sex workers and the industry in which they work.

Bottom line, the way that we have been handling sex work here in Canada has not worked, and it is time to do something new.

This is a pretty personal topic for me as I am a former sex worker. Many of those dearest to me are current or former sex workers. For a few years I was an outreach worker for others in the industry and I was fully immersed in sex worker's rights activism even longer.

Given that it is such a complicated topic, sometimes it is easier to separate such things from other parts of one's life. A few years back Aymi and I created a YouTube channel pretty much dedicated to this topic, where we discuss our points of view and our experiences as sex workers. If interested, you can check out the Ye Olde Heretics channel here. Also, if you are interested in finding out more about the constitutional challenge or how you can get involved, head on over to the Sex Professionals of Canada website.




Elizabeth S said...

It takes courage to admit that you were once in the sex trade. My sister was too for a little while.

I do think that the changes to the law in your country are good step to make the women safer. What about the law how it is in Nordic countries? Do you support that?

perma_culture said...

Hopefully you can get full decriminalisation soon. Keep up the fight! =^)

Deirdre said...

I think that sex trade workers should be safe. On the other hand I do not want brothels and street walkers around my home.

Hertha said...

Powerful. Thank you for your honesty and for helping vulnerable people

nefaeria said...

Thanks folks. :)

Elizabeth: I find the prohibitionist model(s) to be extremely problematic, and quite frankly I have yet to see real evidence that they work. I support the full decriminalization of consenting adult sex work, which can be found in NS Wales, Australia and New Zealand. :)