Appeal judge critical of fed's prostitution claims

By ,Toronto Sun

First posted:

TORONTO  - An Ontario Appeal Court justice questioned Monday why Parliament left prostitution legal while imposing laws that make working conditions hazardous for hookers.

As a landmark case opened at the Court of Appeal, federal government lawyer Michael Morris presented arguments to preserve three criminal sanctions surrounding prostitution.

Appeal court panel chairman Justice David Doherty asked Morris to explain why Ottawa left prostitution legal, then outlawed activities that could act to improve sex workers' conditions.

Morris argued that Justice Susan Himel who struck down the three anti-prostitution laws last fall shouldn't have second-guessed Parliament's bid to confront the problem of prostitution.

Ottawa's goal was to discourage the business of pimps and johns through laws that criminalize communications and living on the avails of prostitution, Morris contended.

Unless the court rules that prostitution is a constitutionally-protected activity, Justice Himel's ruling must be overturned, argued Morris.

Doherty observed "Parliament has created criminal laws that target (prostitutes') business and put them at real risk and therefore those laws impact their security.

"'We're doing something that is perfectly legal and what Parliament has done is create a bunch of laws that put us at significant risk,'" said Doherty, echoing the sex trade workers' argument.

The judge asked rhetorically whether lawmakers should enable people to assault prostitutes to dissuade them from engaging in their dangerous business.

"Are they trying to make it so dangerous that any reasonable person will stop engaging in it and we'll be better off for it? Is that the government approach?" asked Doherty.

"Absolutely not. The purpose is not to endanger prostitutes," insisted Morris.

The violence that surrounds the sex trade stems mostly from johns and pimps, so the government shouldn't be blamed, he argued.

Doherty compared the situation to the government passing laws prohibiting convenience store owners from installing security cameras in their shops.

The store owners, like the prostitutes, would balk at their unsafe conditions, said Doherty.

Morris also noted that Himel erred in basing her decision on outdated information based on an eight-year-old positive article on prostitution reforms in the Netherlands.

A 2008 national prosecutors' report indicated that overcrowding, unsafe street conditions and increased drug use are a problem in that country.

"That evidence paints a very different picture in the Netherlands," said Morris.

The appeal continues through the rest of this week.