Sex trade on trial: Court considers prostitutes’ right to work safely

Tracey Tyler Legal Affairs Reporter

June 13, 2011


Prohibiting prostitutes from carrying on business safely in brothels could be like telling convenience store owners they can’t install security cameras, a judge suggested today.

Justice David Doherty wasted little time wading into legal arguments as the federal government’s battle to salvage the country's prostitution laws got underway in the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Federal justice department lawyer Michael Morris argued a Toronto trial judge who struck down the legislative regime last fall had no business second-guessing Parliament’s attempt to address a complex social issue.

Discouraging the business of pimps and johns through laws that criminalize communications and living on the avails of prostitution is a worthy objective, Morris contended.

The only way Justice Susan Himel’s decision can stand is if the appeal court is prepared to find prostitution is a constitutionally protected activity, he told the court.

But Doherty told Morris the appeal panel has a problem with the government’s characterization of arguments put forward by its opponents, three sex workers who have challenged the legal regime.

The women are questioning why, if prostitution itself is legal, they can’t take steps to protect themselves, the judge said.

The sex workers are saying “we’re doing something that is perfectly lawful and what Parliament has done is create bunch of laws that put us at significant risk,” said Doherty.

That might be like the government making it a crime to “put security cameras in 7-Eleven and 7-Eleven owners came in and said, ‘Wait a minute – that puts us at real risk,’ ” he said.