The last seven days have been kind of a big deal in Ontario when it comes to human trafficking and prostitution. If you have somehow missed it in the news or are unclear as to what actually happened last week, here is a list of the basics you must know.
- Two sex trade workers, Terry-Jean Bedford and Valerie Scott (along with Amy Lebovitch and their lawyer Alan Young), launched a constitutional challenge of Canada’s anti-prostitution laws. In simple terms, they want prostitution and everything surrounding the actual act to be decriminalized. This would make prostitution legal, allowing sex workers to operate freely. (To be more precise, the process of prostitution would be allowed. Check out what John posted in the comments section to understand this more).
- Last week on September 28th the Ontario Superior Court ruled in favour of their proposal. As a result, now in Ontario it is no longer illegal to keep a bawdy house (brothel), communicate for the purposes of prostitution, or live off the avails of the sex trade.
- Bedford said that is was like emancipation day for sex workers, because now they can work from the safety of their homes instead of facing the dangers of the street. Valerie Scott said that now sex workers can “pick up the phone and call the police to report a bad client.”
- Not everyone is celebrating. Many claim that prostitution and sex trafficking are linked. MP Joy Smith, who works with victims of trafficking, had girls call her in tears when they found out about the Ontario court ruling.
- Police point out that in some cases trafficking victims are unwilling to cooperate with police because they fear their traffickers. In such cases, police have been able to charge the trafficker with living off the avails of prostitution. Now they can no longer do this. This means that pimps cannot be charged for living off the money that their girls bring them through forced prostitution.
- Some argue that prostitution is a chosen profession, just like any other. However several studies show that most ‘sex workers’ chose their ‘profession’ because of dire circumstances that were not based on real choice at all. Many are too drug-addicted and manipulated by pimps to make their own decisions. Benjamin Perrin points out in his CBC radio interview and Globe and Mail article that though Bedford is a confident woman in her 50s today, her affidavit tells the story of a childhood filled with physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. At 16 years old while she was under provincial child protection, she met “an abusive 37-year old drug dealer and drug addict” and was sold for sex to fund their drug addictions.
- Anti-trafficking groups want Canada to adopt the Swedish model of dealing with prostitution, which criminalizes the men who buy sex and offers the sellers of it with help to leave the industry.
- Justice Susan Himel, who made the court decision, stated that the information about sex trafficking brought to her attention was “incidental and not directly relevant to her decision.” In other words, she does not believe there to be a link at all between prostitution and sex trafficking.
- The federal government is going to appeal the court ruling in an attempt to reverse the decision made by Himel.
The debate about prostitution and human trafficking in Canada is going to be quite a hot one for a while. Here are a couple of resources that can help you gain an understanding about the ruling and the prostitution debate.
- CBC radio audio interview with MP Joy Smith and Benjamin Perrin
- Globe and Mail Sweden’s Fix: jail the johns by Benjamin Perrin
- Article Former Prostitutes Picket Trade by Calgary Sun
- Article Prostitution laws struck down by Ontario court CBC News
- Prohibiting Purchase of Sex in Sweden: Impact, Obstacles, Potential, and Supporting Escape by Max Waltman
- End Modern Day Slavery Now website
- Official Superior Court of Justice Record for Bedford vs. Canada
- CTV News video interview and write-up about why so many are concerned.
- Cops rail against prostitution ruling by Toronto Sun
I promise to keep you up to date with how this develops. What do you think about the Ontario court ruling? Feel free to post a comment to kick off the conversation!