SEX WORKERS, SUPPORTERS MARCH IN VANCOUVER AHEAD SUPREME ahead of Supreme COURT RULING IN OTTAWA
Saturday, June 8, 2013 - Tiffany Crawford
Sex trade workers and supporters walk along Robson Street during a rally and march June 8, 2013 ahead of a landmark court case next week challenging Canada’s prostitution laws.
Sex trade workers and supporters rallied in Vancouver Saturday, ahead of a landmark court case this week in Ottawa challenging Canada’s prostitution laws.
Wearing crimson hats, feathers, sequin dresses and carrying red umbrellas symbolizing the movement to decriminalize adult sex work, a small group gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery before marching through the streets.
The event was one of several rallies held in major cities across Canada this weekend.
"I’m not a criminal, I’m a Canadian," said Susan Davies, a Vancouver sex trade worker for 27 years, "Keep your laws off my body."
On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the case of Terri-Jean Bedford, who wants the court to strike down laws that prohibit operating bawdy houses, making money from prostitution and communicating in public to sell sex. The case also involves former prostitute Valerie Scott and Vancouver sex worker Amy Lebovitch.
The court will determine whether the prostitution laws violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While selling sex is legal in Canada, the law prohibits many of the activities surrounding it. For instance, it is illegal to communicate in public with a potential client for the purpose of prostitution.
The case was first heard in Ontario in 2007 and has been heard by two lower courts. A similar case launched in B.C. in 2007 by former sex worker Sheryl Kiselbach and the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society is still making its way through the court system.
Kiselbach and her lawyer Katrina Pacey of the Pivot Legal Society, will go to Ottawa this week to appear before the hearing. Pacey will act as intervener on behalf of several advocacy groups, including Sex Workers United Against Violence, PACE and Pivot.
At the rally, Pacey said she’s going to let the court know that sex trade workers in B.C. feel very strongly that prostitution laws have deprived them of so many measures that would increase their safety.
She said during the hearing she’ll focus on section 213 of the Criminal Code, which targets street-based sex trade workers because it prohibits communicating in public.
"As we all know (the law) pushes sex trade workers to super dangerous parts of the city, forces them to work in isolation, makes it impossible for them to go to police when they are victimized and makes it very hard, if not impossible to screen clients and take time before they get into vehicles," she said, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a red umbrella.
"We know very well what the result of that has been, which is a legacy and epidemic of missing and murdered women in this community."
Holding a red umbrella, Joyce Arthur, co-founder of FIRST, a Vancouver-based sex worker advocacy organization, said she’s hopeful that the laws will be changed after this week’s hearing.
"I think all the signs are good because all the evidence is there," she said. "The government can’t impose laws that put people in harm’s way so I feel pretty strongly that the judges will throw out the laws."
With a file from Lori Culbert
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