MONTREAL SEX WORKER RIGHTS GROUP DENOUNCES BC SUPREME COURT RULING THAT DENIES SEX WORKERS’ HUMAN RIGHTS

This is a press release sent out from out friends in Canada.

MONTREAL SEX WORKER RIGHTS GROUP DENOUNCES BC SUPREME COURT RULING THAT DENIES SEX WORKERS’ HUMAN RIGHTS

Montreal, December 15, 2008

Today, the BC Supreme Court refused to hear a case brought forward by a group of sex workers from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver (“SWUAV”) who are attempting to challenge the prostitution laws using the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Lainie Basman, of Montreal’s Coalition for the Rights of Sex Workers says, “This decision is incredibly disappointing. The B.C. Supreme Court had the rare opportunity to hear a critical claim by sex workers that Canada’s Criminal Code endangers their safety and violates their fundamental right to equality. Outrageously, the Court has chosen to close its doors to one of this country’s most marginalized and oppressed groups.”

Joe Arvay, a lawyer working on the case alongside Katrina Pacey, of Pivot Legal Society, says, The government’s argument that the Court should recognize as plaintiffs only those sex workers who are presently active in sex work or who are presently facing an actual prosecution is neither sound law or good policy.”

This court decision affects sex workers all across the country. Recent years have brought attention to the human rights atrocities perpetrated against sex workers in Canada and to the large number of women murdered and missing in recent years in Vancouver and Edmonton.  Anna-Louise Crago, Coalition member, states, “In Montreal, the issue is as pressing as it is in those cities. In our city there are presently at least two ongoing cases involving men accused of the serial rape of sex workers.   Sex workers will not be free of violence or the threat of violence until we are free of the laws that criminalize our work and our lives.  The need to recognize sex workers’ rights to work in safe and decent working conditions is urgent.”

The Coalition wishes to express not only grave concern, but also its strong support for the right to address these human rights violations in a court of law.

For more information contact:

info@montrealcoalition.com

6 Responses

  1. Here is a communique from the Pivot Legal Society and the West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals : http://www.pivotlegal.org/News/08-12-16–sexworkchallenge.html

    This one is from Stepping Stone :
    Halifax Sex Worker Support Organization Denounces BC Supreme Court Ruling

    (Halifax) Yesterday, the BC Supreme Court refused to hear a case brought forward by a group of sex workers from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver who are attempting to challenge the prostitution laws using the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    The judgement, by Supreme Court Justice Ehrcke, held that the plaintiffs did not have the legal right to initiate such a challenge, and that it must be brought by an individual active sex worker. He rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the highly public nature of the court process effectively prohibits active sex workers from launching a challenge due to fears of arrest and retaliation, as well as social censure against themselves and families.

    “The court seems to fail to understand the risks that sex workers face in coming out publicly. That’s what this whole case is about,” says Katrina Pacey, lawyer for the plaintiffs. “This case is about how the laws marginalize sex workers, and it is ironic the court won’t even let them through the door to make the argument.”

    Rene Ross, Executive Director with Stepping Stone in Halifax says “This decision is incredibly disappointing. The B.C. Supreme Court had the rare opportunity to address the ways in which Canada’s Criminal Code endangers the safety and wellbeing of sex workers.” Ross continues, “Challenging and striking down these laws is an essential step to reducing violence against one of the most marginalized populations in Canada.”

    This decision came just two days before the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, which was created in 2003 to call attention to hate crimes committed against sex workers globally. This day is designed to address the reality of the assault, battery, rape and murder of sex workers and the laws that prevent them from reporting violence.

    A closed, private memorial service will be held for former and current sex workers in Halifax to remember the sex workers who lost their lives to violence throughout Halifax Regional Municipality over the years. Ross suggests that if people here would like to contribute to December 17th that they educate themselves on the issues surrounding sex workers and the challenges they face.

    Stepping Stone is the only organization of its kind east of Montreal and is committed to the health and safety of sex workers in the Halifax area. It offers a range of supportive programs including street outreach, crisis counselling, peer support, harm reduction workshops, court support and the in house visits of health practitioners.

  2. Man, why am I not surprised? The Mounties sat on the Pickton case for years.

    Will be in front of the Victoria provincial legislature tomorrow with PEERS with a friend — we are both allies, he is a filmmaker and plans to film some of the march.

  3. From Prostitution, Alternatives, Counselling & Education Society:

    Sex Worker Human Rights Denied

    PACE Society is incredibly saddened and disappointed by a decision of a BC Supreme Court judge who ruled that a group of sex workers from the Downtown Eastside will not be permitted to challenge the constitutionality of laws which criminalize them.

    Justice Ehrcke determined that only a currently working sex worker can challenge these laws and rejected the argument that the risk of further stigmatization and public humiliation prevents active sex workers from participating in this process.

    “It is ridiculous that 30 years of experience in sex work, including criminal convictions, is not enough to give me the right to challenge the prostitution laws. I have the safety and support to do it now, but it would have been impossible for me while working in the trade,” noted Sheri Kiselbach, Violence Prevention Coordinator at PACE Society and plaintiff in this case

    “Our members face violence and social stigma every day and I firmly believe that decriminalization is an incredibly necessary first step in ensuring that sex workers enjoy the same rights as all other Canadian citizens including the right to security of the person.” said Kerry Porth, Agency Coordinator. “The fight is not over. We will honour our sisters and brothers in the sex trade who have lost their lives this Wednesday, International End Violence Against Sex Workers Day, and will continue to work towards decriminalization”.

    PACE Society is extremely grateful for the tireless efforts of the Pivot legal team.

    By, with, and for sex workers – PACE Society promotes safer working conditions by reducing harm and isolation through education and support.

  4. From FIRST:

    December 17, 2008
    “Far Reaching Implications”

    Supreme Court Denies Sex Workers the Right to Challenge Prostitution Laws

    VANCOUVER — The BC Supreme Court refused on Monday to hear a case from a group of street-based sex workers from the Downtown Eastside who are challenging the constitutionality of the laws that criminalize and endanger them.

    Supreme Court Justice Ehrcke ruled that the plaintiffs did not have the legal right to initiate the challenge, because none of them are active sex workers currently charged with a Criminal Code offence related to prostitution. The plaintiffs included former sex worker Sheryl Kiselback, and a group of active sex workers from the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society (SWUAV). Kiselbach and SWUAV brought forward this challenge in the most ethically sound way – by advancing the interests of a marginalized and vulnerable group, while respecting individual privacy and confidentiality.

    “We are extremely disappointed with the decision,” said Tamara O’Doherty of FIRST, and a criminologist at SFU and UFV. “It’s unreasonable to expect a sex worker in such a vulnerable circumstance to go through the intrusion and trauma of a Charter court challenge. Also,” she continued, “since multiple sections of the Criminal Code were being challenged, any future similar legal proceeding will require individuals charged with each of the relevant sections to challenge the legislation. Yesterday’s decision calling for individuals to come forward has made it impossible to realistically challenge the laws around prostitution.”

    The current legal regime around prohibition in Canada has already been identified by three separate federally funded initiatives, as “unacceptable”, including the 2006 Parliamentary Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws. We find it hypocritical that one arm of the federal government recognizes the laws aren’t working, while another arm of the government prevents a challenge to those same laws. Further, the implications of this ruling extend beyond this specific case and raise serious questions about access to justice for all marginalized groups.

    Trina Ricketts, a FIRST member who is also with the West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals, stated “This seems like an avoidance tactic, and a shameful display of the use of power to oppress those without a voice.” Ricketts concluded, “The public interest in seeing human rights advanced should have outweighed all other interests.”

    December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. This is an opportunity to join together in solidarity with SWUAV to express our concern for the far-reaching implications of this decision and our commitment to seeing human rights violations addressed through legal proceedings in Canada.

    FIRST is a national coalition of feminists who work to support the rights of sex industry workers and advocate for the decriminalization of adult sex work. For further information on FIRST, visit our webpage at: http://first.vcn.bc.ca/home

  5. The only contact information on Ehrcke I found so far is this:
    http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/news-nouv/ja-nj/2003/doc_31014.html

    Does anybody know if sending letters to judges help? Well, I guess they only can make any difference if you reveal your identity completely, which obviously is something very few people would do…

  6. This decision by this court demonstrates how a good work can be derailed for any arbitrary reason. It’s what I’ve come to expect through attending labor school over the years and it’s one of the reasons why I believe that unionizing is a top priority when it comes to ending violence against us. We can’t give them excuses to turn us away when taking direct actions like this. I believe that unionizing our industry and getting legislation for equal protection under the law locally, nationally and internationally is the next right step to end violence against sex industry workers.

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