CA: REAL Women refused standing in prostitution law trial

Blog post
From Canadian Women’s Issues

Friday, July 3, 2009

The July 3 Globe and Mail has a story by Kirk Makin saying “An Ontario judge has turned down a request from two religious groups and a conservative women’s group to take part in a constitutional challenge of the country’s prostitution laws.” According to this story, the judge, Ted Matlow of the Ontario Superior Court, “said that the groups would be liable to turn the trial into a soapbox for spiritual views, which would be out of place in a strictly legal proceeding.”

Besides REAL Women, the groups were the Christian Legal Fellowship and the Catholic Civil Rights League. They argued the court should hear a broad range of voices on the issue.

Like a similar case in BC, this Ontario trial, scheduled to begin in fall, is being put forward by “activists connected to the sex trade,” seeking to strike down laws against communicating for the purposes of prostitution [i.e., soliciting], against living off the avails of prostitution [i.e., pimping] and keeping a common bawdy house [i.e., brothels]. The complaint alleges that the prostitution laws expose sex workers to greater danger than they would be in without the existence of such laws and violate the guarantee of life, liberty and security of person found in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The challenged provisions were put into Canadian law in response to international protocols.

According to the article, the judge said that the groups’ moral opinions “would reflect the views of only small segments of Canadian society.”

An earlier article on this subject by the same writer quotes the lawyer for the prostitution activists, Alan Young, a law professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, as saying that the laws compromise the safety of sex workers by making it impossible for them to hire staff, run secure brothels or talk to potential clients to determine which ones are potentially dangerous.

REAL Women of Canada is a non-governmental organization in consultative status with ECOSOC, the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. They are well known to feminists in Canada for their accusations that feminists pushed them out of consultations with Status of Women Canada – and for their later apparent revenge as the Conservative government they supported dismantled feminist-supported projects. Their website includes a broad range of position papers, including this Position on Prostitution. Among their points in their position paper:

1. Since the act of prostitution itself is not an offense under the Criminal Code, the latter should be amended to prohibit prostitution itself

While it is tempting to use a left-right lens to analyze prostitution legalization in Canada, with the right being opposed on religious grounds and the left being supportive on labour grounds, the issue has complex nuances. While feminists split around whether prostitution should be termed as “sex work” or a form of “violence against women,” they tend to agree that there should be much more public support for exit strategies. Many feminists who support one or another form of decriminalization oppose legalization, because of the opening it provides for corporations to make selling sex a full-scale mass-marketed industry with women’s sexual parts as the product. If prostitution is fully legalized as an industry, it also opens the prospect that government will push women to enter or stay in prostitution as a legal form of employment rather than giving them welfare or support to exit.

For more about the nuances of legalization, decriminalization, the party split within Parliament, and the split among feminists, see “Analysis of Libby Davies’ Work on Prostitution Issues and the Controversy Surrounding It” at
Posted by FW at 11:30 AM

Original at Canadian Women’s Issues


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