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Red Deer sex workers relieved at Supreme Court ruling

Sex workers in Red Deer breathed a sigh of relief and celebrated the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling on Friday that saw three anti-prostitution laws struck down.

“We’re going to be safe,” exclaimed Eden, a sex worker in Red Deer. “I was so excited when I saw the news. I can’t believe this is happening in my lifetime. It’s a great step towards changing the perceptions of sex workers and getting rid of the shame so many feel doing this job.”

The Supreme Court called out three provisions as unconstitutional: prohibiting brothels, living on the avails of prostitution and communicating in public with clients, stating they infringe on rights laid out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Sex work is not illegal, reminded Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin in the document detailing the 9-0 unanimous ruling.

“Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes,” she wrote.

It is currently illegal to live off the profits of another person’s prostitution (a provision that was targeted at criminalizing pimps) but McLachlin wrote how this law “also catches clearly non-exploitative relationships,” such as drivers, bodyguards, receptionists or accountants and is “therefore not minimally impairing” when it comes to sex workers trying to take measures for increased safety.

The ruling gives parliament one year to decide how it wishes to proceed with laws on sex work.

Until that time, the provisions will remain in the Criminal Code.

Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive director of the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society, said the organization is extremely pleased with the ruling as it shows that the occupational health and safety of sex workers is important.

“Here in Red Deer we have men and women who are working as sex workers and they now have some capacity to negotiate in a safer way and able to create a work environment that isn’t as dangerous as in the past,” Vanderschaeghe said.

Sex workers are often victims of crime and are less likely to go to police due to the threat of being arrested for being a sex worker, she added.

“Men and women could really benefit from the ability to hire a driver for their work. Drivers can really act as low level security. They can respond if you come out in time after being dropped at a hotel or client’s home and be worried about you, perhaps come in and get you, if something bad has happened.”

Not everyone was overjoyed with the news.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay released a statement shortly after the decision, noting his concern and calling the matter “very complex.”

“We are reviewing the decision and are exploring all possible options to ensure the criminal law continues to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution to communities, those engaged in prostitution, and vulnerable persons,” stated MacKay.

Eden and a number of others involved in local sex work as well their friends and families celebrated the landmark news with a gathering on Friday.

“I’m hoping that now if something happens in Red Deer, that we can go to the police and they’ll be there for us,” she said. “However we all know this ruling does not change the municipal and provincial laws but it is a step in the right direction.”

The ruling was in response to a court challenge first presented to Ontario Superior Court four years ago by Terri-Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott, women who were all formally or currently involved in the sex trade and experienced violence at some point during their work.



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