Federal lawyers have argued that the state has no requirement to ensure a safe work environment for prostitutes and that public policy regarding prostitution is the responsibility of Parliament.

Right to prostitution doesn’t exist

  • June 15, 2011

TORONTO - Prostitution is an economic activity, not a constitutionally protected right, and public policy regarding prostitution is the responsibility of Parliament, a federal lawyer has argued in the Ontario Court of Appeal.

On the opening day of an appeal into a lower-court decision that struck down some sections of Canada’s prostitution laws, federal lawyer Michael Morris told the five judges that the state has no requirement to ensure a safe work environment for prostitutes.

“The ‘security of their person’ argument is based upon the argument that prostitution should be made more safe,” he said. “We say that requires they have a right to engage in prostitution in the first place.” No such right exists, he said.

Morris was challenging an Ontario Superior court ruling by Judge Susan Himel that said Criminal Code provisions that prohibit living off the avails, keeping a common bawdy house and soliciting for purposes of prostitution infringed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Three former Toronto sex workers are the litigants in the case. Their lawyer, York University professor Alan Young, has argued that laws prohibiting communication endanger the lives of prostitutes because they are unable to screen potential clients, work indoors or hire a bodyguard for protection.

“Nurses and police don’t have the same nature of intimacy,” he answered.

The Catholic Civil Rights League, which has intervener status in the appeal, supports the government position that prostitutes don’t face danger because of a faulty law but from people who commit violent acts.

“Prostitution is an affront to the dignity of women and men, carries inherent dangers to those who participate in it, and also creates problems for those living in neighbourhoods where prostitution is common,” said Joanne McGarry, the League’s executive director.

“We believe the current prohibitions reflect the moral beliefs of the majority of Canadians.”

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