British Columbia

B.C. group vows to fight attempts to legalize prostitution

A new coalition of women's groups in B.C. is hoping to head off what they see as an emerging trend to try to legalize prostitution.
A new women's group in Vancouver vows to fight against the trend to try to have prostitution legalized. ((CBC))

A new coalition of women's groups in B.C. is hoping to head off what they see as an emerging trend to try to legalize prostitution.

The group, called the Abolition Coalition, cites two upcoming court cases that the group says will use the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to argue that prostitutes and their customers should be allowed to sell or buy sex for money.

One of those cases gets underway Tuesday in Ontario Superior Court in Toronto. The three women who launched the case are arguing the Criminal Code forces them to work in the streets and not in the safety of their homes.

"The parties involved in those court cases would have you believe, when it comes to the law, our choices are all or nothing: either we criminalize both women and johns and continue to enforce the law inconsistently, as now, or we decriminalize it entirely, and this is untrue," University of British Columbia law professor Janine Benedet told a Vancouver news conference Monday.

The Abolition Coalition's position is that prostitutes should never be criminally charged for selling sex, but the men who buy it should face harsh legal punishment.

The coalition referred to Vancouver prostitute Nicole Parisien, who was killed by a client in a Kitsilano apartment building in August 2007. Andrew Evans, 27, was sentenced to 10 years in prison last week for Parisien's murder.

"That case alone should cause all of us to think seriously about the foolishness of arguing the safety of the indoor trade," said Lee Lakeman of the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres.

Vancouver's Pivot Legal Society has a different view. It's involved in one of the court cases challenging prostitution laws and argues that all adults should have the legal right to engage in consensual prostitution.

Dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford is one of three women fighting in court for the rights of prostitutes. ((CBC))

"Decriminalization is ultimately about creating safe working conditions, so that those who choose to do sex work can do so safely, and those who choose to exit it are in a better position to do so," Pivot lawyer Katrina Pacy told CBC News in an interview.

The Abolition Coalition said Pivot's argument only protects the men who buy the services of prostitutes and so-called pimps, the individuals who supervise and live off their work.

"You can't take the violence out of prostitution because it's the very act of prostitution that is the violence," former sex-trade worker Trish Baptie said at the coalition's news conference Monday.