Prostitution laws still need work, experts say

Locals who work with those in the sex trade have just as many questions as they do answers a day after Ontario's Court of Appeal struck down a ban on brothels.
Terri-Jean Bedford, centre, speaks during a press conference in Toronto on Monday March 26, 2012 with Nikki Thomas, left, and Valerie Scott, right, after the Ontario's Court of Appeal struck down a ban on brothels. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

Locals who work with those in the sex industry have just as many questions as they do answers a day after Ontario's Court of Appeal struck down a ban on brothels.

The court ruled laws against common bawdy houses and living off the avails of prostitution are both unconstitutional in their current form.

Now, Shelly Gilbert, who works with Legal Assistance of Windsor and the Anti-Human Trafficking Action Group, has some questions.

"What constitutes a bawdy house? Are there vulnerable women in the bawdy house? Are there girls that are being coerced?" she asked. "This legislation is not about human trafficking. This is not about some of the women I work with, who have been manipulated or exploited by men."

The ruling now allows prostitutes to pay bodyguards, chauffeurs or "managers," said University of Windsor professor Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale, who holds a Canada research chair in social justice and sexual health.

All those jobs were illegal before Monday's ruling. People could not live off the avails of prostitution. However, the court also said the prohibition - as spelled out in Section 212(1)(j) of the Criminal Code - should pertain only to those who do so "in circumstances of exploitation," and must be amended to reflect that.

"Parliament will have to look closely at how it defines an exploitive relationship," Maticka-Tyndale said.

Gilbert has similar thoughts.

"This legislation is trying to speak to some of the protection required by a particular group of sex workers," Gilbert said. "There needs to be legislation that speaks specifically to what that exploitation and coercion means."

Gilbert said the ruling doesn't necessarily help the women she works with.

"It doesn’t help them to get out of the industry, necessarily," she said. "Many are not making enough money to hire people. Most of the women I’m working with are still struggling in poverty."