'Confused' prostitution bill can't be fixed, lawyer Alan Young says

One of the main lawyers behind retired dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford's decade-long battle to overturn Canada's prostitution laws told a Senate committee Wednesday the government's proposed rewrite of the laws is "a very confused response to a very clear judgment."

Police association head tells senators getting 'non-contentious' law would help enforcement

Osgoode Hall law professor Alan Young, who helped Terri-Jean Bedford, left, steer her legal challenge through the Supreme Court, testified Wednesday as the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee wrapped up its pre-study of C-36. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

Alan Young, one of the main lawyers behind retired dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford's decade-long battle to overturn Canada's prostitution laws, had the chance to tell a Senate committee what he thought of the government's proposed rewrite earlier today.

He summed up the bill as "a very confused response to a very clear judgment," and said he was deeply sad and disappointed in the aftermath of the decision.

"In 2014, the government… was given the chance to make history," he said, "but instead, chose to repeat the mistakes of history."

The government, he said "has created a regime which will hurt communities, and is contrary to public interest, as it will push sex workers back into dangerous street forums."

When Independent Liberal Senator George Baker asked if the bill could be amended, he was unequivocal: "No."

As a constitutional lawyer, he said, he'd "have a field day" with the bill, given what he sees as irreconcilable inconsistencies between the objectives, as laid out in the preamble, and the text of the proposed laws. 

"You've got to look to see whether the text of the legislation supports the rhetoric, and it doesn't," he stressed.

"You're still debating if sex work is legal or illegal, based on this legislation," he pointed out. "You should know that by opening the first page."

Young also challenged the assertion that the government had struck the appropriate balance in crafting the new rules.

"How can you even talk about 'balance' when you use the word 'asymmetrical,'" he wondered.

"I've never seen anything in the history of criminal law that sets up asymmetrical prohibitions … You've actually just legalized entrapment."

Challenge won't come soon

But in an interview with CBC News last month, Young warned opponents of the proposed new law that they may have to be patient in waiting for the right moment to launch a legal challenge.

"It's a lot trickier than people think," he told CBC News.

"There are a lot of people jumping up and down, and saying that it's unconstitutional, and will lead to worse results, but the government was fairly tricky in terms of how they designed it, by at least nominally addressing the Supreme Court concerns, and then grafting on an advocacy concern from a certain abolitionist group."

I don't have a lot of empathy for the purchasers of sex- Tom Stamatakis, Canadian Police Association president

The reality, he said, "is that what they were left with is basically incoherent — but people who think you're just going to run back to the Supreme Court and get this invalidated don't understand the process."

Like other witnesses who testified before the Senate committee last week, Young predicted that it could take years to successfully shepherd a new challenge through the courts.

His former client made a brief, but memorable appearance during last week's hearings as well.

Midway through her one-hour speaking slot, Bedford was ejected from the committee room after she refused to stop talking on the order of the chair.

Even so, she managed to deliver a not so veiled threat to politicians.

"If this law passes, I'm going to make you guys forget about (suspended senator) Mike Duffy," she told senators before being removed by security.

"Because I got more information and proof on politicians in this country than you can shake a stick at. I promise."

Police association president supports bill

Senators also heard from Canadian Police Association president Tom Stamatakis, who spoke by video conference from Charlottetown.

He told the committee that he supports the bill, including the shift in focus from sex workers to those who buy their services.

"I don't have a lot of empathy for the purchasers of sex."

He told the committee that he would oppose legalization, or even decriminalization of sex work.

"There's too many men out there interested in engaging in abhorrent behaviour, that get a charge out of doing risky things, and will take advantage of women to exploit them, whether for profit or for some other reason," he said.

He acknowledged that the relationship between sex workers and police has been "adversarial," but he seemed convinced that the shift in focus from sellers to buyers could go a long way to reducing those tensions. 

"We've made mistakes in the police community for sure," he admitted.

But, he argued, "if we can end up with clear legislation that is non-contentious" — which, he acknowledged, may not be possible with this bill —  it would go "a long way to assisting police in being a bit more clear in enforcement decisions."

The Senate committee was expected to wrap up its pre-study after hearing from Wednesday's final panel of witnesses.

The bill is currently awaiting final approval of the House, which will likely happen early next week.

Senators have already suggested that they'll hold more hearings once the legislation is officially referred to the committee.