Communiqué: NWAC questions if landmark ruling will increase safety in prostitution

Ottawa, September 24, 2010 – The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) wishes to express concern over the landmark ruling by Superior Court justice Susan Himel to strike down three aspects of the criminalization of prostitution: living off of the avails of prostitution, keeping a common bawdy-house and communicating in a public place for the purpose of engaging in prostitution.

The decision will take effect in 30 days in Ontario, and paves the way for judges in other provinces to make similar judgments. These three aspects of the criminalization of prostitution were struck down, with the aim to uphold liberty and the right to security of person as protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

While this decision highlights the inherent harm and risk of violence in prostitution, the Native Women’s Association of Canada is concerned that this judicial decision was based on the fact that the law is written from the perspective of street nuisance (reducing the street nuisance associated with prostitution) and not with the safety of the individuals working as prostitutes.

Additionally as NWAC President Jeannette Corbiere Lavell says “The decision itself acknowledges systemic injustice but nowhere mentions the overrepresentation of Aboriginal women in the sex industry. This decision glosses over the fact that Aboriginal women, women in low income situations, those suffering from mental health and addictions issues are working in prostitution because of systemic racism and classism, as well as a fundamental power imbalance and issues of inequality, which is at the root of prostitution.”

Litigants Terri-Jean Bedford a dominatrix and two women formerly working as prostitutes Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch, brought their case forward on the bases that these provisions infringed upon their rights to conduct lawful business in a safe environment.

This ruling is also marred with contention in scenarios where prostitutes hire “assistants” for their safety or management of business, in that it can place them in a vulnerable position by allowing human traffickers to pose as “assistants” acting in their best interest when in fact they are simply living off the avails of prostitution or have trafficked women.

What this ruling does suggest is that violence against sex workers is endemic and more efforts need to be made to protect their safety and well-being.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is founded on the collective goal to enhance, promote, and foster the social, economic, cultural and political well-being of Aboriginal women within the Aboriginal community and Canadian society. As a voice for Aboriginal women, NWAC is committed to protecting the safety and well-being of Aboriginal women and girls.