Rebecca Millette

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Judges don’t really care about women: Ontario’s prostitution case

Rebecca Millette

BY REBECCA MILLETTE

TORONTO, Ontario, June 17, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Hearings in Ontario’s landmark prostitution case, that could see the complete decriminalization of prostitution, came to an end yesterday, after four days of discussion.  Much as expected, the five-judge Appeals Court panel retired to discuss the outcome, which could take up to six months.

“If they really care about women, if that’s what it’s all about, then they would not decriminalize prostitution, because more and more women will be on the streets and in the brothels, more women will be endangered,” Gwen Landolt, National Vice President of REAL Women Canada told LifeSiteNews. “But that’s not the politically correct position that these judges are bound to.”

REAL Women Canada, in coalition with the Christian Legal Fellowship and the Catholic Civil Rights League, presented arguments to the court on June 16.  The groups argued that the prostitution laws uphold societal standards of morality and values and, further, that the laws protect prostitutes and communities from harm and uphold human dignity.

The case is an appeal by the federal and Ontario governments of a ruling by Ontario’s Superior Court judge, Justice Susan Himel, who struck down three major laws affecting prostitutes last September after three Toronto prostitutes challenged the law.

At stake is whether certain laws surrounding prostitution endanger prostitutes and whether the laws violate their liberty and security under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  While prostitution is legal in Canada, the laws had made most activities associated with prostitution illegal.

The federal and Ontario governments maintained that prostitution inherently harms communities and decriminalizing prostitution completely was not in the best interests of protecting either women or communities.

During the hearings, Lawyer Alan Young, representing the prostitutes, claimed that the governments’ concern was not to protect vulnerable prostitutes, but rather to make the case a moral one with a hidden agenda of criminalizing prostitution altogether.

“This is ethically unsound - no government should be able to jeopardize the safety of its citizens just to send a message” said Young. “Serial killers prey on street sex workers. Everyone agrees it’s a dangerous profession.”

Meanwhile, Crown counsel Christine Bartlett-Hughes told the five-judge panel that for many women prostitution is not a “voluntary”, but rather a “constrained choice”. 

“We recognize that there are certain individuals that choose this activity,” Ms. Bartlett-Hughes added. “But nevertheless, Parliament is entitled to legislate to protect those who are most vulnerable.”

While Bartlett-Hughes agreed that the laws may have the unintended effect of making it more difficult for prostitutes to obtain personal protection, she added that no evidence would indicate that the women would be any better off in brothels, as the prostitutes claimed.

“A woman in a brothel,” added Landolt to the argument, “is no more free than a woman on the street because the ‘Madame’ decides if she’ll have to take a customer.”

Landolt also echoed statements made by University of British Columbia law professor Janine Benedet on behalf of the Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, that Canadian aboriginal women are especially victimized.

“Our own aboriginal women are just exploited to no end,” Landolt told LSN.

“Aboriginal women deserve the same chance to become judges, lawyers and bankers,” said Benedet. “Instead, we are talking about taking women to concrete stalls on the outskirts of town like farm animals to service mostly non-aboriginal men.”

Landolt cited evidence from European countries that have legalized prostitution in the past only to observe an increase of crime and the need to revert to some kind of law.

“In every single country that has removed laws to do with prostitution, every single one has had to change it because it just doesn’t work [to have no laws],” said Landolt.

“We want laws to protect women, to protect a community,” she added. “If they’re worried about dangers to women, they’re going to have a whole lot more if prostitution becomes wide open.”

Despite the arguments of the judges and prostitutes, Landolt maintains the case “is about protecting women and [also] about the moral issue and the values of the Canadian society.” Although the judges “apparently have the view that prostitution is not a moral issue”, Landolt believes morality and the views of Canadians are at stake.

The judges, said Landolt, “reflect only their own selves, they don’t reflect Canada.”  The issue, she believes, is one for Parliament to decide on, because it deals with a decision that should reflect the opinion of Canadians.

“The reality is it is dealing with a moral issue. Do we really want brothels? No, I don’t believe Canadians want that,” she concluded.

The case will likely be taken to the Supreme Court of Canada, regardless of the Appeals Court ruling.



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