By Wency Leung
Monday, November 30, 2009
Sex workers in Canada are challenging the country's ban on activities associated with prostitution, arguing it conflicts with their constitutional rights. Opponents say decriminalization of sex work would increase sex trafficking.
Gwendolyn Landolt, national vice president of the Ottawa-based advocacy group REAL Women of Canada, which pushes to make prostitution itself illegal, disagrees.
Her organization, along with the Christian Legal Fellowship and Catholic Civil Rights League, submitted arguments to the court against Lebovitch's constitutional challenge, arguing that existing laws are "designed to protect the dignity of victims of prostitution" and that morality is the cornerstone of law.
Decriminalization does nothing to protect sex workers, but instead opens the doors for human trafficking and further exploitation, Landolt said.
"All it does is increase prostitution and it endangers women because far more women are out on the streets," she said. "They say that women are safe in brothels, but that's ludicrous. They're not safe there anymore than they are in the streets. It's just not a safe thing to do."
More effort must be made to help sex workers get out of the trade, since the majority does not wish to be in it, Landolt said.
Local media reported that the Ontario and federal attorney generals offered similar arguments to the court in favor of the existing laws.
"The global experience is prostitution remains dangerous regardless of the legal regime," Gail Sinclair, a lawyer for the federal attorney general, told the court.
Lebovitch, however, said sex work is much the same as any other occupation. She said she chooses to do it because she enjoys being able to work for herself and to earn money.
Sex work allowed her to pay for university, where she earned a degree in social work.
Lebovitch said she expects the attorney generals to appeal if the sex workers win their court case. If that happens, or if the court does not rule in their favor, Lebovitch said she's prepared for a long fight.
"I think people are somehow fearful of sex work," she said. "But what we fail to see is that there is a really bad situation going on right now. There are a lot of my colleagues being raped and murdered and the laws are not helping."
Wency Leung is a freelance writer in Vancouver.
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