March 10, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 83  

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Is prostitution a right?

By Sarah Prickett
Gazette Writer

Critics are charging that Canada’s anti-prostitution laws may be unconstitutional, violating sex workers’ rights and exposing them to unnecessarily dangerous situations.

According to a report by the Pivot Legal Society, a Vancouver social justice group, the current laws concerning prostitution infringe on rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, such as freedom of speech, liberty and personal security.

Although prostitution itself is legal, section 213 of the Criminal Code prevents prostitutes from communicating for the purposes of prostitution, explained Cristen Gleason, one of the report’s authors. “This is too broad a net,” she said.

Since the code already has provisions to deal with public nuisance and public decency, Gleason explained that the solicitation laws are a superfluous restriction of freedom of speech and expression.

Free speech, however, “is not absolute in Canada,” said Joanna Harrington, associate professor in the faculty of law at Western. “The question is whether it’s a justifiable infringement on free speech.”

Gleason also stated that current laws increase the dangers of the sex trade, citing the targeting of prostitutes by serial killers as a recent example. If prostitutes do speak with customers in public, they could be arrested and given a criminal record, preventing them from obtaining other employment. “The criminal laws are completely trapping women in the sex trade,” she said.

The solution to this problem should include a series of cross-Canada hearings on prostitution to challenge the laws and, hopefully, “repeal the [sections of the] Criminal Code dealing with adult sex workers,” explained report co-author Katrina Pacey.

“Maybe you should legalize [prostitution] and have registered prostitutes like in Amsterdam”, suggested Kyle Welsh, a fourth-year administrative and commercial studies student. “How come it’s fine to do everything and pay for everything [in a strip club] except actual intercourse?”

“They shouldn’t make it illegal to advertise, they should make it illegal to be a prostitute,” said Chantel Wedemine, a third-year kinesiology student.

“It’s worse for the general public if they’re allowed to solicit openly,” said Jenn Smith, a third-year actuarial sciences student.



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