Sex-trade laws killing prostitutes: report

Canadian Press

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

VANCOUVER -- A legal group says Canada's prostitution laws are killing people and political change is the only solution.

The recommendation comes out of a two-year report on sex trade work called Beyond Decriminalization released Tuesday by the Pivot Legal Society.

CREDIT: Don MacKinnon/Getty Images

Family members of murder victims beat drums and chant outside the Law Courts in Vancouver, B.C. Pig farmer and accused serial killer Robert William Pickton pleaded "not guilty" in the grisly deaths of 27 sex trade workers who disappeared from Vancouver's notorious skid row.

And an expert on the industry says Canada's reform of prostitution laws lags far behind other countries.

"The only places where you see it in a worse state is in war-torn countries...or places like in Russia where the economy has collapsed,'' said Susan Davis, with the PACE Society, a group that offers outreach, counselling and advocacy for sex workers.

Davis said Canada pretends to be an enlightened nation and helps other countries with aide, yet back at home "its horrible, it's a total double standard.''

The report's co-author, criminology professor John Lowman at Simon Fraser University, said violence against prostitutes has increased since 1985 when the government changed street prostitution laws, pushing workers deeper underground.

Lowman's figures show that eight sex-trade workers were killed in Vancouver over a four-year period before the new law was enacted.

That jumped to 22 homicides in the four years following the law and the numbers climbed again after that.

In 1995, the first of 26 women Robert Pickton is accused of murdering went missing.

"In an indirect sense, Canada's prostitution law is killing people,'' Lowman said.

He said Canadian law for sex-trade workers makes no sense because prostitution is legal, but many of the other activities around it are illegal.

"You can prostitute as long as you don't prostitute,'' he explained to reporters.

The report recommends changing sex-trade laws to protect workers and allow them to enter society by paying taxes, forming unions, collecting employment insurance, and getting other rights most Canadians take for granted.

Katrina Pacey, president of the Pivot Legal Society, said something has to be done soon to protect these workers.

"In the conditions of their work they experience intense fear, having to work on isolated streets, and then get into a stranger's car.''

Pacey said the city of Vancouver should be lobbying hard for change as more sex trade workers pour into the city in advance of the 2010 Olympic Games.

A Parliamentary subcommittee on solicitation laws was restruck last week, and Lowman called it an important development.

"At least (the issue) will get back on the agenda,'' he said.

Pacey said politicians seem to have big concerns around changing the laws.

"They're afraid if they repeal the criminal laws all of the sudden there will be anarchy.''

Pacey said instead, the opposite would happen because many other areas of law would become relevant such as city zoning and licensing bylaws.

Lowman said the 84 sex trade workers they interviewed for the report said they would be happy to pay taxes, "as long as paying taxes produces the same benefits and protections that every other citizen in Canada enjoys.''

 Canadian Press 2006

Canadian Press



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