A court hearing is underway in London, Ontario regarding the constitutionality of Canada’s prostitution laws.
Hamad Anwar and Tiffany Harvey face more than two dozen sex-related charges each, including profiting from the sex trade, advertising sexual services and forcing someone into the sex trade. In November 2015, the two accused were charged after London police raided the escort agency where they worked, Fantasy World Escorts, following a seven month investigation.
THE PROSECUTION & DEFENCE POSITIONS
The Crown prosecution takes the position that the new prostitution laws protect women by decriminalizing the sale of sex, but penalize the purchase of it and consequently reduce the demand.
The accuseds’ lawyers are arguing that some of the charges against their clients violate sex workers’ constitutional right to security of the person. They take the position that the specific charges of procuring, advertising and materially benefiting from the sexual services of someone else should be struck down.
The defence called academic, Chris Atchison, as their first expert witness. He gave evidence that the new prostitution laws make it less safe for people in the sex trade to do their jobs. Atchison stated in court, “I believe the application of these laws makes things worse for the most vulnerable people on the street but also for others in the sex industry.”
BILL C-36, THE PROTECTION OF COMMUNITIES AND EXPLOITED PERSONS ACT
Bill C-36 was the Conservative government’s response to the prostitution laws that were struck down in December 2013 by the Supreme Court of Canada in the decision of Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford.
The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, held that the laws prohibiting bawdy houses, living off the benefits of prostitution and communicating in public with clients infringed the rights of prostitutes by depriving them of security of the person. The Supreme Court gave the government one year to draft new laws that would not infringe on the constitutional rights of prostitutes.
Prostitution is legal in Canada, however, under Bill C-36 several activities surrounding it are criminalized. Bill C-36 came into force on December 6, 2014, encompassing prostitution and human trafficking-related amendments. The new law criminalizes the advertising and buying of sex, but decriminalizes the sale of sex.
The Bill specifically targets the buyers of sex, with penalties including jail time (up to five years in some cases) and minimum cash fines that increase after a first offence.
Authorities anticipated that Bill C-36 would be challenged in court at some point. Advocates who support the new laws appreciate that it punishes those individuals who buy sex, not those who sell it. On the other hand, opponents of the new law feel that the legislation forces sex workers underground due to fear of arrest and criminalizes advertising sex. The concern is that sex workers and their clients seek out more isolated and dangerous locations. This legislation also decreases the ability for those in the sex trade to screen their clients prior to meeting, which increases the risk of violence.
We will continue to provide updates on this blog regarding any developments of this case as it continues to be heard before the court.
In the meantime, if you have been charged with a sexual offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. For your convenience, we offer 24-hour phone services. We are available when you need us most.