PROSTITUTION POSES A FUNDAMENTAL THREAT TO WOMEN’S SECURITY THE SOLUTION: DECRIMINALIZE WOMEN AND CRIMINALIZE THE DEMAND
Toronto, June 16, 2011 – The Women's Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, composed of seven national and regional women's groups from across Canada, told the Ontario Court of Appeal today that:
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, interpreted in accordance with Canada’s international obligations, requires the adoption of an asymmetrical approach to the criminalization of prostitution;
Criminalizing prostituted persons punishes them for their own exploitation by buyers and pimps and is therefore unconstitutional;
When the focus of criminalization is the activities of pimps, brothel owners, customers and everyone who lives off the fruits and exploits the prostitution of others, it does not infringe the constitutional rights of prostituted individuals. On the contrary, it reinforces their constitutional rights to equality and security, because its purpose is to prevent anyone from profiting from their sexual exploitation.
For the Coalition and the women we represent (Aboriginal women, racialized women, women in prison, women who have been or are still being prostituted, women who have been sexually assaulted, battered women, women living in poverty, etc.), it is both illogical and counter to the principles of fundamental justice to decriminalize the men who exploit the prostitution of others under the pretext of protecting prostituted women from these same men.
There are profound commonalities in the lived inequality of women in prostitution, chief among them, sexual inequality. The Coalition comprises groups that have been seeking women's equality throughout Canada for many years and we affirm that the lower court erred when it neglected to take into account the violence that is inherent to prostitution, the over-representation of Aboriginal women in prostitution and the links between domestic prostitution and sex trafficking, both national and international. Further, nothing in the submissions presented to the trial court justifies the representation of brothels as safe places for women as compared with street prostitution.
The women we represent, some of whom have been in the sex industry, say that it is impossible to separate child prostitution from adult prostitution, just as it is impossible to clearly distinguish between the men who exploit and the men who supposedly protect women in prostitution.
The Coalition is therefore demanding that the Court acknowledge that, given the systematic inequality between women and men, no one has the constitutional right to buy and sell women's bodies for the purpose of sexual exploitation. We reject the status quo and we reject the total decriminalization of prostitution and its legalization.The government is responsible for ensuring the safety of women in prostitution by decriminalizing them and ensuring the safety of all women and girls by addressing the demand for prostitution.
1. CASAC - Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres
2. CAEFS - Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
3. AOcVF – Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes
4. CLES - Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle
5. NWAC - Native Women's Association of Canada
6. RQCALACS - Regroupement québécois des centres d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel
7. VRRWS – Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter
“Aboriginal women are overrepresented and victimized in the sex industry, which testifies to the link between racism and misogyny in prostitution. Decriminalizing the prostitution industry will only expand the illegal and legal trade of buying and selling women." Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 9, 2011
Women’s Groups Coalition to Argue in Court:
The Charter Does Not Guarantee Men a Right to the Prostitution of Women.
A pan-Canadian coalition of equality-seeking women’s groups will be appearing on June 16, 2011, before the Ontario Court of appeal, in the case between Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch, Valerie Scott (Respondents in Appeal) and the Attorney General of Canada (Appellant in Appeal).
The Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution will argue to the court to uphold the laws that forbid men from buying, selling and profiting from women bodies, and to strike down laws that criminalize women who are involved in the sex trade.
The Women’s Coalition rejects both the appellants’ position of maintaining the status quo and the respondents’ position of striking down all three provisions in their entirety.
Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada: “Aboriginal women are overrepresented and victimized in the sex industry, which testifies to the link between racism and misogyny in prostitution. Decriminalizing the prostitution industry will only expand the illegal and legal trade of buying and selling women.”
“The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies joins other women’s groups and equality-seeking groups of women with lived experience in calling for the decriminalization of women who are prostituted, trafficked or otherwise exploited or objectified in and by the sex trade,” says Kim Pate, Executive Director of CAEFS. “All women are entitled to basic human rights to freedom from want, including adequate standards of living (either through social assistance or a guaranteed livable income), and the provision of social services, health services and educational options. CAEFS continues to denounce, as criminal, the actions of those who promote and profit from the trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children.”
“To continue to criminalize those (mostly women and girls) prostituted is to further punish the disadvantaged, the coerced, the exploited, the violated” says Lee Lakeman for The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers. “But to refuse to continue to criminalize the johns, pimps and brothel owners is to legitimize exploitation and further entrench inequality”. Lakeman for CASAC insists that “Women’s rights compel government protection from all forms of sexist violence and sexual exploitation under both criminal and international human rights law. Criminal law is not enough but essential. Tolerance of sexist violence and sexual exploitation of individual women like all other hate crimes affects the dignity and quality of life of all girls and women”
The members of the Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution:
CASAC – Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres
NWAC – Native Women's Association of Canada
CAEFS – Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
RQCALACS Le Regroupement Québécois des Centres d'Aide et de Lutte contre les Agressions à Caractère Sexuel
la CLES – la Concertation des Luttes contre l'Exploitation Sexuelle
Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter
AOcVF - Action Ontarienne contre la Violence faite aux Femmes
A win for women at the Supreme Court of Canada last week in the J.A. decision had a worrying subtext: All three dissenting justices who argued in favour of decriminalizing sex with unconscious "consenting" women were men.
The majority in the 6-3 decision, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and joined by the other three female and two male justices, ruled against the idea of "advance consent" to sexual assault. They properly concluded there can be no consent in law when a woman is unconscious.
The three dissenting justices argued that it would further women's right to autonomy to create a new doctrine of "advance consent," so that unconscious women can have "sexual adventures." But can unconscious women enjoy sexual pleasure or exercise autonomy? Unconsciousness is the very antithesis of autonomy.
At the very least, this view represents an impoverished understanding of "autonomy." It is also terribly abstracted from the reality of women's lives, in which the sexual assault of women who are unconscious, whether from intoxication, medications, episodic disability or other causes, is a serious and widespread social problem.
The woman complainant purportedly "agreed" to being strangled unconscious, bound and penetrated with a dildo. But the top court was not permitted to consider the full context of this alleged consent, which was that the offender, J.A., was an abuser with a criminal record of weapons and violent offences, including two previous convictions for assaulting the complainant.
It's also true that the majority decision says there are no exceptions for husbands and wives or cohabiting couples: Sexually touching your sleeping partner puts you at risk of criminal prosecution. Understandably, for many people, this sounds like dangerous state intervention.
But think about it: If men and women in their relationships honestly give permission for such conduct, the criminal courts will never hear about it.
Who will report it? Will police set out on their own to find these cases?
Will prosecutors drag the women and men to court? Who will bear witness to the crime by testifying?
The only cases we can expect to see will be those arising out of exactly the kinds of relationships that the complainant was caught up in: violent ones -where "consent" is extracted through coercion, control and abuse. Those are the women who may show up to file sexual assault complaints. And they won't be saying their husbands gave them a tender kiss while they slept.
Moreover, the argument that the law should not apply to cases at the margins is not unique to sexual assault, but is true across the spectrum of criminal offences. Theft of a dollar is still theft. Yet we don't carve out a statutory exception for this offence, or any other.
The law of consent, on the books for over 20 years, was enacted by Parliament with input and support from a broad base of women's organizations. It addresses the pervasiveness of sexual assault and aims to protect women from sexual violence. The requirement that consent be conscious, continuing, contemporaneous with the sexual activity and revocable at any point is a cornerstone of this legislation.
Luckily for Canadian women and men, the majority of the Supreme Court last week understood the stakes in the litigation. Recognition of "advance consent" would have undermined the entire legislative framework for identifying sexual assault, including the requirement that men take "reasonable steps to ascertain consent." The ruling means the only reasonable step that will suffice when a woman is unconscious is to wake her before proceeding to sexual acts.
It also says married and cohabiting women are entitled to the same protection in criminal law as other women: There are no exceptions to the law of consent for certain categories of women or relationships.
Finally, strangulation is a significant risk factor for intimate femicide.
Allowing "advance consent" would have risked normalizing abusive and potentially lethal behaviour. It also would have made it effectively impossible to prosecute the assault of unconscious women. The high court's clear ruling that unconscious women are sexually unavailable is a welcome and clear message for the Canadian public.
Elizabeth Sheehy was counsel for the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund in the J.A. case, and is a professor in the faculty of law, University of Ottawa.
Pan Canadian Coalition of Seven Women’s Groups Granted Leave to Intervene in Bedford Case
(Vancouver) Today, in the Ontario Court of Appeal, a pan Canadian coalition of seven equality-seeking women’s groups, was granted leave to intervene in the Bedford case. The coalition using the comprehensive, experience and expertise of its members has committed to an alternative. Together they argue an alternative both to the prostitution laws that criminalize the poorest and most disadvantaged women while rejecting the proposal to legitimate pimps, johns and bawdy house owners at the cost of women’s constitutional rights.
The coalition claims that under the Charter, Canada has an obligation to protect the security and equality of women and should therefore decriminalize those who are channeled to prostitution including by their sex, poverty and race; that is by their disadvantage.
“Aboriginal women are over represented and victimized in the sex industry, which testifies to the link between racism and misogyny in prostitution,” says Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. On the other hand she says, “Decriminalizing the industry will only expand the illegal and legal trade of buying and selling women. It would make life worse for the most disadvantaged women.”
The women’s equality seeking coalition argues that law should continue to criminalize those that exploit others. The law does not now grant a right to buy sex or to prostitute women and girls, (or the few boys and men) in the sex industry. If it did, we would see an increase in trafficking for the purposes of prostitution, an increase in the illegal street prostitution and an increased risk to children especially girl children.
It is against the law in Canada for men to approach women to buy sex and against the law for men to prostitute others. “To get rid of these laws would be to commercialize the exploitation of women and to further entrench the inequality of women. It is against the law of Canada and in contradiction to international law to do so,” says Lee Lakeman of the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers speaking for the coalition.
The coalition is comprised of:
1. CASAC – Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres
2. NWAC – Native Women's Association of Canada
3. CAEFS – Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
4. RQCALACS - Le Regroupement Québécois des Centres d'Aide et de Lutte contre les Agressions à Caractère Sexuel
5. la CLES – la Concertation des Luttes contre l'Exploitation Sexuelle
6. Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter,
7. AOcVF - Action Ontarienne contre la Violence faite aux Femmes
Media Contact: Lee Lakeman, Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers (604) 876-2622
The first Chairperson of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, Madeleine Delaney LeBlanc, sent around a note recently reflecting on the 30th anniversary this week of the "Valentine Day Revolution."
On Feb. 14, 1981, more than 1,300 Canadian women from sea to sea descended on Parliament Hill, spontaneously and most of them on their own dime, to get the attention of the Trudeau government which was discussing - without women - changes to the Canadian Constitution.
That was "the prelude to a long and hard quest that resulted in Section 15 and 28 being included in the Charter of Rights and Liberties in the Canadian Constitution" as Madeleine remembers well, having played a role in that long struggle, as well as being one of the co-chairs of the Valentine Day conference.
She urges us to remind all and especially younger women that it did not happen easily.
It definitely did not happen easily - books have been written about that fight - and as Madeleine points out, what rights were won are no longer easily enforceable since the abolition by the Harper government of the Court Challenges Program of Canada, which had been set up to provide financial assistance for important court cases that advance equality rights guaranteed under Canada's Constitution.
It is cold comfort to know that rights in the Charter are at least guaranteed to those who can afford to go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. That's not equality and it's not what the feminists were aiming for.
The Trudeau government had cancelled a planned conference on women and the Constitution, seemingly because the government feared women would want something added to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms - and they were busy enough.
Women were angry. The president of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, Doris Anderson, resigned in protest.
Inspired by Ms. Anderson's action, a group of women - called the Ad-Hockers - decided to organize a constitutional conference. They hoped for 200 and attracted 1,300.
They were told they could not meet in the Parliament. They obtained the use of three rooms, including one reserved for the Senate Committee on the Constitution.
The media expected confused talk about rights. The women wowed them with their knowledge of the intricacies of constitutional rights - and with their defiance of the traditional political parties who were pushing women to ask for certain things - or to be quiet.
So Canada took notice.
It is described by some as the first time that women's issues were taken seriously by the big boys in politics and the media. Not that the change was permanent.
As Doris Anderson said, this was happening at a time when women were a rarity in the House of Commons, "like giraffes in Ottawa." Not that this has changed much even today - we're maybe like eastern cougars now.
At the conference, the 1,300 women decided that a separate, over-arching statement was needed in the Charter stating that the rights and freedoms in there were guaranteed equally to women and men.
Canadian women spent the rest of 1981 lobbying recalcitrant premiers with telegrams (!) and signs "Take your paws off my clause" - the new clause that simply said that everyone is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.
I've included the following story before in my column, but it is a favourite that gives the flavour of those heady times.
Premier Richard Hatfield was a key national player in the Charter negotiations and also the minister responsible for the status of women. He and Madeleine Delaney LeBlanc were in constant contact. In her book, The Taking of 28, Penney Kome says that, "the indefatigable Madeleine LeBlanc, who reports directly to Hatfield . . . lobbied him constantly."
Ms. LeBlanc remembers that Hatfield "was giving me reports regularly. At one point, he called and said, 'At 4 o'clock you were equal, but at 4:40 you were not'."
Since the coming into force of the Charter, some judges and some governments have seen to it that the gains have been more limited than many had hoped. But Canadian women are still better off for having insisted on entrenched rights, better off than most women around the world. Openly discriminatory laws were changed.
That is half the battle.
Thank you to those women who were there when it mattered. Thank you to those who made them angry.
* Elsie Hambrook is Chairperson of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Her column on women's issues appears in the Times & Transcript every Thursday. She may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) is pleased to announce the launch of a new resource for educators, activists and policy-makers interested in human rights: an online training course on the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
The online course introduces participants to all aspects of CEDAW, including its history, its implementation, and the role of governments and civil society in achieving the goals it sets out.
The CEDAW online training course is available in English and French, free of charge and can be accessed by visiting FAFIA’s website at: