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B.C. court gives green light to prostitution laws challenge

Sex worker Teri-Jean Bedford, left, and Valerie Scott of Sex Professionals of Canada, right, address the media following an Ontario court ruling striking down prostitution laws on Sep 28, 2010.

Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

After a three-year legal battle, activists in British Columbia will finally get a chance to challenge Canada's prostitution laws in court.

The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled on Tuesday that the plaintiffs have a public-interest right to challenge the Criminal Code, despite not being actively involved in the sex trade themselves.

The case was brought forward in 2007 by Sheri Kiselbach, a former sex worker, and the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV), a lobby group. But the B.C. Supreme Court dismissed the case, concluding in its December, 2008, decision that the plaintiffs did not have legal standing because they were not impacted by current laws. Ms. Kiselbach and the group argued that asking active prostitutes to be part of this legal process would be self-incriminating and a further threat to their livelihood. They appealed the decision in January, 2009.

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The 59-year-old Ms. Kiselbach, SWUAV and a host of lawyers are seeking to overturn three main parts of the Criminal Code, thus allowing prostitutes to solicit clients for sex, operate a bawdy house and live off the avails of prostitution. If they succeed, activists argue, sex workers will be safer.

Ms. Kiselbach says once sex workers don't feel like criminals, they will be freer to report violence. She suggests that if prostitution had been decriminalized, it might have helped victims and those with knowledge of serial killer Robert Pickton to come forward to police. "If people weren't afraid and they were able to report to the police, think how the Pickton thing may have changed," she told a news conference.

Katrina Pacey, the lead defence attorney, said the case is about increasing safety for sex workers. "Decriminalization isn't the only issue," she said. "We know that sex workers and those involved in sex work who do not want to be there need access to all the social support to help them move on in their life."

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