Posts tagged ‘Canada’

Fancy picking Cheryl’s brains?

This month, AIDSLEX will host an “Ask the Expert” session on sex work with our very own Cheryl Overs and Valerie Scott (pictured). They will respond to user questions on the human rights of sex workers and on how laws can support efforts to respond to the HIV epidemic, including providing HIV prevention and health care services to sex workers. Users are also invited to pose questions concerning an Ontario court ruling in September 2010 in which sections of Canada’s Criminal Code related to sex work were deemed unconstitutional.

To submit a question, please write to Deadline is 15 November.

Cheryl Overs is a noted advocate for the rights of sex workers and has written widely on the subject. Valerie Scott is Executive Director of Sex Professionals of Canada (, which campaigns for the rights of sex workers. She was one of the applicants in the Ontario Superior Court case. More information on that ruling can be found at


04/11/2010 at 11:29 2 comments

Decriminalisation is the starting point : what next for Canada?

I really like the following extract from an editorial on Prostitution and the Law in the Ottawa Citizen (Sep 30 2010.)  It captures an issue that I think is not well understood – that  removing  criminal laws against sex workers is only the first stage of the reform needed to improve sex workers lives.  Many people in the movement are struggling to respond to the demand for ‘evidence’ that removing the criminal law will itself achieve a whole lot of desirable outcomes, such as reducing HIV or human rights abuses. But no such evidence exists.  The question is wrong. The fact that sex workers are subject to abuses where sex work is legal, as well as where it is semi legal and completly prohibited,  tells us that more than absence of criminal law is needed.

Removal of the criminal law is essential.  It removes the main barrier to sex workers achieving justice. It creates a space that can be filled by effective rights based policy and labour regulations and law. This is what happenned in the much touted example of New Zealand.   But ‘decriminalisation’ is not a solution in itself, and it is not a solution if the gap it creates is filled with wrong policy and law.  Good regulations and policy don’t automatically kick in when criminal laws are removed  – even in rich and well governed countries, let alone where regulatory systems generally  are not well organised.  The process of struggling for effective rights based policy and labour law must now take place in Canada and it’s regrettable that the energy of activists there will first be diverted by an appeal against Justice Himel’s judgement.  What happens next in Canda will be important for the world and we are lucky indeed to have such  strong and determined sex workers  activists there to drive that process. Forward and Upward !

Cheryl  Overs

The judge who struck down Canada’s prostitution laws was doing her job, and doing it well. It will be up to our elected officials to ensure that the removal of those laws does not create new problems…Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court found that the laws “force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their right to security of the person as protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

She did not take it upon herself to rewrite Canada’s prostitution policy. In fact, she went to great lengths to explain that her job was merely to determine whether government had overstepped its constitutional bounds in creating the current laws. She admitted that in removing those laws, she is opening the door to unlicensed brothels. “It is legitimate for government to study, consult and determine how best to address this issue,” she concluded, and therefore stayed her decision for 30 days. That stay could be extended.While the Ontario and federal governments have vowed to appeal, Parliament still needs to update the prostitution laws. Constitutionality aside, it’s clear that these laws have done nothing to make marginalized women less vulnerable to the monsters who prey on them.

Criminal law that targets the prostitutes themselves might not be the best way to protect prostitutes and their neighbours, but that doesn’t mean that anything goes. The ruling does not require cities to set up red-light districts. There are many ways to regulate prostitution to minimize the harm to women and to their neighbours. And there is certainly nothing in the ruling to prevent governments, at all levels, from working to help prostitutes get out of the business and, in many sad cases, get off of drugs and alcohol.

While Himel did provide a review of practices and policies in some other countries, it’s not her job to choose among them. Parliament should consider which model would work best for Canada. The city governments should have a voice in that discussion and, perhaps, a role in implementing any new policy regime.

The worst mistake would be for Parliament to avoid this question, as it has avoided abortion, same-sex marriage, polygamy and other difficult social issues. In the absence of appropriate regulation, communities could find themselves powerless to stop dangerous activity. This is a conversation Canadians need to have

04/10/2010 at 02:09 1 comment

Here comes the judge ! : Justice Himel on Farley and Raymond

by Cheryl Overs

Michael Goodyear has very kindly extracted quotes from the judge in the court case in Canada that struck down sex work laws.  It’s fun to see a judge agreeing with sex workers that what these people write is not  accurate or credible.  It  strikes me as an illustration of the fact that the place to examine  evidence is a court of law with a skilled judge drawing on a body of law about what is, and is not, admissible evidence.

I am tiring of the  demand for activists to  supply ‘evidence’ that sex work should not be illegal, “evidence’  that trafficking laws are destroying lives and health etc. Evidence to be judged by whom ? (who?)   Civil servants at the UN ? Gender specialists in international NGOs ?   People are very fond of saying  ‘where is the evidence’.  Justice Himel inspires me that our reply should be “Where is the judge ? ”

Here are Justice Himel’s comments on the non- evidence suppplied to her court by Farley and Raymond.

[352] I find that some of the evidence tendered on this application did not meet the standards set by Canadian courts for the admission of expert evidence. The parties did not challenge the admissibility o evidence tendered but asked the court to afford little weight to the
evidence of the other party.

[353] I found the evidence of Dr. Melissa Farley to be problematic. Although Dr. Farley has conducted a great deal of research on prostitution, her advocacy appears to have permeated her opinions. For example, Dr. Farley’s unqualified assertion in her affidavit that prostitution is inherently violent appears to contradict her own findings that prostitutes who work from indoor locations generally experience less violence.  Furthermore, in her affidavit, she failed to
qualify her opinion regarding the causal relationship between post-traumatic stress disorder and prostitution, namely that it could be caused by events unrelated to prostitution.

[354] Dr. Farley’s choice of language is at times inflammatory and detracts from her conclusions. For example, comments such as, “prostitution is to the community what incest is to the family,” and “just as pedophiles justify sexual assault of children….men who use prostitutes develop elaborate cognitive schemes to justify purchase and use of women” make her opinions less persuasive.

[355] Dr. Farley stated during cross-examination that some of her opinions on prostitution were formed prior to her research, including, “that prostitution is a terrible harm to women, that prostitution is abusive in its very nature, and that prostitution amounts to men paying a woman for the right to rape her.”

[356] Accordingly, for these reasons, I assign less weight to Dr. Farley’s evidence.

[357] Similarly, I find that Drs. Raymond and Poulin were more like advocates than experts offering independent opinions to the court. At times, they made bold, sweeping statements that were not reflected in their research. For example, some of Dr. Raymond’s statements on prostitutes were based on her research on trafficked women. As well,
during cross-examination, it was revealed that some of Dr. Poulin’s citations for his claim that the average age of recruitment into prostitution is 14 years old were misleading or incorrect. In his affidavit, Dr. Poulin suggested that there have been instances of serial killers targeting prostitutes who worked at indoor locations; however, his sources do not appear to support his assertion. I found it troubling that Dr. Poulin stated during cross-examination that it
is not important for scholars to present information that contradicts their own findings (or findings which they support).

You can find their affidavits at:
Michael Goodyear is Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University, Canada

30/09/2010 at 23:53 Leave a comment


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