The Supreme Court of Canada will hand down a final decision Friday on whether a former sex worker and a group representing sex workers on the Downtown Eastside have the right to challenge Canada’s criminal laws on adult prostitution.
Sheryl Kiselbach, who worked in the sex trade for 30 years, and the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society (SWUAV), launched a legal challenge in 2007 that has been going back and forth in the courts ever since.
They want the chance to argue that sections of the criminal code prohibiting soliciting sex in public, keeping a common bawdy house, and transporting someone to a common bawdy house violate their Charter rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, security of the person, and equality.
The Attorney General’s council has argued the case should only be able to be made as a constitutional defence to a criminal prosecution, or in a civil case launched by an individual sex worker.
Katrina Pacey with the Pivot Legal Society, who represents the sex workers, said such narrow parameters would put sex workers in an impossible and unsafe position.
“It’s a really critical issue around access to justice more generally, because there are many marginalized groups that would struggle to be in this type of high-profile and controversial litigation,” Pacey said Wednesday.
The Attorney General appealed the B.C. Court of Appeal’s 2010 decision that gave Kiselbach and SWUAV “public interest standing”, which is only granted in cases in which there is no other reasonable and effective way for serious issues to come before the court.
Pacey said that standing is necessary in this case because it provides the sex workers, who are stigmatized and unlikely to proceed without it, with much-needed support, stability, and anonymity.
“It’s the government using enormous resources to try to stop small, social justice groups from having their day in court,” she said. “It’s an incredible misuse of tax dollars, and they’re really trying to deprive very marginalized women from having their opportunity to have their rights respected.”
The decision will be made public at 6:45 a.m. Pacific on Friday. Pacey, Kiselbach and SWUAV plan to hold a news conference at 8 a.m.