All five judges said the law prohibiting the operation of bawdy houses “is grossly disproportionate” to its stated aim of avoiding disorder and maintaining public health standards.
“The record is clear that the safest way to sell sex is for a prostitute to work indoors, in a location under her control,” they said.
The court emphasized that prostitutes are forced to break the law if they work indoors. The risk of being killed or maimed by violent customers undeniable, they said.
“The impact on those put at risk by the legislation is extreme,” the court said. “We have no hesitation endorsing the application judge’s holding that the impact of the bawdy house prohibition on prostitutes, and particularly street prostitutes, is grossly disproportuonate to its legislative objective.”
This is an issue that really resonates with me as someone who grew up in the same setting as the Green River Killer. He was still active in my part of Western Washington while I was young, and I remember paying attention each time KING 5 had news about the latest body of a young woman, allegedly a prostitute, discovered strangled and molested in the woods. Little did I know that only a few hours north, Robert Pickton was also killing alleged prostitutes, and feeding their bodies to the pigs on his farm. And although Pickton had been active since at least 1997, and police suspected him of murdering women from Vancouver’s East Side, charges against him were dropped because the sex workers who warned police about him were deemed unreliable.
These aren’t men who killed two or three women. They each killed fifty. And those are the ones they remember. And now it’s happening again, in Long Island.
If sex workers were free to speak up without fear of reprisal, how many more women would be alive today? How many abusive pimps would be in jail? How many human trafficking rings would be broken up? How much suffering could be alleviated, if we simply gave all sex workers, everywhere, the security they need?
It seems like these are the same questions Ontario’s top courts are asking. I’m very proud of them, today. It’s obvious now that, as Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Krystof point out, women and girls aren’t the problem, they’re the solution to the problems of poverty and suffering. That includes sex workers. I know the case will probably go up to the Supreme Court, but I hope the progressive spirit of this ruling remains.