News / Ottawa

Divided, but peaceful protesters rally for change in prostitution laws

Peaceful demonstrators tried to do drown out each other’s voices in front of the Supreme Court of Canada Thursday as lawyers inside the building began opening arguments on whether to loosen the country’s prostitution laws.

On one side of the front steps sex workers and their supporters demanded laws surrounding prostitution be struck down to make the sex trade safer.

They argue the communication for the purpose of prostitution and living off the avails of prostitution sections of the Criminal Code of Canada put women at risk of violence. They also welcomed last year’s Ontario Court of Appeal decision to strike down the bawdy house ban, which forces sex work outdoors.

“Prostitution laws say that prostitution is legal, but women are not allowed to protect themselves legally,” shouted dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford, one of the three key litigants in the case.

The case has been in and out of the courts for about six years before making it to Canada’s highest court.

Frederique Chabot, one of Bedford’s supporters, said the living off the avails law affects more than just sex workers.

“Basically the laws prevent sex workers from using their money with anyone else. Like any kind of family arrangements or business arrangements,” said Chabot, who is a member of the advocacy group, Prostitutes of Ottawa/Gatineau, Work, Educate, Resist (POWER).

On the other side of the steps were her opponents, who had set up their own loudspeakers at the rally. They argued Canada’s laws should criminalize johns and pimps, but not the women who are “pushed” into the sex trade.

“They’re pushed by the porn industry that is so dehumanizing for women. They’re pushed by a society that has accepted that the false idea that sexual freedom is actually the capacity to buy someone else,” said Diane Matte, a member of Montreal-based Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation. “For me that’s not freedom. For me that’s slavery.”

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