News / Toronto

Behind the scenes of Toronto City Councillors' opposition to prostitution law

The day Toronto’s new mayor and 44 councillors were sworn in, Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam was busy circulating a letter among her colleagues, seeking signatures on a request to ask Premier Kathleen Wynne to stand up against the new prostitution legislation.

Wong-Tam had heard that sex worker groups were petitioning Wynne to take action and decided Toronto should add its voice, so she spent the first ceremonial day of council —in between the bagpipes, the anthem and the speeches — rallying support.

“I started distributing copies of the letter to the councillors I was seeing on the second floor (of City Hall),” she said. “Everyone was on the floor of council, but I couldn’t get to everyone because the meeting was so short.”

Wong-Tam got 25 signatures from councillors who represent areas across the city.

Many knew the issue well and signed right away, others took time to research and think it over, she said.

She attempted to reach everyone. No one said outright that they support the new federal law, but some didn’t answer, said Wong-Tam.

The 25 who signed represent the entire political spectrum.

"Some are on the mayor’s executive committee and are quote-unquote the right-wing of council, there are people who sit in the centre of the spectrum and those who are on the left of the spectrum,” she said. “Everyone was in agreement that all residents of the City of Toronto need to be treated equally and need a safe environment to live and work.”

The councillors’ letter asked Wynne to send the bill directly to the Ontario Supreme Court for review and to direct police services not to enforce it. She wrote that it will recreate the harms to sex workers that were identified in the old law that the Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional.

The new legislation came into force four days later — on Dec. 6. Wynne released a statement Dec. 7 announcing her “grave” concerns and her intention to ask the province’s attorney general to look into the constitutionality of the law and remedies the Ontario government may have.

One councillor who didn’t sign the letter was Coun. Shelley Carroll, a new appointee to the police services board and, Wong-Tam said, had concerns about if it was appropriate her to ask the premier to direct the police not to enforce the law.

Coun. Chin Lee, the other new council appointed to the police board, decided to sign.

Mayor John Tory was given a copy but ultimately decided not to ink his name. He “will respect” the process, spokeswoman Amanda Galbraith told Metro, declining additional comment.

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