Lawyers will present their closing arguments today and tomorrow in Kitchener, Ont., in the first test case of whether Canada’s prostitution laws violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The London, Ont.-based escort agency’s lawyers will argue shutting down the business and charging the owners violated employees’ security of the person, a right guaranteed under the charter.
The case brings into the question whether the laws actually endanger workers in the sex trade.
The owners of Fantasy World Escorts, Tiffany Harvey and Hamad Anwar, were charged in November 2015 after their agency was shut down by police.
Their trial was held in London, but closing arguments will be heard in Kitchener because of scheduling conflicts.
“This is not a local issue. It’s a case that’s playing out in London and Kitchener, but it has implications for sex workers across the country,” said Chris Bruckert, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa whose work focuses on the rights of people in the sex trade.
Prostitution laws enacted in 2014
Harvey and Anwar initially faced a long list of charges, including human trafficking, but those charges were eventually dropped by the Crown.
Harvey now faces one charge of materially benefiting from the sale of someone’s sexual services. Anwar faces the same charge and a charge of procuring and advertising someone else’s sexual services.
Those three offences are relatively new, brought in under Canada’s 2014 prostitution law, Bill C-36, which criminalizes the purchasing of sex but decriminalizes its sale.
Laws ‘quite problematic’
Advocates for sex-trade workers have been calling for the new prostitution laws to be repealed since they were brought in by the Harper government.
Opponents say that, by criminalizing people who hire sex-trade workers, the laws put these workers at risk. They argue clients are less likely to give their real names, for example, so sex-trade workers can’t screen them before a meeting.
“I think the laws are quite problematic. They increase vulnerability to violence,” Bruckert said.
“Third parties (such as escort agencies) are not always excellent, but they provide screening, they ensure that you’re in contact with people, quite simply having someone know where you are and that the client knows that someone knows where you are, that reduces risk.”
New laws create dangers, lawyer says
The accused are being represented by prominent Toronto defence lawyer James Lockyer.
He has been involved in several cases of people being wrongly convicted, including Steven Truscott and David Milgaard.
During the trial, Lockyer called two witnesses, both academics, whose studies he says prove the new laws force the sex trade underground and make it more dangerous.
The Crown’s witnesses argued the sex trade is inherently violent and based on a foundation of inequality, and punishing the purchasing of such services reduces demand.
Those who are watching the case closely say it could eventually be decided in the Supreme Court of Canada.