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Landmark ruling legalizes Ontario brothels April 15, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Women.
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KIRK MAKIN

JUSTICE REPORTER, www.theglobeandmail.com
Published Monday, Mar. 26, 2012 11:08AM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Mar. 27, 2012 6:48AM EDT

Ontario’s highest court has legalized brothels in a sweeping decision that condemned current prostitution laws for adding to the hazards of a highly dangerous profession.

The Ontario Court of Appeal allowed the Crown just one victory, ruling that communicating for the purposes of prostitution will remain illegal.

The landmark decision is binding on Ontario courts and sets up a final showdown at the Supreme Court of Canada next fall or in early 2013.

Ontario Attorney-General John Gerretsen said on Monday that he intends to discuss appealing the decision with his federal counterparts. “Our main concern is that people feel safe in their communities, feel safe in their homes, and this kind of issue may very well need legislative action,” he said.

The five-judge appellate panel said unanimously that prostitutes may set up brothels and hire staff to protect them. They said that it is senseless to have a law that compels prostitutes to work in dangerous isolation, given that prostitution itself is legal.

The judges also explicitly rejected a Crown argument that prostitutes make an informed decision to enter a dangerous trade, saying that prostitutes deserve as much protection as other citizens who work in “dangerous, but legal, enterprises.”

However, the court majority – Mr. Justice David Doherty, Mr. Justice Marc Rosenberg and Madam Justice Kathryn Feldman – salvaged the communication provision on the basis that it has kept neighbourhoods free of organized crime, drugs, noise and unwanted solicitations.

They played down arguments from prostitution activists that those it hurts most are marginalized street prostitutes who work in the shadows and must assess potential clients hastily.

Mr. Justice James MacPherson and Madame Justice Eleanore Cronk took sharp issue with the majority on the point, arguing that the communication provision significantly worsens the plight of street prostitutes.

“The violence faced by street prostitutes across Canada is, in a word, overwhelming,” they said. “One does not need to conjure up the face of Robert Pickton to know that this is true.”

The brothel ruling takes effect in a year. However, as of April 25, prostitutes can engage bodyguards. The court remodelled the pimping provision to target only those who live off the avails of prostitution “in circumstances of exploitation.”

The Sex Professionals of Canada immediately urged Ontario municipalities to begin discussing licensing provisions that will ensure health and safety of brothel workers and their clients.

Municipalities are expected to create a patchwork of regulation. Many, such as Niagara Falls, already license body-rub parlours. About 40 workers are employed in the city’s four licensed parlours. Toronto has 25 body-rub parlours and 482 licensed workers.

Eddie Francis, mayor of Windsor, Ont., said his planning staff are looking at zoning issues that isolate brothels from schools and family neighbourhoods without creating red-light districts.

Meanwhile, police forces are split on the logic and propriety of continuing “sweeps” of body-rub parlours in search of prostitutes and their clients.

“We stopped doing sweeps after the last decision and told our people that if there were problems, there are other laws they could use to deal with them,” said Toronto Police Service spokesman Mark Pugash. “We see little reason to change that.”

However, York Regional Police Chief Eric Jolliffe said that his force “continues to be bound by the laws that exist today and our obligation is to uphold the law as it is now.”

Prostitution activists hailed Monday’s decision as a historic victory.

“Six out of six judges so far have concluded that the law does not work and is hurting people,” said York University law professor Alan Young, the lawyer for the women who launched the constitutional challenge.

Valerie Scott, one of the litigants, said that prostitutes have a sense of belonging for the first time. “I feel like a debutante,” she said. “I feel like a citizen.”

Ms. Scott said that brothels have always existed in the shadows. “There is a brothel on every block in every city, and there always has been,” she said.

Nikki Thomas, executive director of SPOC, told reporters that prostitutes will be normal citizens who file income taxes, purchase investments and quietly go about their work. “We are not going to have fire and brimstone and sex workers raining down from the sky,” she said.

The Court of Appeal noted on Monday that Parliament is not precluded from enacting new prostitution laws provided they do not heighten the danger to prostitutes.

With reports from Karen Howlett and Anna Mehler Paperny

 

Charter challenge aims to force governments to create public housing May 26, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Housing/Homelessness, Human Rights.
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Jennifer Tanudjaua with her childen in their home in Toronto’s Jane-Finch area.

Kirk Makin Justice Reporter

From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail Published on Wednesday, May. 26, 2010 12:12AM EDT Last updated on Wednesday, May. 26, 2010 7:04AM EDT

One major obstacle stands between Jennifer Tanudjaja and her goal of becoming a successful career woman rather than a burden on the social welfare system – paying the rent.

Struggling to stay in school, the 19-year-old mother of two children plows most of her child welfare benefits and student assistance loan into a $998 per month tenement apartment in Toronto’s Jane-Finch neighbourhood. Meanwhile, she is mired at the bottom of a 10-year wait list for public housing.

Ms. Tanudjaja’s plight lies at the heart of a Charter of Rights challenge being filed on Wednesday in an attempt to persuade the judiciary to force governments to create low-cost public housing.

A coalition of social welfare groups that is launching the challenge seeks to compel the federal and Ontario governments to provide affordable housing for those who are homeless or impoverished by the cost of putting a roof over their heads.

One of the case histories the coalition is furnishing is that of Ms. Tanudjaja, a social work student who aims to be a probation officer. Just 13 years old when her mother handed her over to child welfare authorities, Ms. Tanudjaja ran away from a group home at 15 and then spent more than a year “couch-surfing” from one friend’s home to another.

Now, she can barely eke out her rent cheque after paying for food and public transit to college. “It is honestly not worth what I’m paying at all,” Ms. Tanjudjaja said. “There are bedbugs and tiles popping out of my walls, and my pipes leak really bad.”

The legal challenge harks back to the early, heady days when activists saw the Charter as a sweeping document that could induce reluctant governments to spend money on social programs.

Tracy Heffernan, a lawyer for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, conceded that judges have become wary of poking their noses into expenditures of public money.

“But 25 years after we got the Charter, it is time to bring it back to the people,” she said. “To allow this crisis of homelessness and inadequate housing to expand and grow and further deepen that crisis is not a good thing for the country.”

The challenge is rooted in the Charter right to equality and to life, liberty and security. A legal brief prepared by Ms. Heffernan and lawyers Peter Rosenthal and Fay Faraday notes that the federal government once played a dominant role in providing public housing. They said that it later pushed public housing onto the provinces, which off-loaded it to municipalities, which lack the tax base to shoulder it.

The brief alleges that homelessness reduces life expectancy, causes single mothers to lose custody of their children and forces victims of domestic violence to return to abusive spouses. Cuts to social assistance have steadily added to the ranks of homeless people, it added.

“The result is that those in receipt of social assistance are often unable to obtain adequate housing, many become homeless, and many more are inadequately housed,” it said. “People who are homeless are perhaps the most marginalized, disempowered, precariously situated and vulnerable group in Canadian society.”

Ms. Heffernan said that a recent study conducted for the Senate found that, over a 10-year period, the homeless could be housed for half of what it will cost to treat the medical and social problems caused by homelessness.

The documents supporting the challenge also include an affidavit from Miloon Kothari, an Indian housing expert who served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing from 2000-2008.

“The most striking feature of my mission to Canada was the contrast between the abundance of resources available and the dire living conditions facing the most vulnerable in society,” Mr. Kothari said.

In another affidavit, Linda Chamberlain, a Toronto woman who is mentally ill, describes 30 years living in hostels or on the streets.

“Sometimes police would pick me up and take me to a shelter,” Ms. Chamberlain said in an interview. “You can’t imagine living in places infested with bed bugs and cockroaches or in a plastic bag, scared to death of being violated. I didn’t want to wake up because I was in such pain.

“You walk around like a zombie,” she said. “There is no hope there. You lose everything. If no one helps people get into a safe place to live, how can they turn their lives around?”

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