The Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence group together with former sex worker Sheryl Kiselbach can go forward with a legal challenge of Canada's prostitution laws.
The court ruling was 9 to 0 to dismiss the Conservative federal government appeal. The federal appeal argued that the sex worker group and Sheryl Kiselback lacked any legal standing since no charges had been laid. A British Columbia judge had agreed with the federal government stand but the B.C. provincial court of appeal ruled that the group and Kiselbach could pursue their case because the group had public interest standing. On appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada the position of the B.C. appeals court was upheld unanimously.
The Ontario Court of Appeal has already struck down some laws that are being challenged by the B.C. group. However, the federal government is appealing that ruling to the Supreme Court as well.
Justice Thomas Cromwell writing the unanimous decision of the nine members said: "The courts have long recognized that limitations on standing are necessary; not every-one who may want to litigate an issue, regardless of whether it affects them or not, should be entitled to do so."
However Cromwell said that the circumstances favored granting public interest standing to the group: "..Granting standing will not only serve to enhance the principle of legality with respect to serious issues of direct concern to some of the most marginalized members of society, but it will also promote the economical use of scarce judicial resources."
While the group and Sheryl Kiselback applauded the decision they complained about the length of time it took them to obtain standing. One of the lawyers involved, Katrina Pacey, also complained about the five year battle for standing. She said: "This wasn't an access for justice case, it was to strike down the prostitution laws."
The long delay has resulted in a situation where similar arguments to those of the Vancouver group have resulted in the Ontario Court of Appeal already striking down some prostitution laws. Pacey said: "We are all in this because we want adult sex work in Canada decriminalized, because we want sex workers to have safety and control, and the ability to determine the conditions and circumstances of their work.Frankly, I don't care how that happens. I don't care if (the Ontario case) does it; I don't care if we do it; I don't care if (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper all of a sudden wakes up one day and says, 'Oh my gosh, what was I thinking?' "All I care is there's safety for sex workers, and whatever measure or means is required to get there, we are on board and ready for the fight." The next chapter in this continuing battle story will be the Supreme Court decision on the federal government's appeal of the Ontario Court of Appeal decision.