Sex Workers Improve Our Access to Justice

Congratulations to Sheri Kiselbach, members of Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV), and our friends at Pivot Legal Society for your recent Supreme Court Victory!

The SCC was unanimous in ruling that Ms. Keselbach, a former sex worker, and SWUAV, a sex worker-led organization, have public interest standing to challenge the constitutionality of the Criminal Code provisions related to sex work.

The access to justice issue was before the Supremes after the BC Court of Appeal rejected with the Federal Government’s argument that the parties lacked standing. The standing debate stems from the fact that neither Ms. Kiselbach, as a former worker, or SWUAV as an organization, were at risk of being charges criminally with the offences in question.

The Court sided with sex workers’ assertions that barriers, such as lack of resources and fear of being outed, made it next to impossible for an individual sex worker in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver to mount such a complex constitutional challenge. Most importantly, the decision gives the green light for collectives of marginalized people to work together on major challenges via public interest standing.

The constitutional challenge launched by the group in 2007 differs from the ongoing challenge of the sex work laws in Bedford v. Canada, likely to be heard by the Supreme Court next year. The members of SWUAV are predominantly street-based workers whereas the focus in Bedford has been decriminalizing the indoor trade, and where Bedford argued that the Criminal Code provisions violate s.7 and s.2 of the Charter, SWUAV also includes a s.15 equality analysis citing how the laws have a disproportionate impact on marginalized groups.

Fist pumps all around.


  1. Notwithstanding the fist pumping, I think that these ladies will have a much harder go of it at court than the ladies in the Bedford case. Why? Streetwalkers impose a more tangible burden on society and other people. Indoor workers are out of sight and out of mind and can enjoy the safety and security of working indoors which the law currently impinges on.

    In my view, it’s a whole lot less of a hill to get over to strike down the laws that make indoor work illegal than it is for those on the street. Street workers make those near them uncomfortable. Their customers can and do harass women just passing by on a known stroll. Property values are affected (which is a significant issue in residential areas where strolls are sometimes located).

    The unfortunate thing is that not all women want to work indoors or within established establishments. Those who are relegated to the street due to whatever circumstances, likely won’t be as well protected as they could be and will continue to be a nuisance and not welcome by any neighbours they may have. Red light districts may come about, but that may not be a panacea if they become dens of criminality as they apparently are in Amsterdam’s famous district.

    How one squares all of these circles I do not know, but I’m happy to see the challenges to the existing laws that served to feed dozens if not hundreds of women into the slavering maws of Willy Pickton and his ilk. A situation like that, and laws that permit such a situation to continue, cannot be tolerated IMHO. However, how we get over the nuisance factor of streetwalkers and their undesirability to the greater portion of the populace (who don’t care too much about indoor workers from what I’ve seen), I do not know.

    The Wet One