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Amending prostitution law puts kids at risk, court told Add to ...


If the courts strike down a law that prevents prostitutes from chatting up potential clients, children will witness these transactions and become attracted to selling sex, a Toronto judge was told yesterday.

In a staunch defence of the country's embattled prostitution law, federal Crown counsel Michael Morris argued that the law against communicating in public is aimed at more than merely curbing an unappetizing spectacle.

"It is directly tied to a concern about children being attracted into prostitution," he told Madam Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court. "That is what happens when an 11-year-old is exposed to the sale of sex and is potentially attracted to it."

Judge Himel will decide whether provisions that bar communicating, procuring and keeping a brothel violate prostitutes' constitutional right to life, liberty and security of the person.

The litigants, three prostitutes, allege that the law hypocritically makes prostitution legal, yet makes it impossible to practice it safely. They maintain that the law:

Prevents them from operating within the safety of a secure brothel;

Forces street prostitutes to size up potential clients in an instant or risk arrest;

Rules out the possibility of prostitutes living with partners or hiring bodyguards.

Yesterday, Mr. Morris urged Judge Himel not to decide unilaterally the legality of provisions that legislators have studied and vigorously debated. "This court is not obliged, nor is it equipped, to adjudicate the complex issues raised by prostitution," he said. "This is not a public inquiry."

Mr. Morris attacked a central plank of the litigants' argument- that if prostitution indoors were made legal, it would be substantially safer than street prostitution.

"Prostitution entails a high degree of danger for all who practice it," Mr. Morris said. "There is absolutely no doubt that terrible things happen in the street ... but that doesn't mean that indoors is safe. Terrible things happen indoors as well."

Mr. Morris said that it is an error to divide prostitution into two neat categories - indoors and outdoors. He said that street prostitutes often meet potential customers in locations such as hotel lobbies or strip clubs and proceed to a private room.

"Where the initial contact takes place is not the deciding factor," Mr. Morris said. "The level of risk inherent in this activity is ever present."

Mr. Morris noted that the Crown has elicited affidavits from 19 current or former prostitutes who assert that indoor prostitution is at least as dangerous as street prostitution.

"Any time you are alone with a john, it is dangerous," he said. "There is no safe haven when you are involved in prostitution. There is overwhelming evidence that johns can become violent at any moment."

Mr. Morris also volleyed back after an attack earlier this week on the credentials of several Crown expert witnesses. He said the main witness for the applicants - Simon Fraser University criminologist John Lowman - is a lifelong advocate of decriminalizing prostitution.

Mr. Morris said that Prof. Lowman overstated numerous points in his court affidavit, and then later tried to retract them: "It effectively eliminated the credibility of his affidavit and rendered the rest of his evidence suspicious," he told Judge Himel.

"I ask you to decline [litigants' lawyer Alan]Young's invitation to kick the politicians to engage in law reform. What we are going to accomplish is an incoherent vacuum."

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