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NEWS: Reforming prostituion laws

With Canadas prostitution laws in limbo, a group of womens advocates say Canadians should look to Sweden as an example of how the law can be rewritten to better protect sex workers.

With Canadas prostitution laws in limbo, a group of womens advocates say Canadians should look to Sweden as an example of how the law can be rewritten to better protect sex workers.

The non-profit groups Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity (REED) and Exploited Voices now Educating (EVE) are presenting a talk by Swedish human rights expert and government advisor Gunilla Ekberg, tonight at the Vancouver Public Library.

Ekberg played an integral role in reorienting Swedens prostitution laws 10 years ago to target buyers, rather than the sellers, of sexual services.

EVEs Trisha Baptie said she believes Canada could benefit from similar legislation. For us, it might be a new way of thinking about prostitution, she said. I think historically its been, we either fully criminalize or we fully decriminialize. The way they did it in Sweden, they identified the male demand for paid sex as violence against women and a direct deterrent to our equality, and they criminalized that demand.

Buying and selling sex is currently legal in Canada, but activities such as communicating for the purposes of prostitution, procuring or running a bawdy house are outlawed. But those laws are currently up for debate due to two significant challenges making their way through the courts in B.C. and Ontario. Last September, an Ontario Superior Court judge overturned prostitution laws in that province after determining they impeded sex workers ability to work in secure environments. However the laws are still being enforced while that decision is appealed.

Here in Vancouver, retired sex worker Sheryl Kiselbach won approval to challenge B.C.s prostitution laws last October after arguing they put women at risk by driving them into isolated areas. The case is currently working its way through the courts.

Michelle Miller of REED said she fears for the fate of women in the sex trade if prostitution is legalized. Im concerned for all women in a normalized sex industry. People dont realize what will happen when its open season, she said.

Instead, Miller would like to see the adoption of a Swedish-style system which has resulted in a 50 per cent decline in street prostitution in that country. The question is: Do men have a right to sexual access to womens bodies? she said.

Gunilla Ekberg speaks in the Alice McKay Room at the Vancouver Public Librarys central branch tonight, March 10, at 7pm. Free.

reporter@westender.com