By Stephen Brun
A P.E.I. women’s advocacy group is concerned new prostitution laws that could become applicable across Canada wouldn’t go far enough to protect the Island’s “invisible” sex trade.
An Ontario Court of Appeal ruling this week said laws banning brothels were unconstitutional because they could jeopardize the safety of sex workers. If the decision is appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada and upheld, the law would become binding in every province.
The ruling would allow prostitutes to conduct business in brothels without fear of criminal charges, but still prohibits public solicitation.
But Jane Ledwell, a policy analyst with the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said trading sex for shelter, food or drugs is much more common on the Island.
“We have heard more about an on-the-ground bartering system than about escort services,” she said.
“It’s much more common and invisible. We’re concerned with what you don’t find in the Yellow Pages.”
A P.E.I. Justice Department spokesperson said officials were aware of the Ontario Court of Appeal decision, which for now is only binding in that province. The department said it would continue to monitor the situation if it’s appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, or leads to challenges in other provinces.
Ledwell said it’s difficult to gauge how many Island women barter their bodies out of desperation, especially since many don’t think they’re involved in the sex trade.
“People do not see themselves as prostitutes,” she said. “It’s something there’s a lot of silence about, but when you do hear the stories, they’re heartbreaking.”
She said the advisory council would like to see governments take a stronger stance on reducing poverty to address the most vulnerable women, while also improving addiction services.