On Dec. 20, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada decided the Ontario case of Bedford, Lebovitch and Scott.
Prior to that, Vancouver lawyer Katrina Pacey was stressing about Christmas like any other woman and mother.
But in addition to her immediate family, she was also thinking about the entire population of sex workers on Vancouvers Downtown Eastside (DTES).
Pacey and the staff of Pivot Legal Society are heroes to many of the most marginalized people in the city, but say that to Pacey directly and her firm blue gaze will falter and politely look away.
Pivot, an intervener in the case to reform the countrys anti-prostitution laws, celebrated a landmark victory with the Supreme Courts Dec. 20 decision to strike down three laws.
Sex workers from the DTES have been involved in their own Charter challenge to Canadas prostitution laws since 2007. The case was launched by Sheri Kiselbach, a former sex worker of 30 years.
The morning of the verdict, which would resolve the BC case as well, Kiselbach was waiting anxiously in Pivots nondescript headquarters along with about 30 other interested parties from Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV), PACE and the media.
Meanwhile, Pacey, who says she went to law school to become a better activist, was in Ottawa.
This is an unbelievably important day in terms of the sex workers rights movement, but for human rights for all Canadians, she said in a press conference after the results were announced.
Earlier in June, Pacey had flown to Ottawa to argue in Supreme Court that sex workers lives were being sacrificed at the expense of regulating prostitution, the murders of BC serial killer Robert Pickton not far from thought.
Shes such a strong advocate for us, Kiselbach said of that speech with tears in her eyes. You could hear the nervousness of her voice, and you could really feel from her voice that she was no longer just our lawyer she was a friend, she was an ally, she was a sister. She really understood the issues.
The laws dealt with keeping a brothel, living on the avails of prostitution, and communicating in public. It was Pivots position they violated sex workers rights to improve their safety and health. So, five days before Christmas and weeks earlier than anyone had anticipated, Pacey flew back to Ottawa to hear the decision. In a unanimous 9-0 ruling, the court struck down all three criminal code provisions.
According to Pacey, the court said if striking the communication law could have prevented even one sex worker from getting into Picktons car, that would have been enough.
The ruling comes 34 years after the Supreme Court last upheld the countrys anti-prostitution laws and gives the federal government one year to craft new legislation; otherwise, sex workers will then legally be able to solicit on the street, operate bawdy houses and hire third parties. There were even jokes about pension plans.
The crowd waiting at Pivot Legal Society reacts to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in the case of Bedford, Lebovitch and Scott Dec. 20, 2013.
The federal government faces a difficult choice if it decides to bring in new legislation, however. The US approach of criminalizing both the purchase and sale of sex has been deemed largely ineffective. Then there is the Nordic model, used in Sweden, that makes it legal to sell sex but not to buy it, and has been criticized for issues similar to the legislation that was just struck down. New Zealand, on the other hand, has legalized prostitution, subject to regulation, and relies on other criminal laws to control violence, trafficking and exploitation. There is also the possibility that the laws remain struck and the government allows individual municipalities or provinces to regulate prostitution.
But Pacey, a self-professed privileged woman who once believed that all sex work constituted violence against women and that no one would choose to do this, now maintains that the only way to know what is best for sex workers is to ask them.
A lot of the beliefs and assumptions that I carried were really only undone and unravelled and unlearned through conversations with sex workers. I could read a book. I could sit and listen to a lecture. But nothing deepens someones understanding of the diversity and the lived experience as effectively as the sex worker who lives it.
There are endless reasons and ways that people do this work, and why they do it and how long they wish to do it for and who they wish to do it with.
In 2002, around the time of Picktons arrest, and after a decade or so of work in the violence against women movement, Pacey joined Pivot and began speaking to women on the DTES.I do get overwhelmed. I know my own limitations in terms of what part of this movement I can fulfill and what I can be, and what our organization can do. [But] I derive constant inspiration from this community and that absolutely keeps me going.
</p><p>Its that connection with the community that she hopes to slowly instill in her two children.</p><p>I experience the struggle of every working mother, in that I am constantly trying to be present and engaged and there for my kids, and present and engaged and there for my job, she said, having just baked cookies for her daughters potluck. My five-year-old is at a really interesting place, where her perception is increasing and were starting to have more and more conversations about this work.</p><p>Paceys son was only two months old when she first headed to Ottawa, so she brought him with her out of necessity. But her mother a lifelong activist and Paceys inspiration and daughter joined as well.</p><p>Its hard, because I dont feel shes ready to have a conversation about what sex work is, but there was a level of honesty I wanted to have, Pacey said of the trip. I said that Pivots job is to work with people when the government isnt doing their job to protect them. So we were there with those women to fight for their rights.</p><p>She seemed concerned about that. She moved on quickly to her next concern, Pacey laughed, but shes starting to understand that women have a different place in the world and there are women that are less safe.</p><p>Its really important to me that my kids understand that this is not just work with a paycheque attached. Its the most important thing, actually I hope they figure out how to do math one day, but right now its important to me that they value and respect and care for the community around them.</p>