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This copy is for your personal non-commercial use only. Crusading clergyman. Moralizing political regimes. Undercover police stings. Each has failed to drive prostitutes out of Toronto's unofficial red-light district. Yet on a recent Wednesday night, only two women are working the Jarvis St. In the past fours years, the dozens of women in knee-high boots and thick faux-fur coats shuffling in six-inch stilettos around these downtown streets have moved elsewhere.
Some have relocated to the suburbs. Others have taken mainstream jobs. And many have moved inside, soliciting clients through the Internet and classified sections of free weekly newspapers. Hard hats replaced miniskirts and fishnets as city crews began ripping up the sidewalks. By August, construction was tearing apart Church St. Ebony prefers working outdoors. She works alone and gets to keep all the cash she earns.
The construction should be finished by next spring. Coincidentally, it's also around that time that a ruling is expected in a landmark constitutional challenge, being argued in Superior Court this month. Law professor Alan Young, with three former and current prostitutes, has asked a judge to strike down three provisions in the Criminal Code. The act of selling sex for money is legal, but everything surrounding that business transaction isn't.
The three provisions Young wants dissolved are soliciting in a public place, working out of a brothel which could be a sex worker's own bedroom and living off the avails of prostitution. If the judge agrees, prostitution would essentially be decriminalized. Most high-end workers are expected to then move their business inside, which may mean the end of Toronto's red-light district.
Currently, penalties associated with street-level prostitution are significantly lighter than those for indoor sex work. If successful, says Young, the Crown will almost certainly appeal. If they win again, it will be up to politicians to decide how to rewrite the laws — whether to regulate the industry or ban prostitution outright. Valerie Scott, an applicant in the case, said the current laws put the workers on Jarvis in danger.