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London court case challenges Canada’s prostitution laws

FILE - The entrance to the London courthouse. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

Canada’s prostitution laws are facing a landmark legal challenge in London.

The hearing, which began Tuesday, is part of the trial for two people charged back in 2015 following a bust at a London escort service.

Hamad Anwar, 28, and Tiffany Harvey, 26, are both facing more than two dozen sex-related charges each, including material gain from the sex trade, advertising sexual services, and forcing someone into the sex trade.

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The accused are being represented by Toronto lawyer James Lockyear.

The two expert witnesses for the defence are Andrea Sterling and Chris Atchison. The Crown’s two expert witnesses are Maddie Coy and Cherry Smiley.

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Atchison, who Lockyear says has done a number of research papers about the sex industry and was the first to study clients of sexual workers, testified in court on Tuesday.

He talked about the two sides of the sex trade industry debate, characterizing one as prohibitionist by radical feminists who see the sex industry as violence against women. The other, he says, are those who see participation in the sex industry as a labour choice that needs protections.

“[Atchison] talks a lot about harm reduction without recognizing that the prostitution legislation we have is built on harm reduction,” said Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC).

“[The legislation] recognizes that prostitution is inherently violent and the best way to reduce harm is to ensure women and girls no longer enter it, so they’re actually given real options and opportunities in their lives,” she said.

Lockyear went on to probe Atchison about his views regarding the Nordic model — which is the model used in Canada for dealing with prostitution. Lockyear pointed to studies done that claim this model has reduced the amount of sex work in Sweden.

Atchison said he rejects those studies, saying they are done by people with a vested interest in the Nordic model being successful.

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The internet and better communication, Atchison said, have allowed more sex workers to leave the street and work inside.

Walker says those who are involved in the sex trade inside are much less vulnerable than those who are involved at the street level.

“You cannot have legislation that represents all people without also understanding those people that suffer most,” she said.

“In the case of prostitution, it is Indigenous women and girls and it is also those that are involved [at the street level],” said Walker.

Following a lunch break, Atchison was cross-examined by the Crown attorney Michael Carnegie.

Walker believes Carnegie had slowly started to chip away at Atchison’s credibility, questioning the methodology and sampling of his research.

“The expert witness outlined the organizations he had worked with to gather input from women in prostitution and those are all very solidly pro-decriminalization organizations,” said Walker.

She adds, he did not mention working with any of the national abolitionists’ organizations like the LAWC, and she says, that shows bias.

Court will resume Wednesday at 10 a.m.

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