Sex workers want say in legal battle

Sheryl Kiselbach has worked in the sex trade nearly half her life, and at 62 years old, she has expertise she said Canada's highest court needs to hear when it decides if the nation's prostitution laws are unconstitutional.

Kiselbach is one of many British Columbian sex trade workers represented by lawyers and advocacy groups applying to intervene in a June Supreme Court of Canada hearing.

They want to be allowed to tell their stories of street-based sex work, with the hope the evidence will sway the court to abolish Canada's current laws surrounding prostitution.

The prostitution-advocacy organizations announced their application to intervene in the court fight at a news conference in Vancouver on Wednesday.

"Sex work is work," Kiselbach said. "It should be perceived as such, as is any other career or work in our land."

The Supreme Court case will essentially determine whether the prostitution laws violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While selling sex is technically legal in Canada, the Criminal Code prohibits many of the activities surrounding it. Current laws prohibit living off "the avails" of prostitution, engaging in prostitution at indoor bawdy houses, and communicating with potential clients for the purposes of securing "a date."

However, Kiselbach said such provisions should be wiped from the books because they violate sex workers' rights to freedom, security and equal treatment under the law.

"When (people) think of a sex worker, they think of somebody who's leaning against a pole, with high boots under a light. That's only 10 to 15 per cent of ... the sex-work population. Those kinds of biases need to be thrown out," she said.

The federal hearing will have a direct effect on sex workers across the country, and Kiselbach said it's important the court hears the unique experiences of those in B.C.

"I was a sex worker for 30 years," Kiselbach said. "I was a street-level sex worker, I worked indoors, I did sex-industry dancing."

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