York-led challenge helps strike down harmful prostitution law

A Superior Court justice gutted the federal prostitution law in Ontario on Tuesday, allowing sex-trade workers to solicit customers openly and paving the way for judges in other provinces to follow suit, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 29.

Justice Susan Himel struck down all three Criminal Code provisions that had been challenged – communicating for the purposes of prostitution, pimping and operating a common bawdy house.

The decision will take effect in 30 days unless Crown lawyers return with arguments that are strong enough to persuade her to grant a further delay, Judge Himel said.

“We got everything,” yelped a York University law professor behind the challenge, Alan Young of Osgoode Hall Law School, as he scanned the judgment seconds after it was released. “We did it…. Finally, somebody listened.”

Judge Himel specifically rejected a request from the Crown to suspend the effects of her decision for 18 months on the grounds that doing so would force sex-trade workers to continue working under hazardous conditions. She said the 30-day delay gives the Crown one last chance to persuade her that she should suspend her judgment.

Young said that, in light of how uncompromising Judge Himel’s findings were, the Crown faces a tough uphill battle in obtaining an additional stay. “In 30 days, the ruling kicks in and people can start growing their businesses,” he said.

Regardless of whether or not the decision is appealed, it is likely to plunge Parliament back into a divisive debate over criminalizing the operation of an activity that is itself perfectly legal.

Young warned the press and public not to fall for an inevitable onslaught of misinformation and scare stories that government officials will issue as it bids to prop up the law. “This was a big bite out of the heart of government,” he said. “They are going to feel this one. I don’t know what this means now; whether or not we will see five-storey brothels like the ones in Germany.”

However, Young also said that the public need not fear that prostitutes and pimps are about to run amok in their communities. Nor, he said, should people allow any distaste they may have for prostitution to cloud the central issue in the case. “This case is all about protecting the security and safety of people working in the sex trade, regardless of what you think of sex-trade work,” he said. “We have had a moral aversion to the sex trade for hundreds of years, but any time you can do something that increases peoples’ safety, you have done something good.”

Both sides in the case spent years amassing a vast body of international evidence, including dozens of witnesses.

Several cities – including Toronto, Victoria, Windsor, Calgary and Edmonton – charge fees to license body-rub establishments despite the general understanding that many sell sexual services.

Young ridiculed them on Tuesday for hypocritically reaping licensing fees while pretending not to know that they are fronts for prostitution. “For a decade, they have been charging exorbitant licensing fees for rub-and-tugs,” he said. “Now, at least we won’t have to charge them with living off the avails.”

  • A historic challenge to the country’s prostitution laws would likely have failed without the backdrop of serial killer Robert Pickton’s murderous activities, according to the lawyer behind the case, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 29.

Osgoode Professor Alan Young said Tuesday that he purposely delayed his challenge until after the Pickton trial because there could scarcely be a more dramatic illustration of the plight prostitutes are placed in when the law forces them to work on the streets.

“Pickton brought it to light,” Young told a press conference. “I had been developing arguments for many years, but I needed something more. Facts drive a case, and when they started to find bodies on that pig farm in 2002, it became extremely apparent to everyone that it is dangerous for sex-trade workers to work on the street.”

He characterized the prostitution challenge as a David and Goliath battle fought by a small band of lawyers who worked pro bono, 20 York University law students and three tenacious litigants.

Over a five-year period, he said that his team assembled dozens of boxes of evidence and persuaded a sizable group of academics, community workers and prostitutes to testify without payment.

A win at the trial level was critical since the litigants and their legal team would not have been able to obtain funding for an appeal otherwise, Young added.

  • Key provisions of Canada’s prostitution law were struck down Tuesday by an Ontario judge who said they endangered the people they were meant to protect, wrote CNN online Sept. 29.

The ruling is set to take effect in 30 days, and it will only apply to Ontario until the Canada Supreme Court issues a ruling in the matter, said Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Alan Young, a lawyer for the sex workers.

Young launched the lawsuit in an effort to bring Canada’s policies in line with countries like New Zealand and Australia, where prostitution has been decriminalized. “Our position was if you remove certain legal provisions, you can conduct sex work in a safer way,” he said.

  • “The bottom line is we managed to prove from the Criminal Code a bunch of archaic offences that were actually putting sex workers in harm’s way,” said the women’s lawyer, Alan Young, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, wrote Postmedia News Sept. 29. “Regardless of what you think of sex work, the law should never expose women to danger.”
  • The women and their lawyer, Alan Young a criminal law professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, held a news conference Tuesday afternoon and expressed elation, wrote CBC News online.

Young handled the case mostly free with the help of 20 of his law students. They were up against nearly a dozen government lawyers. “Personally, I am overjoyed because this is a great David and Goliath story. Sex-trade workers are disenfranchised and disempowered, and no one has listened to them for 30, 40 years,” Young said.

  • Plying the world’s oldest profession just became safer, thanks to a landmark ruling by the Ontario Superior Court, wrote the Toronto Sun Sept. 29.

Meanwhile, Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Alan Young and his students were celebrating a victory won on a “shoestring budget” against a dozen well-paid government lawyers. “I’m overjoyed,” he told reporters. “The charter still has teeth.”

  • Alan Young also spoke about the decision on CTV News Sept. 28.

York aims to become track magnet

Hamilton’s loss was York University’s gain and the school seems to be picking up speed in Pan Am stadium planning to become an elite track & field centre for southern Ontario, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Sept. 29.

Officials at the University are developing a business plan for the facility, worth between $15 and $30 million, while Hamilton city councillors brace for Wednesday’s latest instalment in the ongoing stadium negotiations with the Tiger-Cats.

The Hamilton Olympic Club and other track clubs hoped to restore the glory of track & field that flowed from the 1930 British Empire Games, the forerunner of the Commonwealth Games.

York will carry that flame if it can create a coalition of school and community groups to make the facility sustainable in the long term, said spokesperson Keith Marnoch, York’s associate director of media relations. “The thought at the moment is a 5,000-seat facility that will serve our legacy needs,” he said.

He noted the University is still working on a business plan that will serve Pan Am Games needs plus ongoing operations following the Games.

Marnoch said York hasn’t ruled out any partnerships, including potential interest in a larger stadium from the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts. The team looked at York in the past under previous ownership.

Toronto 2015 officials say moving track & field created an important cluster of events at York. It will host tennis, rugby and some Parapan Games competitions.

York track coach Colin Inglis said the completion of a subway line to York by the 2015 Games will put the track within reach of a large number of people in southern Ontario.

Black lawyers are finally making their mark on Bay Street

According to a report commissioned by the Law Society of Upper Canada and released earlier this year, more women and visible ethnic minorities overall were entering the ranks of the profession, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 29. But the numbers, drawn from 2006 long-form census data, actually showed a surprising dip where one might expect a gain: According to the study, there were a significantly smaller proportion of black lawyers in the younger 25 to 35 age bracket than before.

The report found that black lawyers across Ontario made up just two per cent of the profession in the 25-to 35-year-old age group. That was down from three per cent in the age bracket ahead of them, 35- to 44-year-olds.

York University sociologist Michael Ornstein, a professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies who compiled the numbers, echoed the worries of Frank Walwn, president of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers: “It’s hard to be very conclusive. But my intuition is that there’s a problem, and the figures point downward. And I think it’s an issue of real concern.” 

Canada bucks trend of falling MBA applications

Sonali Dash looked at schools around the world to achieve her goal of getting an MBA in a country that offered an opportunity to launch a solid career in finance, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 29. And Canada was far and away the best choice.

“It was appealing to come to Canada because of the performance of the economy. And the banks remained quite good during the recession, while other countries were having problems. I want to make my future in finances and that was a strong indicator to me that opportunities will be good,” said Dash, who moved to Toronto from Hyderabad, India, last month and has just started in the two-year MBA program at the Schulich School of Business at York University.

It’s a choice that an increasing number of foreign students seem to be making.

A stronger economy, international marketing campaigns by business schools and a government program making it easier for foreign students who do their MBAs in Canada to work here for up to three years have combined to buoy applications to full-time master’s programs.

Applications at York University are up again this year after a big jump last year, said Charmaine Courtis, executive director of student services & international relations at the Schulich school. She credits the federal government’s work permit program for Canada’s relatively strong performance.

Dash, who graduated from a university in India and had worked for four years there as a consultant before deciding to take her MBA, said she plans to stay in Canada when she graduates in 2012. “The new government program is very appealing to me. If the government would not allow us to work here there would be much less reason to come here.”

Canada’s growing multiculturalism is also a strong plus in international recruiting. Students from China, India and South Korea “often choose to go where they have family,” Courtis said.

Schulich’s program is also gaining an international reputation. Last week, it broke into the top 10 of global rankings of business schools in a survey conducted by The Economist.

Global rankings

The Economist magazine’s Global MBA school ranking, 2010
(2009 ranking in brackets)

10 (12): York University, Schulich School of Business