Friday, October 8, 2010

Red-light District Proposed by Council

Actually, this was in the Flashback column in the BC section of today's Globe & Mail - an article about something that happened in October 1985. It says that the Harcourt-led Vancouver City Council created a red light district in response to complaints about "rampant prostitution" in Mt. Pleasant. The council spent $36,000 on street lighting and wooden barricades in the area between Alberta and Ontario on the west and east and Second and Fifth avenues on the north and south. This designation of an old warehouse district as "red light" was supposed to keep prostitution activity off the streets of Mt. Pleasant, where residents were complaining. The article quotes Marie Arrington, from the Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes, as saying that the designated area was too deserted and that the lights wouldn't make it safe.

Now that that Main between 2nd and 5th is being subjected to a city development project, those 12 square blocks are likely to be more in demand and much less deserted soon. I wonder if it is still officially on the books as a Red Light Area.

One of the things not mentioned in the Globe piece is that 1985 was also the year that Federal Bill C-49 "expanded the definition of soliciting to include the act of stopping or attempting to stop a person to communicate for the purpose of engaging in prostitution." ( )

According to the Rape Relief Files on prostitution, "On April 10, 1986, because a prostitute challenged the new law, a Vancouver provincial court judge ruled that C-49 was unconstitutional. The police put 67 cases on hold; women continued to work the streets." However, they add that

May 7, 1986. The B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the law was not unconstitutional and overturned a lower court ruling. Since then, 341 arrests have been made. The police are back at the entrapment, harassment and brutal treatment of prostitutes and so are the courts. The convictions since the Supreme Court ruling in May now include probation restrictions to stay out of particular named areas of cities, and one woman was confined to her home between the hours of 6 pm and 6 am. The courts have been forced by women's necessity and women's defiance to use the injunction tactic again, in addition to fining and holding without trial.

The Statscan page I cited earlier graphs reported prostitution-related "incidents" between 1981 and 1997. Among the comments on the page is a note that reporting varies with trends in police enforcement practices, and that as of 1997, 89% of the incidents were about communication - only a few about pimping or bawdyhouses.

The Rape Relief prostitution pages document that after C-49 passed the numbers of "escort services" and "massage parlours" openly advertising increased dramatically. Also that police charged to arrest men beating women generally failed to arrest if the woman was a prostitute.

So one might infer that pretty much from day one, the federal anti-prostitution law was used primarily against street prostitution, not against pimps, bawdyhouses, and prostitution outcall services "living off the avails."

On September 28, 2010, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that all three provisions of the federal anti-prostitution law violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and called on parliament to write new legislation to prevent the proliferation of "unlicensed brothels."

If that were to happen, perhaps Vancouver's Red Light District (or another so designated) might become a site of licensed sex trade. It should be noted that both major strains of feminist opinion on prostitution/sex work support some form of decriminalization and neither has shown support for licensed brothels. For more on this split, I refer you to my previous post:

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