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Drop in prostitution charges shows changing police attitudes

Corbin Cawkell criminal lawyer

The drop in prostitution charges in Toronto in the last five years represents a shift in police focus from the individuals selling their bodies for sex to criminal organizations and those involved in human trafficking, says Toronto criminal lawyer Corbin Cawkell.

And with the decriminalization of “bawdy houses,” “you can expect people will tests the limits of what they can and cannot do as the government ponders a legislative response,” adds Cawkell, partner at Hicks Adams LLP.

According to the Toronto Star, statistics published by the Ministry of the Attorney General show Toronto courts received 1,088 charges related to prostitution in 2006, and by 2011, the number of charges were just 110. Cawkell says the drastic drop in charges related to prostitution is representative of a growing shift in the sex trade and how police treat street walkers.

“Prostitution was always seen as a nuisance by the police rather than a true crime,” says Cawkell. “Gone are the days when police would round up all the prostitutes in an area making 10 or 20 arrests at a time in response to community complaints. One can also expect that prostitutes walking the streets or hanging out on corners to also decrease significantly if ‘bawdy houses’ are allowed to exist.”

The recent Supreme Court of Canada decision striking down Canada’s prostitution laws will play a major role in the continued change in law enforcement in major cities like Toronto.

“These statistics also reflect a changing attitude towards these sex workers,” says Cawkell. “With the new human trafficking provisions introduced in 2005, the police are focusing on those exploiting sex workers as opposed to those that arguably protect them. The ‘pimps’ behind sex workers that force them into prostitution and exploit them are now the targets as human trafficking units have been set up in all major cities.”

Cawkell says the number of criminal organization charges tied to human trafficking investigations has risen dramatically and shows the focus of the police to be those in the criminal underworld and the networks they have, which in the past, were largely ignored.

“This is a positive development because, like drug investigations, arresting the addicts and ignoring the suppliers doesn’t fix the problem,” says Cawkell. “If sex workers can ply their trade in safe and healthy environments the nuisance of ‘street walkers’ should decrease significantly. It should also significantly impact the criminal exploitation of sex workers by ‘pimps’ and criminal organizations. This statistical trend is a reflection of all of these factors and will continue while the sex workers and the inevitable bawdy houses situation sorts itself out.”

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