Brothels in Hamilton?
Ontario Court of Appeal ruled banning brothels is unconstitutional
City councillors are voicing strong opinions about the possible future of brothels in this city. Hamilton has bylaws that govern the licensing of adult entertainment establishments — strip clubs, adult video and body rub parlours.
Hamilton city councillors are already taking action — and voicing strong opinions — about the possible future of brothels in this city, after Ontario’s top court ruled that banning them is unconstitutional.
After the Ontario Court of Appeal decision this week, Councillor Jason Farr said he immediately sent questions to the city’s bylaw department, and he plans to introduce a notice of motion on Tuesday requesting feedback from legal staff.
He wants to know what the decision “means in terms of impact on the public and a municipality’s ability, if any, to establish controls.”
Councillor Bernie Morelli has vowed to “fight against” brothels coming to Hamilton.
The court ruling calls for brothels to be legal and for prostitutes to be able to work out of their residences. It also said living off the avails of prostitution should only be illegal if there is exploitation.
The government was given a year to “rewrite” the laws. There is also the option of appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Hamilton already has bylaws that govern the licensing of adult entertainment establishments — strip clubs, adult video and body rub parlours. For each there are strict limitations, including only allowing two establishments per category, and location restrictions.
If a brothel bylaw worked similarly to other adult entertainment bylaws, each prostitute would need to be licensed, including photo identification renewed every three years.
City staff are aware of the ruling, but have not yet begun any reviews, said Vince Ormond, the city’s manager of municipal law enforcement. This type of review would take a significant amount of time.
“I have no appetite for a brothel in the city,” said Morelli, a 14 year-member of the city’s police board.
His concern is for residents who don’t want brothels in their neighbourhoods, but also for the marginalized women in prostitution suffering from mental illness, drug addictions or who are being exploited.
It is true that other countries have legalized brothels, Morelli said, but he believes it’s unfair to compare those countries with what happens here because Canada has a very different justice system.
It is very difficult to secure convictions, and impossible to get lengthy sentences against pimps charged with human trafficking and other related crimes, he said.
On the other hand, Councillor Brian McHattie said he is “interested in the safety of sex workers.”
And if something is “legalized, licensed and controlled,” he believes that’s a lot safer than underground.
“Does that mean I’m OK with a brothel in Ward 1? I’m not sure of the answer to that yet,” he said.
On a “philosophical level,” he generally supports the court ruling, but believes the city, including bylaw, public health and police need to take a very close look at how any changes could be implemented.
“If this is coming, it would be important for the city to get ahead of it,” McHattie said.
Yet with so much uncertainty, some in Hamilton are choosing to hold their comment until there is more information.
Councillor Sam Merulla said it was “premature to comment.”
Hamilton police spokesperson Sergeant Terri-Lynn Collings said police will follow whatever law is laid out, but added police do not know what that law will look like.
The vice and drug unit already works with body rub parlours, and last July a one-officer human trafficking unit was created out of provincial funding.
Councillor Tom Jackson said he “personally and politically” has no appetite for brothels in Hamilton, but wants to hear from the experts.
Public health already offers sexual health education, testing for diseases and free condoms, said Dr. Julie Emili, an associate medical officer of health with the city.
But as it stands now, “public health has no legal authority or mandate to inspect brothels,” she said.
They would need governments to change their mandate or legislation, she added, suggesting the logistics would be “complex.”
Public health does not inspect strip clubs, but is supposed to inspect new body rub parlours for licensing, said Robert Hall, director of health protection. However, no new body rub parlours have opened since the bylaw changed in 2010.
Other community stakeholders, such as the Elizabeth Fry Society, would also want to be part of the process, said executive director Leanne Kilby, suggesting a stakeholder committee.
For women who choose to be prostitutes, and operate indoors, a brothel could be positive, she said. But she worries there would be a “hierarchy” of prostitutes in the city, with marginalized and vulnerable women on the streets not qualifying for licensed brothels.
“My concern is for the women who wouldn’t fit,” Kilby said.
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