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Kelowna sex workers could eventually benefit from court ruling

Kelowna's street based sex-workers may be encouraged to ply their trade in a safer environment following a top court ruling on prostitution, says an area outreach worker.

"It sure would open the door and give a reason for them to get off the streets," said Angle Lohr, of HOPE Outreach.

The  Ontario Appeal court ruled Monday that brothels and indoor sex workers should be able to hire security, drivers and other employees without facing charges of living off the avails of prostitution.

Not being given the right to do so, ruled the court, puts unconstitutional restrictions on prostitutes’ ability to protect themselves.

While it's being lauded in some circles, the ruling has also been criticized for upholding laws against street “soliciting” or “communicating,"but Lohr is "optimistic."

Ultimately, she said, it could help a few who make their living by being "exploited by someone" make a transition to an environment that would allow them to be self sufficient.

Little, she said, could stop the women she meets  from using prostitution as a means of supporting themselves.

Night-in, night-out, Lohr comes into contact with the street entrenched women in downtown Kelowna, offering service information and personal care supplies.

She learns the stories of those who are forced onto the streets in desperation, using prostitution as a means to feed addictions, or just put food on the table.

"All the girls we see are exploited one way or another," she said.

"A lot of them on are on disability making their rent through prostitution. We  have single moms trying to feed their children, and there are lots of girls who work indoors and get solicitation through the (classifieds)."

Their numbers are high, but there are only a couple of brothels in the city that could offer the protections that the new court ruling sets out.

It would actually be ideal if more were available, she said, noting that it would turn the focus on women's clients.

"That's what needs to be focussed on … the people who are coming to solicit," she said.

Overall, however, the most important change coming out of Monday's ruling may be in public perception.

'"Maybe people's eyes are opening to all that's happening with sex trade workers," she said, in reference to the Highway of Tears and the Pickton case.

"Something needs to be put in place to help these girls."

Although the Ontario case has direct application to that province, it will affect B.C. and is expected to eventually go to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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