04/09/2015 11:00 EDT | Updated 06/09/2015 05:59 EDT

Ontario Still Concerned About Prostitution Law Despite Constitutionality: Wynne

TORONTO - A review by Ontario's attorney general may have concluded that Canada's new prostitution law is constitutional, but it hasn't "entirely" alleviated Premier Kathleen Wynne's concerns about how it affects sex-trade workers.

After the federal law came into effect in December, the premier said she had a "grave concern" that it would not make sex workers safer and asked the attorney general to do a constitutional review.

Senior staff in the attorney general's office found no clear unconstitutionality with the law, though Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur would not divulge the reasoning.

When asked Thursday to elaborate, Wynne said the review did "not entirely" alleviate her concerns about the law.

"There's no clear unconstitutionality and so obviously we understand that we need to uphold the law," she said. "At the same time, we are going to be monitoring the impact of the law."

Wynne did not specify what her concerns are about the law, but said she and the attorney general want to meet with people affected by it.

"There are groups that have a much more detailed analysis of this that we'll be working with to make sure that we're paying attention to the issues that are important to the safety of the community," she said.

The sweeping new changes to the way prostitution is regulated in Canada follow a Supreme Court decision that found the old laws violated the rights of sex-trade workers. The high court said that bans on brothels, living on the avails of prostitution and communicating for the purposes of prostitution put sex workers in harm's way.

The federal government has said the new bill gives sex workers the ability to create better working conditions and immunity from prosecution if they seek help from police. But opponents of the bill say it exposes sex workers to the same harms as the previous law.

"This is a gift for sexual predators who are pretending to be clients," said Valerie Scott, a sex-trade worker involved with the original court challenge.

Clients are terrified of being prosecuted under the new law and are calling from blocked numbers, which leaves workers such as herself less able to verify a prospective client's identity, Scott said.

The attorney general said last week there were approximately 26 cases being prosecuted in Ontario under the new law. Even if a new court challenge were launched soon, a possible finding of unconstitutionality would be years away. In the meantime, Scott said, sex workers will continue to be harmed.

Richard Elliott, the executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, said he disagrees with Ontario's assessment that the new law is constitutional.

"While the wording in the new law is different and there are some new features in the new law that weren't in the old law, essentially the effect of the new law is to recreate many, if not all, of the varied harms that led the Supreme Court in the (previous) case to strike down the previous laws," he said.

Scott said she and other members of Sex Professionals of Canada are arranging to meet with the attorney general, though she isn't hopeful much will come of it.

"We can talk until we're blue in the face with the provincial government or any government about how this law will affect us, in fact that's pretty much what we've been doing since it was introduced," she said.

"The only thing that means anything is action. If they're truly concerned, don't enforce this law."

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