The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the country’s anti-prostitution laws, giving Parliament 12 months to make new legislation.
Politicians and those who work with sex-trade workers in Winnipeg were quick to react on Friday, coming down on either side of the debate.
Tammy Reimer manages Sage House at Mount Carmel Clinic, a support centre for sex-trade workers.
Reimer said she welcomed the decision and hopes the government will include sex workers and agencies that work with them in drafting the new legislation.
“This now opens up an opportunity to really take a look, a hard look across the country at what will work in the future,” she said. “It's critical that we involve the women who are working in the sex trade across this country and across the many forms of sex work that exists, that all of those voices have an opportunity to engage with what the new legislation will look like.”
The ruling means laws that ban brothels, living off the profits of a sex worker and negotiating a sexual encounter in the street will have to be changed.
Shona Stewart is familiar with those laws. She navigated them while working the streets of Vancouver at age 21.
“You stay in it because you think you have no other choice – no hope. I had no education,” she said. Now, Stewart helps other women get out of the sex trade.
She said she doesn’t believe legalization is the answer to prostitution in Canada.
“Women can’t get into a brothel if they are using drugs, or if they’re under age, or if they don’t look good enough,” she said. “It’s not a matter of taking them off the street and putting them inside.”
Instead, she said, she thinks johns should face stiffer penalties.
Joy Smith, a Tory MP for Kildonan – St. Paul, agrees. She said in a statement she doesn’t believe prosecuting women in the sex trade is right, rather their johns should be targeted.
“As a nation, we must ensure pimps remain severely sanctioned and prostituted women and girls are not criminalized and instead given meaningful escape routes out of sex work. Most importantly, Canada must focus on the real root of prostitution by targeting the buyers of sex,” she wrote.
Despite the movement on the issue, Reimer does not think it will mean the legalization of prostitution in Canada.
“I would be shocked if that was the case. I think that this next year will be a lot of hard work advocating and hopefully coming to some common ground,” said Reimer.
Heritage Minister worried by decision
But some Conservative politicians are still worried about what the verdict will mean. Heritage Minister and Manitoba MP Shelly Glover spoke out on the ruling on Friday.
Glover said the decision worried her.
The former police officer said she used those laws as a “tool” to help women.
"To have those tools, have those laws, that allowed me to reach out and speak to them and refer them to resources, I think about the lives that have been saved thanks to these tools that once existed,” said Glover. “In 12 months, they will no longer exist, unless we act."
Regardless of the form they take, Reimer hopes those who will be directly affected by the new laws will be consulted.
“When you grow up in poverty, when you have grown up in a situation where you potentially have been exploited at a young age, when trauma is very much a part of your life then that voice of women needs to be there,” said Reimer.
Lawmakers will have 12 months to come up with alternatives to the existing anti-prostition laws.