Federal Minister of Justice and Attorney General Peter MacKay is speaking out about New Brunswick's decision to drop most prostitution cases in the province until federal legislation is rewritten.
"While the administration of justice is a matter of provincial jurisdiction, Canadians expect criminal laws in this country to be properly enforced so long as they remain in force," MacKay said in an emailed statement to CBC News late on Wednesday.
"Make no mistake, doing nothing is not an option," he said.
Earlier this week, New Brunswick's Assistant Deputy Attorney General Luc Labonté told CBC News he expects the majority of prostitution-related offences before New Brunswick courts will be withdrawn in light of the recent Supreme Court decision, which struck down Canada's anti-prostitution laws.
In its Dec. 20 ruling, the Supreme Court gave Parliament one year to come up with new legislation.
But the anti-prostitution laws remain part of the Criminal Code for the next year, while the government decides what to do.
"The Supreme Court of Canada made very clear in its decision that the current laws with respect to prostitution were to remain in force for 12 months," said MacKay.
'We are currently reviewing a range of options to address the harms that flow from prostitution to communities.' - Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay
"Our government believes that prostitution is harmful to vulnerable individuals, particularly women. We are currently reviewing a range of options to address the harms that flow from prostitution to communities," he said.
"Our government will be taking action to maintain the safety of our streets and communities."
The province has refused to do an interview with CBC News to explain its new prostitution policy.
In an emailed statement, the justice department said they've dropped a number of charges because of the Supreme Court of Canada decision.
But there is no mention of why the province is ignoring a one-year delay — in which the laws remain the same —- to allow Parliament to bring in new legislation.
New prostitution policy upsets residents
Residents in Moncton's downtown are upset the provincial government has decided to stop charging Johns and prostitutes.
Crown prosecutors let six Johns arrested in the area go free this week.
Ryan Davison has worked with his downtown Moncton neighbours and the police to curb street prostitution.
"So to see all that work for naught is really a concern as a neighbour and parent in the area," said Davison.
Davison worries about what options will be left to deal with street prostitution.
University of New Brunswick professor Leslie Jeffrey said the decision to strike down the federal prostitution laws won't create a sudden influx of sex workers.
The longstanding practice of arresting prostitutes and their clients has only made the situation worse for sex workers, she said.
"The sex workers are hiding from police, they're on the street, they're jumping into cars too quickly without assessing the situation because they're just trying to get out of the public eye," Jeffrey said.
"And we've had a massive murder rate including, of course, the Picton murders in Canada since we introduced that 1985 communications law."
Jeffrey said she hopes the ruling can lead to improved dialogue between police and sex workers.
Meanwhile, Codiac RCMP said they're still waiting to hear from headquarters about how to react to the province's decision.
And, in Saint John, the police chief has said his officers won't be charging people with prostitution offences until the laws are clarified.