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Social Issues
Supreme Court Strikes Down Canada’s Anti-Prostitution Laws
December 20, 2013
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Terri-Jean Bedford outside the Supreme Court of Canada in June (Photo: REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

The Supreme Court of Canada today struck down Canada's laws restricting prostitution, and gave Parliament one year to establish new ones if it so desires. In a unanimous decision, the top court ruled that three laws — prohibiting brothels, living off the avails of prostitution and communicating in public with clients — were in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically section 7, which guarantees "the right to life, liberty and security of the person."

The challenge to the laws was launched in 2009 by three current and former Ontario sex workers.

Chief Justice Beverley McLaughlin authored the decision, which found that "Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes," and that the harms done to prostitutes by the laws "are grossly disproportionate to the deterrence of community disruption."

The preamble to the judgment noted that prostitution is legal in Canada, and that there's "no law that prohibits a person from selling sex, and no law that prohibits another from buying it."

In issuing the decision, the court concurred with an earlier ruling from the Ontario Court of Appeal, which had already overturned the provisions against living off the avails and keeping a common bawdy house. But it went further than the lower court, which had upheld the law against communicating in public.

"These appeals and the cross-appeals are not about whether prostitution should be legal or not," McLaughlin wrote. "They are about whether the laws Parliament has enacted on how prostitution may be carried out pass constitutional muster. I conclude that they do not."

The challenge came from Terri-Jean Bedford, 54, Amy Lebovitch, 34 and Valerie Scott, 55. All three said they had experienced violence at some point in their line of work, and had taken measures to improve their safety which went afoul of the law. 

"I am shocked and amazed that sex work and the sex work laws that affect our lives on a daily basis will within a year not cause us harm any more," said Lebovitch in a press conference. Lorna Bird of the advocacy group Sex Workers United Against Violence added, "It's a huge victory for all the people in Vancouver, all my sisters out there who are going to be safe. It's just a huge, huge victory. I'm so happy."

Not all the reaction was so positive. "It's a sad day that we've now had confirmed that it's OK to buy and sell women and girls in this country," Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies told CBC News. "I think generations to come — our daughters, their granddaughters and on — will look back and say, 'What were they thinking?'"

Earlier this month, the lower house of France's parliament passed a bill that would make it a crime to pay clients for sex service, imposing a fine of at least €1,500 ($2,170).

Via CBC News

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