New Brunswick

Ontario joins N.B. in move away from prostitution prosecutions

Ontario will not be prosecuting most prostitution cases in light of the recent Supreme Court decision, despite New Brunswick coming under fire by the federal justice minister for doing the same thing.

Decision in light of Supreme Court ruling, despite criticism by federal justice minister

New Brunswick is not the only province moving away from prosecuting prostitution cases in light of the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision.

Ontario will not be pursuing cases involving charges of keeping a common bawdy house, living on the avails of prostitution, or communicating for the purposes of prostitution in a public place — the three prostitution-related offences the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional.

New Brunswick's decision to drop most prostitution cases is "similar to other jurisdictions," Deputy Attorney General Luc Labonté has said. (Dan Riedlhuber/Reuters)
It will, however, continue to prosecute other relevant charges, according to a spokesperson from the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General.

"Having carefully reviewed the Supreme Court’s decision, the Ministry recognizes that there are several prostitution-related offences under the Criminal Code which were not affected by the Court’s decision," Brendan Crawley said in statement to CBC News.

"Crown counsel will continue to prosecute such charges where there is a reasonable prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to proceed," he said.

The laying of criminal charges is a function of police, independent of the attorney general, said Crawley.

"The Ministry has full confidence in the ability of police to carry out their investigative responsibilities consistent with the principles articulated by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Bedford."

In its Dec. 20 ruling on the case, which originated out of Ontario, the top court  unanimously ruled Canada's anti-prostitution laws were over-broad and made a "suspended declaration of invalidity."

The Supreme Court of Canada struck down prostitution laws on Dec. 20 and gave the government one year to rewrite legislation. (CBC)
The Supreme Court gave Parliament one year to come up with new legislation, which means the provisions remain in the Criminal Code until then.

Nevertheless, New Brunswick decided to drop most prostitution cases currently before the courts and not pursue new cases involving the three charges in question.

That decision came under fire from federal Minister of Justice and Attorney General Peter MacKay, who said not enforcing existing prostitution laws is "not an option."

"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 a statement last week to CBC News.

"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," he said.

Still, New Brunswick's deputy attorney general stood by the province's decision, despite the criticism.

Public prosecution services determined it would be "unfair to request a person to answer to charges that we now know have been deemed unconstitutional," Luc Labonté said in an email.

But New Brunswick will continue to prosecute other relevant sections of the Criminal Code that remain valid, such as acts of indecency, he said.

The decision is "similar to other jurisdictions," Labonté added, without elaborating.

Wide range of approaches

British Columbia's criminal justice branch "has carefully reviewed the Supreme Court's decision and is in the process of developing a set of guidelines for use by Crown counsel in determining how best to proceed," with existing cases, as well as any new cases brought by police according to a statement emailed to CBC News.

"To date, no charges in B.C. have been stayed as a result of the ruling," it said.

Quebec is proceeding on a case by case basis, said René Verret, spokesperson for the director of criminal and penal prosecutions.

No directive has been issued to prosecutors about how to handle the estimated 140 prostitution cases currently before the courts, he said.

"So the prosecutors are of course continuing to treat these cases, but, of course, not without considering what the Supreme Court decided," said Verret.

"The prosecutors cannot not consider this decision where, of course, we know the defence could plead that this is not constitutional. So maybe there's some type of agreements on sentence that could be settled, I don't know."

In one recent case in Quebec City, a woman who pleaded guilty to keeping a common bawdy house was given an absolute discharge by the sentencing judge, who cited the top court's ruling, said Verret.

Police have not been given any directive about laying any future prostitution charges either, said Verret, adding he could not speculate on how they will proceed.

Meanwhile, the Alberta government plans to continue to prosecute people who solicit prostitutes, despite the Supreme Court decision.

Kim Armstrong, the deputy attorney general of Alberta, issued a directive to Crown prosecutors on Tuesday after hearing that police officers were not laying charges because they didn't believe the cases would be prosecuted.

The Supreme Court ruling was in response to a court challenge by women with experience in the sex trade, Terri-Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott that had resulted in an Ontario court ruling that overturned the laws.

The Ontario Court of Appeal later upheld the law against communicating in public, but sided with the lower court in overturning the provisions against living off the avails and keeping a common bawdy house or brothel.