Legalized brothels ruling to be appealed to top court

The federal government will appeal to the Supreme Court a recent lower court ruling that sex workers can legally ply their trade indoors.

Ontario Court of Appeal struck down ban on bawdy houses in March

Sex workers Terri-Jean Bedford, left, and Valerie Scott, right, react to the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision in March to strike down a ban on brothels. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

The federal government will appeal to the Supreme Court a recent lower court ruling that sex workers can legally ply their trade indoors.

Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson and Attorney General of Ontario John Gerretsen announced the appeal in a statement Wednesday.

"After careful consideration … the government of Canada will seek leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada," the statement read.

In response to a challenge from three sex-trade workers, the Ontario Court of Appeal released a decision on March 26 upholding an earlier ruling by Superior Court Judge Susan G. Himel that three provisions of the Criminal Code relating to prostitution should be struck because they are unconstitutional.

The Appeal Court agreed with two-thirds of Himel's ruling, including that the provisions prohibiting common bawdy houses and living off the avails of prostitution are both unconstitutional in their current form.

Ontario's top court struck down the ban on bawdy houses on the basis that it increased the dangers prostitutes face because they are forced to work on the streets. However, the Appeal Court affirmed the validity of the offence of communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution.

Hailed as recognition of rights

The federal and provincial governments had appealed Himel's decision.

The court gave the federal government 30 days to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Sex-trade workers, who hailed the Ontario court ruling as a recognition of their rights and said it would enhance their safety, expressed disappointment at Ottawa's decision.

Vancouver sex worker Amy Lebovitch called the federal government disrespectful toward prostitutes.

"We're telling them we need this to be safe, and they're saying, 'Too bad,'" Lebovitch, 33, said.

In March, Nicholson had hinted that an appeal would be likely, saying that "prostitution is bad for society and harmful to communities, women and vulnerable persons."

"The government of Canada is pleased that the Court of Appeal affirmed the validity of the offence of communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution," the release said Wednesday.

"However, the government is of the view that a binding, national decision is needed on the constitutionality of Criminal Code (section) 210 (keeping a common bawdy house.)"

NDP justice critic Françoise Boivin weighed in Wednesday, saying she believes the decision from the Court of Appeal "is the right one."

If the decision had gone the other way, Boivin added, she would have expected people who support decriminalizing brothels to have appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.

One way or the other, Boivin said, the legal outcomes "won't stop the black market" operating outside legal requirements for the sex trade.

"I'm not even sure that having the decision — having to rewrite some aspect of the Criminal Code — will have that much of an impact in the short term," she said. "I think it's still something that we need to educate a lot of people [about]. There’s something else at the core of this, so it’s not just a criminal case. It's social. There's so many aspects to it."


  • A previous version of this story described John Gerretsen as the Attorney General of Canada. In fact, Gerretsen is the Attorney General of Ontario.
    Apr 25, 2012 4:56 PM ET

With files from The Canadian Press