Unanimous ruling strikes down laws meant to deter prostitution
By Patrick Vaillancourt, News Editor
The Supreme Court of Canada, in a rare show of unanimity, ruled 9-0 in striking down laws that make prostitution more difficult.
While selling sex for money is not a criminal act in Canada, many of the activities surrounding it, such as communicating in public, negotiating a transaction, and living off of the avails of prostitution, are illegal.
The Supreme Court ruled that laws prohibiting these activities were unconstitutional, and Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin gave the government one year to make changes to the legislation.
“[This case is] about whether the laws Parliament has enacted on how prostitution may be carried out pass constitutional muster. I conclude that they do not,” McLachlin wrote.
The Supreme Court issued a suspended declaration of invalidity, which allows for the laws in question to remain in the Criminal Code for one year while the government comes up with new legislation that would meet constitutional concerns of sex-trade workers.
The case began a number of years ago in Ontario, as three sex-trade workers initiated a court challenge against legislation that they believed put sex-trade workers at risk of harm. The Ontario Superior Court ruled all of the laws deterring prostitution unconstitutional. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that only the laws on operating a brothel and living off the avails of prostitution were unconstitutional, but upheld laws against negotiated transactions and communicating in public.
The government is now looking at the issue and will have the opportunity to present new legislation. Justice Minister Peter MacKay said that the government is looking at “all possible options to ensure the criminal law continues to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution to communities, those engaged in prostitution, and vulnerable persons.”
The sex-trade workers who launched the court challenge have indicated that they are skeptical about the government’s plans to reform prostitution laws. They are calling on the government to come up with a common-sense approach to keep sex-trade workers safe, as well as ensure the safety of the broader community.
Valerie Scott, one of the applicants in the case, said that new laws will only work if it includes input from sex-trade workers.
“The thing here is politicians, though they may know us as clients, they do not understand how sex work works. They won’t be able to write a half-decent law. It will fail. That’s why you must bring sex workers to the table in a meaningful way,” said Scott.
The government has yet to announce how or when it will go about reviewing the ruling and drafting new legislation that would incorporate the guidance given by the Supreme Court. For the full text of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision, visit www.documentcloud.org/documents/979787-ags-v-bedford-lebovitch-and-scott.html