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Over The Edge

Canada’s Supreme Court Eliminates Prostitution Laws

Canada’s Supreme Court Eliminates Prostitution Laws

By Nicole Halseth, News Editor

In one of the most important rulings since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted in 1982, and with significant effects on the future of the Canadian legal landscape, the Supreme Court has ‘struck down’ Canada’s major prostitution laws. These laws prohibited brothels, communicating with clients in public, and living off the profits of prostitution. This follows a court challenge filed by current and past sex workers.

According to an article on The Globe and Mail’s website, the Court claims “the bans on street soliciting, brothels and people living off the avails of prostitution create severe dangers for vulnerable women and therefore violate Canadians’ basic values.”

On behalf of a unanimous court, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote that “the ruling is not about whether prostitution should be legal or not, but about whether Parliament’s means of controlling it infringe the constitutional rights of prostitutes.”

McLachlin also claimed “Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes,” and that “the prohibitions all heighten the risks. . . . They do not merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate. They go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky – but legal – activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risks.”

The Supreme Court of Canada suspended the ruling for one year, in order to allow Parliament time to respond. As such, Justice Minister Peter MacKay will have to decide whether or not to adopt new prohibitions, and if so, how to ensure any new prohibitions will be in accordance with the Supreme Court. In a statement, MacKay claimed that the government will look at pursuing new prohibitions. Should this be the case, any new laws would have to seriously address the safety of those engaged in sex work.

In defence of their ruling, the Supreme Court cited the role of the state in making many sex workers more vulnerable to violence. The court also explicitly outlined how each of the three previous prostitution laws caused harm to individuals. According to The Globe and Mail: “The ban on brothels prevents prostitutes from working in safer indoor locations, and is ‘grossly disproportionate to the deterrence of community disruption;’ The law against living off the avails of prostitution is intended for pimps, but also bans ‘legitimate drivers, managers, or bodyguards. . .  accountants or receptionists;’ The ban on street soliciting is intended to take prostitution out of public view to prevent nuisance, but endangers prostitutes by preventing them from weeding out dangerous clients, and is therefore grossly disproportionate to its purpose.”

The future impacts of this eradication of Canada’s prostitution laws are uncertain, but what is certain is that this will continue to be an important issue both nationally and locally.