Ontario court strikes down anti-prostitution laws
Published Tuesday, September 28, 2010 9:30PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 2:49AM EDT
An Ontario court has struck down several key provisions in Canada's anti-prostitution laws, saying they are dangerous to sex-trade workers.
A ruling by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice said the laws against keeping a common bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living on the avails of the trade "are not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice."
"These laws, individually and together, force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their right to security of the person as protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Justice Susan Himel wrote her in 131-page decision, which struck down those provisions.
"I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public."
Dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford and two other sex-trade workers went to Ontario's Superior Court of Justice to ask the court to rule on the Criminal Code laws relating to prostitution.
In an afternoon press conference Bedford said Tuesday was like emancipation day for sex-trade workers.
"It's important that women have safety and security in this business," Bedford said later Tuesday on CTV's Power Play. "It is legal, and like with any other legal business in Canada there are health and safety laws that go along with it."
Prostitution is not illegal in Canada, but nearly everything related to it is.
The struck-down provisions deal with adult prostitution. Prostitution laws dealing with those under the age of 18 remain unaffected.
Lawyer Alan Young, who represented the women, said the ruling "means the sex trade is changing in Canada."
"Whether Canadians like prostitution and think it's morally valuable or a moral vice really is not important," Young told Power Play. "This was a safety issue to ensure that people who are legally allowed to sell sex can do it in an environment that doesn't put them in harm's way."
Young said the case was based on the fact that the provisions the court struck down compromised the safety of sex workers. For instance, the prohibition on communicating for the purpose of prostitution prevented sex workers from screening their clients, while the provision against operating a bawdy house prevented them from moving their business off the streets, where it is more dangerous.
In her ruling, Himel said Parliament had to "fashion corrective action" to put new laws in place.
"It is my view that in the meantime these unconstitutional provisions should be of no force and effect, particularly given the seriousness of the charter violations," Himel wrote.
"However, I also recognize that a consequence of this decision may be that unlicensed brothels may be operated, and in a way that may not be in the public interest."
The Christian Legal Fellowship, which was granted intervenor status, argued that prostitution "offends the conscience of ordinary Canadians."
The government argued removing the prohibitions without replacing them with new laws would "pose a danger to the public."
The decision is subjected to a 30-day stay and the federal government can seek an extension of that period.
The federal government has previously argued that prostitution is inherently dangerous, no matter where it is carried out.
It has also argued that striking down the laws would make Canada a sex tourism destination.
Rona Ambrose, the minister of state for the status of women, told reporters Tuesday the government is "concerned with the decision and we are seriously considering appealing it at this time."
Deputy NDP Leader Libby Davies said Tuesday's ruling "breaks down the myth that these laws were actually protecting sex workers and local communities, because not only were they not protecting sex workers, they were actually harmful."
Davies said she has often heard from her constituents in Vancouver's downtown eastside who say the provisions prevented them from reporting violence or exploitation.
"We need to distinguish between what is consenting between two adults and what is exploitative, coercive and violent and focus the law-enforcement on those aspects," Davies said.
With files from The Canadian Press