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SCC: Sex workers have right to challenge prostitution laws
The Supreme Court of Canada has decided that a group representing Vancouver women in the sex trade has the right to challenge Canada’s prostitution laws.
The federal government had argued that the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society (SWUAV) and retired sex worker Sheryl Kiselbach didn’t have the right to challenge the laws, since no prostitution charges had been laid against them.
SWUAV and Kiselbach argued though that individual street-based sex workers have a limited ability to challenge the laws on their own.
In Friday’s ruling, the Supreme Court agreed with the B.C. Court of Appeal that the group did in fact have public interest “standing” in the case – meaning they had been affected enough by the law to have the right to challenge it.
“…(T)he constitutionality of the prostitution provisions of the Criminal Code constitutes a serious justiciable issue and the respondents, given their work, have a strong engagement with the issue,” the court said in its ruling.
The court added that since the SWUAV has the right to challenge the laws, it didn't need to rule on whether Kiselbach has standing.
Katrina Pacey of Pivot Legal Society, who acted as counsel for the sex workers, says Friday’s ruling will allow more “marginalized” people to challenge laws that they believe violate their constitutional rights.
“It’s not hard to imagine other groups, such as prisoners, people who use drugs, people living with HIV, and children, who will benefit from the ability to litigate human rights cases as a collective,” she said in a statement.
The decision may be moot though, since the Ontario Court of Appeal has already struck down some of the same laws the Vancouver group wants to challenge. The federal government is currently appealing the Ontario ruling to the Supreme Court.
The Vancouver sex workers group wants to challenge a number of sections of the Criminal Code, including those that prohibit keeping and being within a “common bawdy house,” procuring and living on the avails of prostitution, and soliciting in a public place for the purposes of prostitution.