Canada's top court lets prostitution challenge proceed

Thu Oct 25, 2012 10:51am EDT
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(Reuters) - The Supreme Court of Canada said on Thursday it will hear a high-profile constitutional challenge that could bring down Canadian adult prostitution laws.

In March, Ontario's top court struck down a law that outlaws brothels, and modified another law against "living off the avails" of prostitution, but upheld an effective ban on street prostitution.

If the Supreme Court upholds the ruling, it could open the door to legal brothels in Canada. Both the federal government and the three current and former sex workers who are challenging the current laws appealed the Ontario decision.

Accepting money in return for sex is not illegal in Canada, but most related activities are. The team challenging the laws argues that they violate prostitutes' constitutional rights by making it illegal for them to take steps, such as hiring bodyguards, to protect themselves.

In hearings last year, the federal and provincial governments argued that prostitution itself, not the laws that govern it, puts prostitutes at risk.

The safety of sex workers became a high-profile issue in Canada during the trial that led to the 2007 conviction of serial killer Robert Pickton, who for years preyed on women in Vancouver's depressed Downtown Eastside neighborhood. Many of Pickton's victims were sex workers.

The Supreme Court also agreed to maintain a stay on the Ontario court's ruling, which means that current laws should stay in effect until the top court has ruled.

The case is Attorney General of Canada et al. v. Terri Jean Bedford et al. (34788).

(Reporting by Allison Martell; Editing by Janet Guttsman; and Peter Galloway)