Top Canada court strikes down prostitution restrictions

Fri Dec 20, 2013 4:51pm EST
 
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Supreme Court on Friday struck down major restrictions on prostitution, including bans on brothels and street solicitation, declaring the laws unconstitutional because they compromised the safety of sex workers.

The sweeping 9-0 decision will take effect in a year, allowing Parliament to come up with a fresh approach to regulating prostitution, and early talk focused on new legislation to target the buyers of sex rather than prostitutes.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin dismissed the federal government's argument that it was prostitution itself, not the laws that govern it, that puts prostitutes at risk.

McLachlin said a law that banned brothels - what she called "safe havens" for prostitutes - could expose them to predators. She said many prostitutes had no choice but to work in the sex trade, and laws should not make their work more dangerous.

"The impugned laws deprive people engaged in a risky, but legal, activity of the means to protect themselves against those risks," she wrote. "It makes no difference that the conduct of pimps and johns is the immediate source of the harms suffered by prostitutes."

Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the Conservative government was concerned with the ruling. He said it was "exploring 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 safety of prostitutes emerged a high-profile issue in Canada after the trial and 2007 conviction of serial killer Robert Pickton, who preyed on prostitutes and other women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside neighborhood.

"A law that prevents street prostitutes from resorting to safe havens ... while a suspected serial killer prowls the streets, is a law that has lost sight of its purpose," McLachlin wrote.   Continued...

 
Dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford, one of three current and former sex workers who initiated a challenge to Canada's prostitution laws, flashes a victory sign while speaking with journalists at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa December 20, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie