Canada drugs ruling could affect prostitution case

Thu Oct 6, 2011 3:36pm EDT
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By Allison Martell

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian courts could strike down the country's anti-prostitution laws if judges follow the logic of a landmark Supreme Court ruling on drug policy that came out last week.

Experts say the biting unanimous decision preventing the closure of North America's only safe-injection site for drug addicts has implications for a challenge to Canadian adult prostitution laws that is working its way through the courts.

The court said closing the Insite clinic violated addicts' basic rights to life and security, given evidence that the clinic reduced the risks from drug addiction.

"I think it's going to be cited in many, many cases," said Errol Mendes, law professor at the University of Ottawa. He said the ruling's logic can apply in a prostitution case that is likely to end up at the Supreme Court.

Prostitution itself is not illegal in Canada, but most related activities, such as advertising services or living off the proceeds of prostitution, are against the law.

The recent case, brought by a dominatrix and other sex workers, argues that these laws put sex workers in danger. Judge Susan Himel agreed in a ruling that struck down the laws, noting, for example, that the laws make it illegal for sex workers to hire body guards.

Ontario's Court of Appeal is expected to rule on the case soon. If it and then the Supreme Court uphold Himel's decision, the federal government will have to find another way to restrict prostitution, or perhaps accept legalized brothels of the sort found in Nevada.