Ontario court strikes down anti-prostitution laws

[JURIST] The Ontario Superior Court of Justice (OSCJ) [official website] on Tuesday struck down [opinion, PDF] several provisions of Canada's anti-prostitution laws, citing the danger they generate for sex workers. Invalidated were provisions of § 210, § 212 and § 213 of the Canadian Criminal Code [texts], which proscribe the keeping of a "common bawdy house," engaging in communications for the purpose of soliciting sex and living "on the avails" of the sex trade. Justice Susan Himel said that those provisions were not "in accord with the principles of fundamental justice" and asked the Canadian parliament to draft new provisions to effectuate constitutional regulations:

These laws ... 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. ... In my view [until Parliament can enact new legislation] these unconstitutional provisions should be of no force ... particularly given the seriousness of the Charter violations. ... I 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.
Himel suspended the judgment 30 days, and the Canadian government may seek an extension of the stay. Canadian Minister of Justice and Attorney General Robert Nicholson [official profile] said [press release] that the government is "very concerned" about the decision and is "seriously considering an appeal." Meanwhile, the Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) [advocacy website] said it was "delighted" [press release] by the ruling. "This important victory gives us hope that sex work will one day be fully regarded as the legitimate occupation it is. ... [Now] we can ensure our safety by working together indoors [and] report abuses ... to the appropriate authorities, without fear of arrest."

Although prostitution is legal in Canada, virtually all of the acts ancillary to exchanging sex for money are not. In 2007, the SPOC initiated an application with the OSCJ [JURIST report] challenging the three provisions overturned in Tuesday's ruling on the grounds that they are inconsistent with the Charter. The challenge came on the heels of the trial of Robert Pickton [CBC case backgrounder], who was accused of murdering 26 women [indictment text], mostly prostitutes, in the Vancouver area in the 1990s. Pickton was convicted of six counts of murder [Globe and Mail report] in late 2007.

 

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