Canadian Supreme Court strikes down anti-prostitution laws
On Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously voted to do away with the country’s anti-prostitution laws. In the 9-0 ruling, the court found that the laws were too far-reaching and violated an individual’s right to life, liberty, and security. Prostitution is legal in Canada, but many associated activities are not. Keeping a brothel, soliciting on the streets, and living off the profits of prostitution are all considered criminal offenses. The Supreme Court ruling would decriminalize these activities, the first major change in Canada’s anti-prostitution laws since 1990.
The decision follows an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling in which three sex trade workers challenged the constitutionality of Canada’s prostitution laws. The three plaintiffs – Terri-Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch, and Valerie Scott – argued that the state of prostitution had changed drastically since the court upheld a ban on street solicitation in 1990. They pointed to the case of serial killer Robert Pickton, who is suspected to have murdered close to 50 prostitutes between 1997 and 2001.
While the Supreme Court ruling is a major win for the plaintiffs and other sex workers in Canada, it will not take effect immediately. The decision gives Parliament one year to respond with new legislation. Yet the new regulations must restructure the legal framework around prostitution.
“Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in the decision. “The regulation of prostitution is a complex and delicate matter. It will be for Parliament, should it choose to do so, to devise a new approach, reflecting different elements of the existing regime.”