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In a landmark decision, an Ontario Superior Court judge overturned three of Canada’s anti-prostitution laws, ruling them unconstitutional.
While prostitution between consenting adults in private is legal in the country, three areas—including communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution, operation of brothels, and third parties living off sex trade profits—are criminal offenses by federal law.
The new ruling, however, permits “pimping, soliciting and running brothels,” the Guardian reported.
The Canadian Press quoted Justice Susan Himel’s ruling that laws criminalizing these aspects of prostitution “are not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice,” and that they “individually and together, 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.”
The Guardian said the ruling calls on the “country’s lawmakers and police to regulate [the] sex trade instead of outlawing it.”
According to CBC News Canada, Justice Himel was aware of the likely fallout of her ruling.
“…[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,” she wrote.
After the judgment, the Ontario Attorney General’s Office told CBC News Canada that “the prostitution provisions of the Criminal Code are constitutional and valid and designed to prevent individuals, and particularly young people, from being drawn into prostitution, to protect our communities from the negative impacts of street prostitution and to ensure that those who control, coerce or abuse prostitutes are held accountable for their actions.”
Even with the ruling, the lawyer who handled the plaintiffs’ case did not believe the decision would change the face of prostitution. “…[W]hat’s happened is that there’s still going to be many people on the streets and many survival sex workers who are motivated by drugs and sometimes exploited by very bad men. That’s not going to change,” he said (ibid.).
In reaction to the judgment, Department of Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said in a public statement, “We will fight to ensure that the criminal law continues to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution to both communities and the prostitutes themselves, along with other vulnerable persons.” He also indicated that the government was considering appealing the decision.
According to The Canadian Press, the court’s decision is scheduled to take effect in late October, and then only in the province of Ontario.