Canada: Supreme Court Decision on Anti-Prostitution Laws

On December 20, the Supreme Court in Canada unanimously ruled that the country's anti-prostitution laws were unconstitutional.  The appeals did not address the legality of buying or selling sex, which is legal in Canada.  The appeal addressed laws that made it illegal to keep a brothel, solicit clients in public, or live off the proceeds of prostitution. 

The Supreme Court determined that the laws imposed dangerous conditions on sex workers and prevented them from being able to protect themselves from risks.  The Court recognized that "[w]hile some prostitutes may fit the description of persons who freely choose (or at one time chose) to engage in the risky economic activity of prostitution, many prostitutes have no meaningful choice but to do so."  Although the Court acknowledged that "the conduct of pimps and johns is the immediate source of the harms suffered by prostitutes," it determined that "[t]he violence of a john does not diminish the role of the state in making a prostitute more vulnerable to that violence."

The ruling is suspended for one year to give the parliament a chance to respond. The Minister of Justice stated that the government is considering ways to make prostitution illegal.

A Canadian women's rights group has expressed its disappointment in the ruling.  The executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies stated that "[w]e've now had confirmed that it's OK to buy and sell women and girls in this country."

Parliament has one year in which to draft new legislation.  The current laws will remain in effect during that time. 

Compiled from: Canada Supreme Court strikes down prostitution lawsBBC, December 20, 2013; Supreme Court Strikes Down Canada's Prostitution LawsThe Globe and Mail, December 20, 2013.