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Supreme Court strikes down prostitution laws

By Daniel Proussalidis, National Bureau

In a sweeping decision, the Supreme Court has struck down three long-standing Criminal Code provisions dealing with prostitution.

The justices unanimously found the bans on brothels, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living off its avails violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because they endanger hookers' lives.

"It makes no difference that the conduct of pimps and johns is the immediate source of the harms suffered by prostitutes," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in the judgment. "The impugned laws deprive people engaged in risky, but legal, activity of the means to protect themselves against those risks."

The ruling is suspended for a year, giving Parliament time to rewrite Canada's prostitution laws.

"It will be for Parliament, should it choose to do so, to devise a new approach," McLachlin wrote. "How prostitution is regulated is a matter of great public concern, and few countries leave it unregulated."

Justice Minister Peter MacKay’s office says the feds will “move expeditiously with legislative amendments.”

"We are reviewing the decision and are exploring all possible options to ensure the criminal law continues to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution to communities, those engaged in prostitution, and vulnerable persons," MacKay said in a statement.

The Supreme Court's decision hands a victory to three women with connections to prostitution who challenged the laws, arguing that sex workers are safest when they can hire security guards and work indoors.

Their lawyer, Alan Young, said the decision brought him tears of joy.

"Nine-zero in the Supreme Court of Canada is a little bit surprising to me," Young said. "I thought in light of the divisive nature of the debate, there would be some dissenting judges."

The debate continues among politicians, however.

Employment Minister Jason Kenney said courts "should be restrained at the exercise of judicial power in overturning democratic consensus."

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel said she's disappointed with the ruling.

"Can't help but feel our judiciary struck a blow to women's safety and equality this morning," she wrote on Twitter. "We aren't a commodity to be bought or sold."

The New Democrats welcomed the court's decision.

"The decision by the Supreme Court is clear: everyone in Canada has the right to live free of violence," NDP justice critic Francoise Boivin said in a statement.

As the feds consider their next steps, there's no shortage of advice for them.

Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said Canada should adopt laws similar to those in Sweden, which criminalize johns and help prostitutes escape from pimps or madams.

"I think we could be looking at ways to say that we'll ensure that women and girls aren't put in increasingly vulnerable positions, and in fact, that they have opportunities to not have to make those choices," Pate said.

Terri Jean Bedford, who originally challenged Canada's prostitution laws and now wants to open a brothel, said she wouldn't support that change.

"I'll fight those laws," she said, setting up a potential new legal battle in Canada.

 

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