An Ontario court has thrown out key provisions of Canada’s anti-prostitution laws in response to a constitutional challenge brought by a Toronto dominatrix and two prostitutes in 2009.
Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice ruled Tuesday the Criminal Code provisions relating to prostitution contribute to the danger faced by sex-trade workers.
Dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford and Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch had argued that prohibitions on keeping a common bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living on the avails of the trade force them from the safety of their homes to face violence on the streets.
The women asked the court to declare legal restrictions on their activities a violation of charter rights of security of the person and freedom of expression.
The women and their lawyer, [Osgoode Prof], Alan Young, were expected to hold a news conference later Tuesday afternoon.
The government had argued that striking down the provisions without enacting something else in their place would “pose a danger to the public.”
Some conservative groups such as Real Women of Canada, who had intervener status in the case, argued that decriminalizing prostitution may make Canada a haven for human trafficking and that prostitution is harmful to the women involved in it.
However, in her ruling Tuesday, Justice Susan Himel said it now falls to Parliament to “fashion corrective action.”
“It is my view that in the meantime these unconstitutional provisions should be of no force and effect, particularly given the seriousness of the charter violations,” Himel wrote.
While prostitution is technically legal, virtually every activity associated with it is not. The Criminal Code of Canada prohibits communication for the purpose of prostitution. It also prohibits keeping a common bawdy house for the purpose of prostitution.
Those laws enacted in 1985 were an attempt to deal with the public nuisance created by street walkers. They failed to recognize the alternative — allowing women to work more safely indoors — was prohibited, Young had said previously.
Young called it “bizarre” that the ban on bawdy houses is an indictable offence that carries stiffer sanctions, including jail time and potential forfeiture of a woman’s home, when the ban on communication for prostitution purposes is usually a summary offence that at most leads to fines.
The provisions prevent sex workers from properly screening clients, hiring security or working in the comfort and safety of their own homes or brothels, he had said.
Young cited statistics behind the “shocking and horrific” stories of women who work the streets, along with research that was not available when the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the communication ban in 1990.