It’s a good day for prostitutes in Canada. Unlike in the U.S. prostitution is decriminalized in the frosty North, but they did have anti-prostitution measures against operating a brothel, street soliciting, or even living solely on the money made via sex-work. Just from a cursory glance, the policies seem incongruous. A deeper look would reveal that these policies also reveal that these laws did not discourage selling sex for money (again, not a crime in Canada) but instead encouraged women to be forced to rely on pimps, who are often abusive and tantamount to slave owners.
It was that latter reality which inspired Terri-Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch, and Valerie Scott to file a constitutional challenge to those laws, which was decided in their favor Friday. In her decision, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote, “Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes.” She adds, “[These provisions] go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky—but legal—activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risks.” The ruling gives Parliament one year to rewrite legislation otherwise it will be withdrawn.
So, while a victory for the advocates the reach of that victory remains unclear. Justice McLachlin said as much, when she said that for some prostitutes choice is not part of the equation, “because of financial desperation, drug addictions, mental illness, or compulsion from pimps.” If Parliament comes up with laws still restrictive, it would require more constitutional challenges to change. Although, using the same safety defense, the Ontario Appeal Court struck down the ban on brothels for exposing women to more danger without them. While the laws are being rewritten, the current laws will still be enforced.