Canada’s Supreme Court has made a controversial and unanimous decision against the current prostitution laws. After speaking to current and former sex workers, the justices decided that the government needed to create new legislation. The Canadian Supreme Court says the current prostitution laws, which make brothels and living on profits illegal, are unconstitutional.
Those who choose to work in the sex industry are not protected because of the laws. They are high risk individuals and deserve to be looked after by the state, especially considering the law does not make selling sex for money a crime.
The nine judges declared that while being unconstitutional, the laws were also “grossly disproportionate” and “too sweeping.” While it is not illegal to have sex for money, it is illegal to live off the proceeds.
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin explained that while parliament can regulate nuisances, it should not be at the cost of safety, health and a prostitute’s life.
Brothels are often “safe havens” for those who choose to—or really have no choice but to—work in the sex industry. By banning the running of them, the parliament has forced women out on the street where they can be attacked. The “steps to protect themselves” from any of the risks has been taken away by that one law.
The Canadian Supreme Court only says the laws against prostitution are unconstitutional after listening to evidence from the sex workers. Three former sex workers wanted to challenge the current law. It has been an ongoing case with various courts upholding the current legislation. The Ontario Court of Appeal was one of the first to uphold the ban, but one former worker, Terri-Jean Bradford, challenged that.
The judges have agreed to offer 12 months for the laws to be rewritten. If the government fails to do that, the legislation will be withdrawn completely. However, for the next 12 months, the current legislation will remain in place.
The government argues that the law is there to protect the harms that come from prostitution within communities. It also states that it should be able to make the decisions over the law as it “sees fit”. However, Justice Minister Peter MacKay has stated the government is exploring other options on this “complex matter.”
While the ruling may make those working in the industry a little happier, it is a “sad day” according to the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, a women’s rights group. Executive director, Kim Pate, made a note that it means that buying and selling girls and women is now “OK.”
The Supreme Court has been asked to look into the legislation in the past. 34 years ago the judges decided that it was constitutional and fair.
Government lawyers argue that the government is not at fault. It is those who choose to trade in this business. The women put their own safety at risk. According to the Supreme Court, many women do not have a choice and are treated unfairly by the legislation. Women do it out of desperation financially, or due to mental illnesses. Some do it due to pressure from pimps. Due to that, the Canadian Supreme Court had no choice but to say that the current prostitution laws are unconstitutional and need changing.
By Alexandria Ingham