OTTAWA, Canada – Canada’s Supreme Court unanimously struck down the nation’s previously-existing anti-prostitution laws on Friday, ruling that such laws violated the guarantee to life and liberty.
Prior to the ruling, Canadian laws banned brothels, living on the avails of prostitution, and public prostitution solicitation. However, in a 9-0 decision, the court struck down all three prohibitions.
“The harms [associated with prostitution] … are grossly disproportionate to the deterrence of community disruption that is the object of the law,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in the decision. “Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes.”
“[I]t is not a crime in Canada to sell sex for money,” she argued.
According to reports, the Supreme Court ruling upheld an appeals court decision from last year.
“These appeals and the cross-appeal are not about whether prostitution should be legal or not,” McLachlin wrote. “They are about whether the laws Parliament has enacted on how prostitution may be carried out pass constitutional muster. I conclude that they do not.”
Although the Supreme Court ruling strikes down the anti-prostitution laws, McLachlin said “the question of how to deal with prostitution” will now be within the Canadian Parliament’s jurisdiction.
In 1990, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the nation’s ban on street prostitution solicitation, even though the two women on the court had dissented the decision. On Friday, however, all six men on the bench sided with the three female judges.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision, advocates of prostitution expressed their support for the ruling.
“I’m shocked and pleased that our sex laws will not cause us harm in a year,” said Amy Lebovitch, a sex worker who had challenged the anti-prostitution laws.
Valerie Scott, another sex worker who opposed the anti-prostitution laws, criticized those who say that prostitution is harmful to society.
“People said [the sky would fall in] … when women got the right to vote, equal pay, equal rights and same sex marriage,” Scott asserted. “It did not. Society is the better for it and society will be the better for sex workers having proper civil and occupational rights.”
However, many Canadians, including key government officials, expressed disappointment following the Supreme Court decision. Justice Minister Peter MacKay released a statement in which he referenced “the negative effects prostitution has on communities.”
“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 stated.
Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and a member of the Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, said the court ruling will lead to the exploitation of women.
“It’s a sad day that we’ve now had confirmed that it’s okay to buy and sell women and girls in this country,” Pate stated. “I think generations to come—our daughters, their granddaughters and on—will look back and say, ‘What were they thinking?’”