Canada's Supreme Court struck down three of the country's key prostitution laws today, essentially lifting any nationwide restrictions on the industry in one of the most significant decisions in decades. According to CBC News, the court found that legislation prohibiting brothels, forbidding public communication between sex workers and clients, and barring "living off the avails" of prostitution were too broad, and deprived sex workers of their security.
Prostitution has technically been legal for many years in that country, but tough restrictions on where and how sex workers conduct their business made it a difficult and dangerous career. The court said the restrictions in question "do not pass Charter muster," adding that "the regulation of prostitution is a complex and delicate matter."
Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin wrote the unanimous decision, explaining that the judges were concerned with whether current Canadian law infringes on the constitutional rights of prostitutes. She writes,
The prohibitions all heighten the risks... They do not merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate. They 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 Globe and Mail explains notes that some restrictions on the trade will remain in place:
The ruling does not necessarily mean open season for prostitution. The Conservative government could still craft new laws that make prostitution or related offenses criminal activities. If prostitution becomes legalized, cities would be faced with the challenge of where to permit prostitution and — if they refuse to permit it at all, or try to confine it to out-of-the-way places — potential constitutional challenges of their own.
The court decision comes in response to a case brought by three former and current sex workers contesting current prostitution laws. Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch, and Valerie Scott argued that the restrictions made it dangerous to be a prostitute in Canada, and that they violate of the Charter-mandated right to protection of life, liberty, and security. The opposition argued that restrictions were needed to shield the public from illicit behavior and, further, that risk is an inherent part of the sex trade.
Bedford, Lebovitch, and Scott were pleased the ruling. Scott told reporters that "This is the first time in Canadian history that sex workers are truly persons, we are truly citizens of this country. And now we can work in our legal occupation in a legal manner."
The court has given Parliament to come with new federal laws, if they choose, and Justice Minister Peter Mackay is now tasked with determining whether new rules are needed, and what they would be.