Canada’s top court invalidated the country’s prostitution laws and gave lawmakers one year to alter them to better protect the safety of people who offer sex for money.
The Supreme Court voted 9-0 in a written decision from Ottawa today to strike down laws that make it illegal to “keep or be in a bawdy house,” live on the avails of prostitution and communicate for the purpose of selling sex.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party government has a year to come up with a new law that conforms to human rights measures in the country’s constitution, with the current laws remaining in place until then. The case was brought by current and former prostitutes who argued the restrictions prevented them from hiring security guards and take other safety measures to screen clients.
“The prohibitions all heighten the risks the applicants face in prostitution — itself a legal activity,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in the ruling. “They go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution.”
Cabinet ministers 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,” Justice Minister Peter MacKay said in a statement.
“If there is no replacement legislation, it’s open season in regard to prostitution,” Don Hutchinson, a lawyer for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, told reporters after the ruling today. The government should focus on banning paid sex and helping people get out of the trade, he said.
“We don’t want to see the continued criminalization of women and girls,” said Kim Pate, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, a group that advocates for prisoner rights.
The case is Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, docket number 34788. The decision followed a ruling by Ontario’s top court that also struck down the three provisions.