Historic Canadian Court Ruling Strikes Down All Prostitution Laws

The news: In a landmark ruling, Canada's highest judicial body has unanimously cast down the country's anti-prostitution laws in a 9-0 vote, giving Canada's parliament just one year to develop new regulations. That means that all prostitution-related offenses will become legal under the Criminal Code in just one year, unless the goverment is able to create new rules which respect the conditions set by the court.

Prostitution is legal in Canada, but laws designed in theory to limit the practice were challenged in the Bedford v. Canada suit. In a historic victory for sex workers, the court ruled that the three anti-prostitution laws (against running brothels, living on proceeds from another person's prostitution, and solicitation) violate the constitutional guarantees to life, liberty, and security of the person.

All six male Supreme Court justices voted to strike down the legislation, as did the three females.

"It is not a crime in Canada to sell sex for money," wrote Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin in the decision.

"The harms identified by the courts below are grossly disproportionate to the deterrence of community disruption that is the object of the law ... parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety, and lives of prostitutes."

The ruling suggested that parliament develop new regulations intended to protect, rather than harass and arrest, prostitutes.

"[The court's decision] does not mean that parliament is precluded from imposing limits on where and how prostitution may be conducted," it said.

"Greater latitude in one measure – for example, permitting prostitutes to obtain the assistance of security personnel – might impact on the constitutionality of another measure – for example, forbidding the nuisances associated with keeping a bawdy-house."

So what's next? Supporters of the decision said they were eager to have a seat at the table when Parliament met to design the new regulations, but weren't optimistic that the Conservative government headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper would allow them a voice during the drafting process. Instead, it's likely that the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada will be the influential voice to the tough-on-crime goverment, and will guide the them towards the so-called "Nordic model" in which pimps and johns will be prosecuted but not the prostitutes themselves.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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