A Canadian court on Monday quashed portions of a law banning brothels and living off the avails of prostitution, lifting key barriers which it said put sex trade workers at risk of harm.
The Ontario Court of Appeal, however, upheld a ban on communicating for the purposes of selling sex.
The ruling would effectively decriminalize prostitution in Ontario province. However, it was suspended for 12 months to give parliament an opportunity to redraft the legislation if so chooses.
It may also be appealed to the Supreme Court.
The effect of these laws is “grossly disproportionate to its goal of curbing problems such as noise and congestion caused by street prostitution,” said the court of appeal in its decision.
The panel of judges said the ban is excessive also because it “prevents prostitutes from hiring bodyguards, drivers, or others who could keep them safe, and may actually increase the likelihood that prostitutes will be exploited by forcing them to seek protection from those who are willing to risk a charge under this provision.”
Three Toronto women challenged Canada’s anti-prostitution laws in October 2009, arguing that prohibiting solicitation endangers prostitutes by forcing them to seek customers on street corners.
They called for decriminalizing prostitution and for the right to open brothels to provide a safer environment for prostitutes.
A lower court agreed with them, saying “the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public.”
Constitutional lawyer Alan Young, who represented Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott, told a press conference the judges recognized that “this law does not work and is hurting people.”
“It’s very rare that you see an endorsement from the Court of Appeal of this nature which I say is a stinging critique of what the parliament of Canada has been doing with the sex trade,” he said.
“Sex workers will be safer and society will not be negatively impacted by this decision,” he concluded.
Nikki Thomas, the executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada added that despite the decision, public opinion must still be swayed.
“We must convince people that sex workers are not to be feared, are not to be considered worthless, are not to be looked at as less than human,” she said.
(Sex shop sign in Amsterdam by dubassy via Shutterstock)