1. What was the recent decision made by the Supreme Court of Canada regarding sex work in Canada?
On Dec. 20, 2013, Canada's top court unanimously decided that the laws criminalizing prostitution were violating basic human rights. The provisions outlined in the Criminal Code of Canada "impose dangerous conditions on prostitution," according to the Supreme Court of Canada's case document.
The three main sections of the Criminal Code the court was concerned with were:
1. Section 210, which deals with common bawdy-houses
2. Section 212 (1)(j), which deals with living off the avails of prostitution
3. Section 213(1)(c), which prohibits communicating in public for the purposes of prostitution
The high court ruled that these laws deprived sex workers of "security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."
In reference to bawdy-houses, the court said that "being prevented from working in safer fixed indoor locations and from resorting to safe houses, are grossly disproportionate to the deterrence of community disruption."
When looking at living off of the avails of prostitution, the SCOC stated that it "punishes everyone who lives on the avails of prostitution without distinguishing between those who exploit prostitutes, and those who could increase the safety and security of prostitutes."
For a more in-depth Calgary Journal exploration of issues surrounding the sex trade, please visit :
Finally, the high court ruled that the law of communication for the purpose of prostitution prevented sex workers "from screening potential clients for intoxication and propensity to violence," which is a "grossly disproportionate response to the possibility of nuisance caused by street prostitution."
2. How will this decision potentially protect sex workers in Canada?
Being able to work indoors provides women with the opportunity to work in a controlled environment, rather than forcing them to perform sexual acts on the street or at other potentially dangerous locations like clients' cars.
According to the Supreme Court of Canada case document, former sex worker Terri Jean Bedford "encountered brutal violence throughout her career — largely, she stated, while working on the street." It also stated "in her experience, indoor prostitution is safer than prostitution on the street."
Since the law regarding living off of the avails of prostitution was originally created to prevent exploitation of sex workers by pimps or boyfriends, changes to this law would allow sex workers to hire "those who could increase the safety and security of prostitutes," such as a bodyguard or personal driver.
In terms of communication laws, the ability to communicate in public with clients could potentially prevent dangerous situations for sex workers. In the high court case document, another former sex worker Valerie Scott said the communication laws prevented her from "working in pairs or threes, and having another prostitute visibly write down the client's license plate number so he would know he was traceable if something was to go wrong."
3. What happens now?
The Canadian government has until December, 2014 to create new legislation regarding the current laws surrounding prostitution, or the recently struck down legislation will be withdrawn altogether. Until then, the Supreme Court of Canada holds its ruling that former laws – such as prohibiting the operation of bawdy houses, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living off the avails of prostitution – are unconstitutional.
Stated in the high court's case document, the three laws mentioned above "infringe upon the rights of prostitutes by depriving them of security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice." Moving forward, Parliament is not unable to place restrictions "on where and how prostitution is conducted, as long as it does so in a way that does not infringe the constitutional rights of prostitutes."
For a more in-depth Calgary Journal exploration of issues surrounding the sex trade, please visit: www.sextradealberta.com
- By ANNA BROOKS AND ALLISON DRINNAN