The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled on March 26 that prostitutes have a constitutional right to work in safe environments. Photo by Michael Swan

Parliament urged to redraft prostitution laws following landmark ruling

  • March 28, 2012

Now that Ontario’s highest court has found most laws surrounding prostitution in Canada are unconstitutional, people on all sides of the debate are urging Parliament to act.

In a landmark ruling likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, the Ontario Court of Appeal rendered a decision on March 26 that legalizes brothels and allows prostitutes to hire protection and other staff.  Public solicitation and pimping remain illegal but the court ruled that prostitutes have a constitutional right to work in safe environments.

However, the Ontario court suspended implementation of its decision for one year to give Parliament time to amend the criminal code.

“The appeal court is correct in noting that Parliament is free to propose a new, more Charter-compliant law to address prostitution, including the possibility of addressing the exploitation inherent in this trade by pursuing clients,” said Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL ) executive director Joanne McGarry in a release. “We urge the Minister of Justice to explore these options.”

NDP MP Libby Davies, who has long advocated for legal, regulated prostitution, urged the government to skip an appeal to the Supreme Court and go straight to new legislation.

“It’s absolutely clear that this issue must come to Parliament and we must look at the issue and make sure that these individuals who are in such a vulnerable position, sex workers, that we review the law,” Davies told a media scrum shortly after the decision was released.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada urged Parliament to draft new laws rather than simply amend existing laws. The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) also called for changes to prostitution laws.

“There is room to improve and change Ontario’s prostitution laws,” said IMFC manager of research and communications Andrea Mrozek. “How we do so should emphasize the inherent dangers of prostitution and provide plenty of exit strategies. Above all, the law should not in any way, shape or form allow men to buy women’s bodies. There will be no equality in Ontario so long as we sanction that.”

REAL Women of Canada called the matter “urgent”  and said the court decision should be “immediately appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada so that Parliament may ultimately decide.”

Legalizing brothels won’t make prostitution any safer, former prostitute and Sex Trade 101 founder Bridget Perrier told The Catholic Register.

“No one ever died of standing on a street corner. They died at the hands of men,” she said.

Perrier argued there is nothing more safe about prostitution carried out behind closed doors. Brothels are the ideal place for trafficking girls, many of them still children, into the sex trade, she said.

“It just gives men who sell and procure women the upper hand,” she said.

Most of the groups unhappy with the court decision are urging “Nordic model” prostitution laws. Pioneered in Sweden, the Nordic model treats women as victims and criminalizes buying sex.

“Sweden criminalizes the buyer, understanding that an abuse of power is at play when largely male clients are able to buy their largely female human merchandise,” said the IMFC.

“Sweden has seen a reduction in the number of prostitutes as well as the accompanying social ills, like human trafficking, drug use and organized crime.”

The Netherlands, where legal, regulated brothels are the norm, has seen an increase in organized crime and human trafficking, according to the IMFC.

The CCRL urges both approaches — criminalizing the purchase of sex and maintaining laws against common bawdy houses.

“It remains our opinion that the prohibition on keeping a bawdy house and living on the avails are of some assistance in preventing the exploitation of a vulnerable population. All three provisions, as we stated in our affidavit, are in keeping with the moral values of the majority of Canadians,” said McGarry.

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