A December 20 decision by Canada’s Supreme Court gives legislators one year to revise laws regulating sex work to make them more fair to the sex workers themselves. The unanimous decision determined that current legislation endangers the lives of sex workers insomuch that it prevents those in the line of work from protecting themselves.

The current laws deemed unconstitutional by all nine justices will be in place for the next 12 months, at which point lawmakers must present redrafted legislation that meets the Supreme Court’s standards of constitutionality. Barring that, prostitution would become totally legal. As the law stands, it is not illegal to sell sex for money in Canada, but it is illegal to own a brothel or live off the proceeds of prostitution — a seemingly contradictory policy.

It is the ban on brothels that the court says inhibits the proper and healthy regulation of prostitution, securing legal parameters for activity inside a brothel is obviously impossible when the arrangement itself is illegal. The hope is that — in a year’s time — the new legislation will remedy the current policies that prevent sex workers from reporting crimes against them and curbing their abilities to ensure proper health and financial securities.

Canadian reports note that the court statement included, “Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes.” It continued to mention that the current laws do not “merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate. They go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky — but legal — activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risks.”

As the Toronto source described, police attorneys will now have to approach prostitution charges with these changes in mind. The current laws — even though they have been decried as damaging to sex workers’ welfare — will rule until new legislation is in place or prostitution becomes a fully legal, recognized element of the Canadian economy.


Further reading:

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