Supreme Court strikes down prostitution laws

Daniel Proussalidis, Parliamentary Bureau

, Last Updated: 6:57 PM ET

In a sweeping decision, the Supreme Court has struck down three long-standing Criminal Code provisions dealing with prostitution.

The justices unanimously found the bans on brothels, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living off its avails violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because they endanger hookers' lives.

"It makes no difference that the conduct of pimps and johns is the immediate source of the harms suffered by prostitutes," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in the judgment. "The impugned laws deprive people engaged in risky, but legal, activity of the means to protect themselves against those risks."

The ruling is suspended for a year, giving Parliament time to rewrite Canada's prostitution laws.

"It will be for Parliament, should it choose to do so, to devise a new approach," McLachlin wrote. "How prostitution is regulated is a matter of great public concern, and few countries leave it unregulated."

Justice Minister Peter MacKay’s office says the feds will “move expeditiously with legislative amendments.”

"We are reviewing the decision and are exploring all possible options to ensure the criminal law continues to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution to communities, those engaged in prostitution, and vulnerable persons," MacKay said in a statement.

The Supreme Court's decision hands a victory to three women with connections to prostitution who challenged the laws, arguing that sex workers are safest when they can hire security guards and work indoors.

Their lawyer, Alan Young, said the decision brought him tears of joy.

"Nine-zero in the Supreme Court of Canada is a little bit surprising to me," Young said. "I thought in light of the divisive nature of the debate, there would be some dissenting judges."


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