Canada Supreme Court Strikes Down Prostitution Laws

Dec 20, 2013 1:15 PM PST

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada on Friday, 9-0, struck down the nation's anti-prostitution laws.

The Supreme Court ruled that laws prohibiting brothels, communicating in public with clients and living on the profits of prostitution to be "overly broad"

The landmark ruling follows a court challenge filed by former and current sex workers and gives the Canadian government one year to craft new legislation.

While prostitution is legal in Canada, the laws aimed at preventing its practice went far beyond protecting communities from public nuisances associated with the sex trade, the nine justices decided.

"Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes," Chief Justice Beverley McLaughlin wrote.

The jurist said that laws that made it a crime to be found in a brothel, to live off of a prostitute's income and to solicit sex for pay in public were all deemed "grossly disproportionate" to the social ills they were meant to address. 

She also noted that while the measure against profiting from a prostitute's income was aimed at criminalizing pimping, it also made it illegal for prostitutes to hire those who can increase the safety of their trade, such as managers, drivers and bodyguards.

The Supreme Court gave the Canadian federal government a year to amend the laws so that they conform with the protections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or let them expire next  December.

Canadian Justice Minister Peter MacKay released a statement shortly after the ruling saying he was “concerned” that it found the laws unconstitutional.

“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,” he said.  

Prostitution is legal in much of Europe and Latin America, and brothels are legal in Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, among others.

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