A landmark victory – Supreme Court strikes down prostitution laws

A landmark victory – Supreme Court strikes down prostitution laws 

Vancouver- This morning the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) released its verdict in the landmark case of Attorney General of Canada v. Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott. The court, in a unanimous decision written by the Chief Justice, struck down all of the three criminal code provisions which the applicants argued, together and separately, prohibit sex workers from taking meaningful steps to improve their safety and health. The laws were found to violate s. 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The court held that section s. 210 (bawdy house), s. 212(1)(j) (living on the avails of prostitution) and s. 213(1)(c) (communication in public) violate the constitutional rights of sex workers to work safely. This decision ultimately upheld the September 2010 decision of Justice Himel of the Ontario Superior Court.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled with this outcome,” says Pivot litigation director Katrina Pacey, who is counsel for the intervenors Pivot, PACE Society and SWUAV. “These criminal laws have prevented health and safety for sex workers for too long, and with devastating consequences. This case represents an enormous step forward in support of sex worker’s safety and human rights.”

Pivot, PACE Society, SWUAV joined together to intervene in the case when it was heard by the SCC last June. Their lawyer, Katrina Pacey, focused her submissions on the Communication Law, which significantly affects the safety of street based sex workers who are among the most criminalized and marginalized segment of the industry and experience the highest rates of abuse, violence and murder. That vulnerability to violence is, in large part, the result of the Communication Law, which prohibits important safety measures and strategies because sex workers’ main focus becomes avoidance of police. For sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, this decision is as a major victory.

“I am so thrilled with this outcome. It is amazing to feel that Canada is finally recognizing the horrible impact that these laws have on sex workers’ health and well-being,” said Dolores, SWUAV board member. “It feels so good knowing that my sisters and brothers in the sex industry are going to be safer and they will have so much more control over their work. This is a great day for justice.”

Since 2007, sex workers from the Downtown Eastside have been involved in their own Charter challenge to Canada’s prostitution laws. The case of SWUAV & Kiselbach v. Attorney General of Canada, was initiated by Sheryl Kiselbach, a former sex worker with 30 years of experience in the sex industry, and the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society a non-profit organization run by and for street-based sex workers. The BC case did not go to trial as a result of the federal government’s challenge to the “standing” of the plaintiffs.

The declaration is suspended for one year. In the wake of today’s decision, the plaintiffs in the BC case will focus on working with local decision-makers and law enforcement to ensure a smooth transition to decriminalization.

The full decision is available at: http://scc-csc.lexum.com/decisia-scc-csc/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/13389/index.do