Partial victory for sex workers with Ontario ruling

Vancouver - Today the Ontario Court of Appeal announced its ruling on the constitutionality of Canada’s prostitution laws. Pivot is heralding the decision as a partial victory. The Court struck down the “bawdy house” provision of the Criminal Code as a violation of sex workers’ right to liberty and security of the person. However, in a split decision, the Court did not strike down the law that prohibits communication for the purpose of prostitution in a public place, which remain a concern for street-based sex workers in the Downtown Eastside and across the country.

“We are very encouraged by the fact that the court recognized the importance of allowing sex workers to work indoors and in a collective environment” say Pivot lawyer Katrina Pacey, “but we have our work cut out for us as intervenors when this matter goes to the Supreme Court of Canada because it is essential that the law no longer target street-based sex workers who face the reality of violence and murder every day.”
The three sex workers leading the Bedford litigation asked the court to rule that ss. 210 (bawdy house), 212(1)(j) (living on the avails) and 213(1)(c) (communication) violate the constitutional rights of sex workers. They argued that these laws violate the safety, liberty and expression rights of sex workers and should be struck down. Pivot joined together with PACE Society and DTES Sex Workers United Against Violence Society (SWUAV) to intervene at the Court of Appeal and to bring the voices of DTES sex workers to the Court.
“I am very concerned about the continued criminalization of women working on the street. These are the women who face the most charges, face the most violence and have the fewest options” says Pivot Board Member Kerry Porth. "But I am glad to see that the Court recognized that these laws were not put in place to prevent prostitution and that the current legislative scheme does not reflect the values of dignity and equality for sex workers.”
In summary, the court of appeal came to the following conclusion:

  • The Court struck the word prostitution from the definition of bawdy house in S. 197(1) of the Criminal Code as it applies to sec. 210 (this effectively decriminalizes operating, being found in or keeping a common bawdy house). 
  • With respect to the living on the avails  provision, S.212(1)(j), the Court read in the words “in circumstances of exploitation” into the definition. This will limit the application of the living on the avails section of the Criminal Code.
  • With respect to communicating for the purpose of prostitution, the Court found that S. 213 (1) does not offend the principles of fundamental justice. The Justices  make it clear that they anticipate an appeal and that the Supreme Court of Canada will offer a final ruling on this point.

Contact: Katrina Pacey. litigation director (604) 729-7849