Sex workers free to challenge Canada’s prostitution laws, court rules


Female police officers pose as prostitutes on Holt Boulevard, known to sex workers throughout southern California as "the track," on November 12, 2004.


David McNew

Sex workers in British Columbia, Canada are free to challenge their country’s prostitution laws after a Supreme Court of Canada ruling today.

The court sided with a group representing Vancouver prostitutes –Sex Workers United against Violence (SWUAV) – and a retired sex worker, CTV News said.

A lower court said SWUAV and Sheryl Kiselbach couldn’t challenge Canada’s laws because they had never been charged with a crime.

Today’s ruling overturns that decision, saying the group is affected by the laws so can have public interest in the case.

“(The) constitutionality of the prostitution provisions of the Criminal Code constitutes a serious justiciable issue and the respondents, given their work, have a strong engagement with the issue,” the court ruled, CTV reported.

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SCOC justices voted 9-0 in favor of the challenge, the National Post reported.

Sex workers in Canada have launched two challenges against laws based on the constitution.

Prostitutes in the province of Ontario won a battle earlier this year that allows them to hire bodyguards and work in brothels, the Post said.

The federal government is appealing.

“It is our position that the Criminal Code provisions are constitutionally sound. It is important to clarify the constitutionality of the law and remove the uncertainty this decision has created,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said of the Ontario case, according to the Post.

“The Criminal Code provisions denounce and deter the most harmful and public aspects of prostitution.”

Today’s ruling in BC could also set precedent for advocacy groups to launch constitutional challenges, CBC reported.

“This would provide a real opportunity for marginalized people, people with mental health issues, people with HIV, prisoners, refugees, children to form a collective organization whereby they then have the support and capacity to bring these cases forward, as a community,” SWUAV lawyer Katrina Pacey told CBC.

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