Canada's Supreme Court has invalidated the country's anti-prostitution laws, including bans on brothels and soliciting for sex for money on the street, saying they endanger the health, safety and lives of prostitutes.
"Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in the ruling, according to The Globe and Mail.
The court's verdict came in a case filed by a groups of prostitutes alleging they couldn't hire security guards and ensure their safety due to the bans.
"The prohibitions all heighten the risks the applicants face in prostitution – itself a legal activity," McLachlin wrote for a unanimous court. "They go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky – but legal – activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risks."
The court has given the Conservative Party government one year to draft a new law that is in line with the constitution's human rights provisions. Until then, the existing laws will remain in place.
"Greater latitude in one measure – for example, permitting prostitutes to obtain the assistance of security personnel – might impact on the constitutionality of another measure – for example, forbidding the nuisances associated with keeping a bawdy-house," the ruling reads. "The regulation of prostitution is a complex and delicate matter. It will be for Parliament, should it choose to do so, to devise a new approach, reflecting different elements of the existing regime."
Justice Minister Peter MacKay issued a statement following the ruling, saying that cabinet ministers 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."
If the legislation is not replaced, "it's open season in regard to prostitution," Bloomberg quoted Don Hutchinson, a lawyer for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, as saying. The government should focus on banning paid sex and helping people get out of the trade, he said.
"We don't want to see the continued criminalization of women and girls," Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, a group that advocates for prisoner rights, was quoted as saying.
New laws would need to deal with "the safety concerns of people who are engaged in sex work," Elaine Craig, a law professor at Dalhousie University, was quoted as saying. "As far as I can tell there is no constitutional bar to prohibiting the sale of sex for money provided the harm of the law doesn't grossly outweigh the federal government's objective in adopting it," she said.