Aspects of Canada’s anti-prostitution laws were just struck down by the Supreme Court, but the future of the profession now rests with the Conservative Party

As some of you might already be aware, prostitution in Canada is legal, but certain elements that surround it are not. In other words, prostitution is legal in itself, but there are laws against street soliciting, living on the avails of prostitution and keeping a brothel.

All that might be about to change. This week the Supreme Court of Canada in a 9-0 decision, decided to gut these anti-prostitution laws. The result of a case brought forward by three Ontario sex workers: Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch, and Valerie Scott.

The court ruled that these three main laws are inconsistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Specifically, that it violates sex workers’ charter guarantee to security of the person.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin speaking on behalf of the court said: “The prohibitions all heighten the risks the applicants face in prostitution, itself a legal activity. They do not merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate. 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.”

There is one small catch to all this of course. Unlike most Supreme Court decisions, particularly in the United States, The Supreme Court of Canada has sent this decision back to parliament. The Federal Government has one year to the day to either let these prostitution laws expire or write new ones that comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

prostitution in canada
Nikki Thomas, and former sex workers Terri-Jean Bedford and Valerie Scott

Unfortunately, this decision has fallen in the lap of Stephen Harper and his Conservative Government. Given his extreme anti-crime and anti-drug policies, you get bet these laws won’t simply expire. But what are the alternative to the laws currently in place? Harper might be in for more than he bargained for.

As soon as the decision was announced, the ruling did get a scolding from Harper’s Conservatives. Justice Minister Peter MacKay released a statement which said “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.”

Despite the court’s ruling that these laws make life unsafe for prostitutes, conservatives continue to argue the opposite. They maintain that these three laws were there for their protection. Well how good can they really be working when a guy like Robert Pickton can exploit and murder up to 49 prostitutes and drug addicts?

People like to think that most prostitutes are selling their bodies against their will. While some would choose another profession if it were an option that paid adequately, the choice is still theirs to make. Child prostitution is still illegal and so is enslavement, let’s not forget that.

By repealing these laws, women (or men) will be able to work off the streets in bawdy houses, they will be able to hire their own managers and body guards. They will have more control over the profession they chose and feel safer at the same time.

I have never understood why these laws are on the books in the first place. A well regulated sex industry would solve a lot of the problems prostitutes face on a daily basis. Conservatives though would thoughtlessly prefer to keep things illegal than to try and regulate it. They look at the immorality of prostitution, not the actual people who work in the world’s oldest profession or its safety. It’s almost as if they feel prostitutes get what they deserve.

Prostitution in CanadaIf you want to look at the situation through conservative ideology, think of it like this: Prostitution for better or worse is a profession that offers a service. There is a demand for this service, always has been. Prostitution is therefore just the free market playing itself out. It isn’t going anywhere.

How about pornography? It has been legal across North America for decades. The Industry is even flourishing since the dawn of the internet. It seems strange to me that two people (or more) can legally have sex on camera for money, but the legality of two people exchanging money for sex without a camera is still subject to debate.

I’m very curious to see what Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party do in the coming year in regards to this issue. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they’ll pass something similar or worse than the laws that were just deemed unconstitutional, and we’ll end up back where we started at the Supreme Court. It’s times like this I wish another party was in power.


  1. I’m sure that the conservatives will do all they can to block this as is involves the safety of the workers and if they’re anything like the conservatives in this [U.S.] country, they’ll do anything to keep their “control of the masses” intact.

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