BCCLA reacts to Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to strike down prostitution laws

Vancouver – Lawyers for the BC Civil Liberties Association, reacted today to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on the federal prostitution laws in the case of Attorney General of Canada, et al. v. Terri Jean Bedford, et al. The BCCLA was an intervener in the case.

Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott started the case in 2007. Bedford, Lebovitch, and Scott challenged three criminal laws that prohibit various aspects of adult prostitution, arguing that the prohibitions against pimping, working in a brothel or communicating with customers increase the dangers faced by prostitutes.

Today, in a watershed victory, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that the laws are unconstitutional. The Court found that the prohibitions impose dangerous conditions on prostitution and prevent people who are engaged in a lawful activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risks of the activity. The Court gave Parliament one year to come up with new legislation, should it choose to do so.

Grace Pastine, Litigation Director for the BCCLA, stated, “This decision is a major legal victory and will help ensure that adult sex workers have safety and control and the ability to determine the circumstances of their work. This decision signals the end of an era of discrimination against sex workers, and is a welcome closing chapter on these failed laws.

Sex workers are overwhelmingly women, poor, Aboriginal, suffer from addiction and are victims of physical and sexual violence. The Supreme Court of Canada has sent a strong message that the lives of these women matter and that their voices must be heard.

The Robert Pickton case highlighted the violence that sex workers face in Canada. Today the Court acknowledged that there are ways of conducting prostitution that could significantly reduce the risk of violence towards sex workers, such as allowing sex workers to work indoors, to work with a companion or to work in settings with others nearby. The Court’s decision will go a long ways towards making sex workers safer, rather than pushing them further underground. Now is the time for federal, provincial and municipal politicians to sit down with sex workers and their representatives and work out regulatory schemes that will keep workers safe and healthy.”

Brent Olthuis, lawyer for the BCCLA stated, “Beyond its importance to these claimants and what it says about these invalidated provisions, this judgment will no doubt serve as a touchstone for all manner of rights claimants in the future. The reasons are a model of clarity: They offer a straightforward map to adjudicating s. 7 Charter rights and send an important message about government’s implication in rights violations.”

The BCCLA was represented by Brent Olthuis of Hunter Litigation Chambers and Megan Vis-Dunbar, Barrister and Solicitor.