“I feel like a citizen.” That’s what Valerie Scott — legal coordinator of the Sex Professionals of Canada organization — said today after emerging from a courtroom where the Supreme Court of Ontario struck down two provisions in the criminal code against prostitution. First law to go: the law against allowing prostitutes to work together under one roof (referred to as a “common bawdy house” in the criminal code), meaning that prostitutes are now able to set up their own places of business where others will also work at the same time, giving a far larger expanse of safety. In making their ruling, the judges stated that “The record is clear that the safest way to sell sex is for a prostitute to work indoors, in a location under her control.”
The second law to go was the law against living off the avails of prostitution. Eliminating this law means that not only can prostitutes now use the money they earn to hire staff such as accountants or schedulers, they can also hire security guards, thus vastly expanding their own safety.
The Ontario Supreme Court agreed with a lower court ruling that the two laws were unconstitutional as they pose an undue risk to prostitutes (prostitution itself is legal in Canada).
However, a third provision was upheld: it is still illegal to communicate in a public place for the purposes of prostitution. Those who wished to see the law struck down said that this law forced prostitutes to size up their clientele too quickly, leaving them unable to fully communicate with their client and vulnerable to predators who may not show their stripes in an initial quick meeting. The court disagreed, and the law remains in full force.
The bawdy-house law will remain in effect for the next 12 months in case the Harper government wishes to mount a challenge to the ruling or introduce new laws to replace those struck down. The Avails law will also be changed to state that it is still illegal to live off the avails of prostitution “in cases of exploitation,” leaving the authorities free to pursue pimps and those who violently control prostitutes for their own gain.
These changes were welcomed today by the sex-worker industry. This ruling will not only allow them to control their places of work, leading to less violence and increased security, but will in fact allow them to operate as fully legitimate businesses — even paying taxes.
Even Stephen Harper can’t object to that.
Photo credit: 85mm.ch on Flickr