“I didn’t think this was possible within my lifetime,” said Kerry Porth, executive director of the PACE Society, which promotes safe working conditions for the city’s prostitutes.
“For once, the court has finally heard what sex workers and our allies have been screaming for years.”
In a trial started in 2009 by three Toronto prostitutes, Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel ruled that the laws that forbid running a bawdy house, communicating for the purpose of prostitution and living of the avails of prostitution are unconstitutional.
The provisions “are not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice,” Himel wrote in a 131-page decision, released Tuesday.
The laws “force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their security of the person as protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Prostitution is not illegal in Canada, but many aspects of prostitution have been criminalized by Parliament. The Ontario ruling takes effect only in that province, but if upheld on appeal would apply across the country.
Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the government is “very concerned” about the court’s ruling and is “seriously considering” an appeal. It has 30 days to do so.
Data from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics suggest the number of homicides against prostitutes has remained steady over the past two decades. From 1991 to 1999, police reported 72 prostitute slayings. From 2000 to 2008, there were 70.
“I don’t think that any of us thought when we began this trial . . . that the outcome would be this sweeping and overwhelmingly incredible,” said Sue Davis, an active sex-trade worker and member of the B.C. Coalition of Experiential Communities.
“I think it gives hope to sex workers all over Canada.”
She dismissed critics’ concerns that Ontario could become a hot spot for sex tourists now that brothels can be legal.
“There will not be a sudden flood of women working on the street — a sudden flood of men seeking sex,” Davis said. “Nowhere has that proven to be the case.
“What will happen, though, is that we will be able to move forward on labour organizing, having review boards and complaints processes so that we can finally weed out some of the exploitive people that do operate in the sex industry, and eliminate child exploitation and human trafficking.”
She and other advocates said the battle is still far from over.
Katrina Pacey, a lawyer with Vancouver’s Pivot Legal Society, said groups must continue to lobby local and provincial governments to make conditions safer for prostitutes all across Canada. firstname.lastname@example.org