OTTAWA — The Ontario Superior Court struck down key provisions of Canada's prostitution law Tuesday, saying it endangers sex trade workers.
The ruling, which is being suspended for 30 days, would effectively decriminalize sex trade in the province and, if upheld on appeal, halt enforcement of anti-prostitution laws across Canada.
The court declared unconstitutional portions of the law banning brothels and soliciting for prostitution.
Three Toronto women launched the legal challenge in October 2009, arguing that prohibiting solicitation endangers prostitutes by forcing them to seek customers on street corners.
They called for the decriminalization of prostitution and for the right to open brothels to provide a safer environment for prostitutes.
The court agreed.
"By increasing the risk of harm to street prostitutes, the communicating law is simply too high a price to pay for the alleviation of social nuisance," Superior Court Judge Susan Himel said in the decision.
"I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public."
Alan Young, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told a press conference: "This case was all about protecting the security and safety of people who work in the sex trade, regardless of what you think of sex workers and what you think of the moral values of the work."
"It's a great day for Canada," said plaintiff Terri-Jean Bedford, who was jailed in the 1990s for operating a brothel in Toronto. "It's like emancipation day for sex-trade workers."
Valerie Scott, a co-plaintiff along with Amy Lebovitch, told residents and business owners concerned that the decision may boost the sex trade in Canada to not be afraid.
"We are not aliens. We are ordinary people and now we have rights," she said.
Thanks to the ruling, sex trade workers "can now pick up the phone and call the police and report a bad client. This means that we no longer have to be afraid," Scott added.
"We can set up guilds and associations and we can set up occupational and health standards, workman's compensation (and pay) income taxes."
The Ontario Crown said it would review the decision "carefully and quickly" and consult with federal colleagues about a "potential appeal."
"The government is very concerned about the Superior Court's decision and is seriously considering an appeal," Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said.
"We will fight to ensure that the criminal law continues to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution to both communities and the prostitutes themselves, along with other vulnerable persons."
Judge Himel stressed in the ruling that sections of the law that prohibit child prostitution, impeding pedestrian or vehicular traffic and procuring still apply.
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