Sex work laws in Canada: Constitutional challenge


The Ontario Superior Court is expected to release its decision this morning on a constitutional challenge launched by an alliance of groups advocating for the rights of sex workers.

The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform argued in court last fall that Canada’s prostitution laws violate the industry workers’ Charter rights.

They say the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act brought in by the former Conservative government is fostering stigma, inviting targeted violence and preventing sex workers from obtaining meaningful consent before engaging with clients.

That law was passed in 2014, about a year after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down previous anti-prostitution laws after lawyers argued existing provisions were disproportionate, overbroad and put sex workers at risk of harm.

Even though prostitution was legal under the previous laws, nearly all related activities — such as running a brothel, pimping and communicating in a public place for the purposes of prostitution — were against the law.

The prostitution-related offences brought in under former prime minister Stephen Harper moved closer to criminalizing prostitution itself by making it against the law to pay for sexual services and for businesses to profit from it, as well as making communicating to buy sexual services a criminal offence.

The federal government maintains those new statutes do not prevent people selling sex from taking safety measures and says they are meant to reduce both the purchase and the sale of sexual services.

CASWLR argued in October that the new laws are more restrictive than what they replaced and force sex workers, and people who work with them, to operate in the context of criminalization.

The alliance says there shouldn’t be any criminal laws specific to sex work and has dozens of recommendations to create a more regulated industry.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2023.

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