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Ontario court rules on anti-prostitution laws

The Ontario Court of Appeal [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF] Monday that provisions of the Canadian Criminal Code [text] place unconstitutional restrictions on prostitutes' ability to protect themselves while others are not a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text]. The specific provisions involved, § 210, § 212 and § 213, prohibit the keeping of a "common bawdy house," engaging in communications for the purpose of soliciting sex and living "on the avails" of the sex trade. The decision will allow individuals to hire others to work as bodyguards, support staff, etc. to work indoor in "bawdy houses." However, the court maintained that openly soliciting customers remains a permissible restriction. The majority ruling states:

The case law recognizes that the right to liberty extends beyond physical liberty to the right to make individual choices that go to the core of personal autonomy. At some point, this concept of liberty must meld with the concept of security of the person, which also rests on the principle of personal autonomy. ... The decision to engage in a particular commercial activity is not akin to the kind of decisions that have been characterized as so fundamentally and inherently personal and private as to fall under the right to liberty. To accept such a submission [that personal life choices include the decision to engage in prostitution] would be to read into a constitutional protection what are economic or commercial decisions.
The decision is only binding in Ontario, but the court suggested that Parliament [official website] look to amend the law and a possible appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada [official website] would make a ruling binding on the entire country.

In June the Ontario Court of Appeal extended a stay previously extended in December 2010 of a lower court decision [JURIST reports] striking down laws banning prostitution-related activities. In March 2011 the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to review a BC Court of Appeal [official website] decision allowing a challenge to the country's anti-prostitution laws. In 2007 the Sex Professional of Canada [advocacy website] initiated an application [JURIST report] with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice [official website] challenging the three provisions on the grounds that they are inconsistent with the Charter. The challenge came on the heels of the trial of Robert Pickton [CBC case backgrounder], who was accused of murdering 26 women [indictment text], mostly prostitutes, in the Vancouver area in the 1990s. Pickton was convicted of six counts of murder [Globe and Mail report] in late 2007.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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