Canada’s top court has overturned all restrictions on prostitution, declaring that existing laws violated s*x workers’ right to safety.
The Supreme Court of Canada struck down bans on brothels, street solicitation, and living on the earnings of prostitution in a unanimous 9-0 decision on Friday, and gave the Canadian government one year to re-write the country’s prostitution laws.
While prostitution itself is technically legal in Canada, most prostitution-related activities were previously considered criminal offences.
In the decision, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said many prostitutes “have no meaningful choice” but to “engage in the risky economic activity of prostitution,” and that the law should not make such activities more dangerous.
“It makes no difference that the conduct of pimps and johns is the immediate source of the harms suffered by prostitutes,” McLachlin wrote.
“The impugned laws deprive people engaged in a risky, but legal, activity of the means to protect themselves against those risks.”
The legal challenge to Canada’s prostitution laws was brought by a group of sex workers who argued that the now-overturned restrictions put them in danger.
Katrina Pacey, a lawyer for the petitioners, called it “an unbelievably important day for the sex workers but also for human rights.”
“The court recognized that sex workers have the right to protect themselves and their safety,” she said.
Last year, a lower court in the province of Ontario struck down the ban on brothels on the grounds that it exposed sex workers to more danger.
Friday’s ruling comes 34 years after the Supreme Court last upheld Canada’s anti-prostitution laws.
Prostitution is legal in much of Europe and Latin America, and brothels are legal in numerous countries, including the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland.