Jail cell surveillance video image of serial killer Robert Pickton

Jail cell surveillance video image of serial killer Robert Pickton

Supreme Court’s prostitution ruling puts sex worker safety first

Advocates say Ottawa will be forced to enact reforms to guard against violent predators

A Supreme Court of Canada ruling to strike down Canada’s prostitution laws is being hailed in B.C. as an irrevocable step toward protecting sex trade workers from violent predators.

The unanimous 9-0 ruling gives the federal government one year to craft new legislation or else the industry will legally be able to communicate openly, operate brothels and profit from prostitution.

“This is a total victory,” Pivot Legal Society staff lawyer Kat Kinch said after the ruling was announced Friday. “Sex trade workers’ lives can’t be sacrificed at the cost of regulating prostitution.”

Kinch predicted it will enable a range of practical safety measures for sex workers, including better screening of customers, spotting by friends or peers, hiring of security guards, and the use of apartments or hotel rooms.

She said the ruling makes it clear Ottawa must put safety first in considering any further legislation, adding sex workers should be at the forefront of those discussions.

The court referred to the murders by Port Coquitlam serial killer Robert Pickton in striking down the law as a violation of constitutional rights to life, liberty and security of the person.

“Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes,” the judgment said.

“A law that prevents street prostitutes from resorting to a safe haven… while a suspected serial killer prowls the streets, is a law that has lost sight of its purpose,” it said. “If screening could have prevented one woman from jumping into Robert Pickton’s car, the severity of the harmful effects [of the law] is established.”

SFU criminology professor John Lowman said the Harper government faces a tough choice of approaches if it opts to bring in new legislation.

He said the U.S. approach of criminalizing both the purchase and sale of sex hasn’t worked well, although there are variations south of the border.

“You could have legalization of prostitution as you have it in Nevada, which is the state acting as a pimp, controlling and regulating prostitution and using criminal law to keep it off the street,” he added.

The owner of Nevada’s BunnyRanch brothel has already said he wants to expand into Canada if allowed.

Lowman said he thinks federal Conservatives are more likely to gravitate toward the so-called Nordic model used in Sweden that makes it legal to sell sex but not to buy it, while also criminalizing any third party profiting from the sex trade.

“What you have is the ridiculous spectre in countries with that legislation that they can only focus on street prostitution,” he said.

“Because what are the police going to do? Set up escort services and massage parlours in order to entrap men. I don’t think that would fly in Canadian law.”

That would invite more constitutional challenges, he said, although it may be embraced by feminists who think women’s equality can only be achieved by ending prostitution.

“Unlike radical feminists, who treat prostitutes as if they’re infants – a highly paternalistic approach – my position is we need to give women choices, we need to create economic equality.”

He said addicted survival sex workers arguably don’t have much choice, but added social programs are what’s needed to help them escape prostitution, or at least be in a position to make that decision.

“Ironically, it’s social programs that the Conservatives seem least interested in providing.”

Lowman said there’s a good chance the Tories could also opt to let the laws be struck down and let individual municipalities or provinces try to regulate prostitution at a local level, rather than enforce a consistent national approach.

That could result in a spectrum of approaches from city to city, with some attempting various tactics to ban prostitution to those that license and regulate brothels in specific areas, he said.

More court challenges would likely ensue, Lowman said.

A more constructive approach, he said, would be to follow New Zealand’s model, which legalizes prostitution, subject to regulation, and relies on other criminal laws to control violence, coercion, trafficking and exploitation of children.

Lowman said politicians have been told for decades the laws on prostitution don’t work but they refused every chance to enact reforms until the high court finally forced their hand.

“This is precisely a situation where the court is justified in telling the government to do its job when the government has consistently refused and over 300 women involved in prostitution have died as a result,” he said.

“They didn’t die as a result of government directly wielding the knife, they died as a result of the government herding those women into dark areas where they were forgotten, where people like Pickton could wield the knife. Government has blood on its hands.”

Justice Minister Peter MacKay said he’s concerned about the ruling’s ramifications and will explore “all possible options to ensure the criminal law continues to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution to communities, those engaged in prostitution and vulnerable persons.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A trailer with fire damage is taped off by the Port Alberni Fire Department at the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Fire knocked down at Wintergreen Apartments trailer

City is concerned about zoning, building code and fire code infractions surrounding the trailers

File photo of Gord Johns during World Oceans Day.
Courtenay-Alberni MP outlines priorities for federal budget

Universal pharmacare, affordable housing and Pacific wild salmon are some of the… Continue reading

Alberni Valley Bulldogs forward Lukas Jirousek pokes the puck away from Grizzlies forward Henri Schreifels during a game at the Alberni Valley Multiplex on Sunday, April 11, 2021. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
BCHL: Career night for Castagna can’t lift Alberni Valley Bulldogs past Victoria

Back-and-forth affair between Bulldogs and Grizzlies ends 7-5 for visiting team

Logging Camp Nine on Great Central Lake overlooks a large forest fire across the lake in this historical photo from May 1943. Camp Nine was bustling, with residences for logging camp staff, a rail line and rail cars visible. This is one of 24,000 photos contained in the Alberni Valley Museum’s digital archives, available for public viewing at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com. (PHOTO PN12220 COURTESY ALBERNI VALLEY MUSEUM)
LOOK BACK: Great Central Lake’s sawmill

Take a peek at Alberni Valley history with the Alberni Vally Museum

Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ goalie Luke Pearson stopped all 22 shots the Cowichan Capitals sent his way to collect a 5–0 shutout in B.C. Hockey League action, Saturday, April 10, 2021. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
BCHL: Pearson earns shutout in Bulldogs’ win over Cowichan Capitals

Alberni Valley will face Victoria Grizzlies Sunday, April 11 at 3 p.m.

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

A 41-person air task force, including 12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, seized more than $3 million CND worth of cocaine as part of Op Caribbe. Photo by Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook
Vancouver Island team helps make $368 million three-tonne cocaine seizure

12 members from 19 Wing Comox involved in Op Caribbe

Killer whales surface near Sebastion Beach in Lantzville on Sunday, April 11. (Photos courtesy Ella Smiley)
Chainsaw and friends near the beach thrill orca watchers in Lantzville

Jagged-finned orca named Chainsaw and 17 others spent hours off Sebastion Beach this weekend

Nootka Sound RCMP and DFO Conservation and Protection Officers seized this 30 foot vessel, fishing gear and equipment as well as Chinook salmon, salmon roe, rock fish and ling cod after an investigation on Sept. 11. A judge in Campbell River on February hit the owner and his accomplices with significant fines, a ban on holding fishing licences and loss of equpment, including the boat’s motor and trolling motor. RCMP photo
Washington State trio’s fisheries violations the worst veteran officer has seen in 20 years

Judge bans three men from fishing or holding a fishing licence anywhere in Canada

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read