A protest at Vancouver City Hall in 2016 over the lack of enforcement of prostitution laws. An Ontario court has ruled that Canada’s laws on sex work are constitutional. (B.C. Catholic file photo)

Anti-trafficking committee pleased as court strikes down Charter challenge of sex-work law

The Anti-Human Trafficking Committee of the Archdiocese of Vancouver is praising a decision by Ontario’s Superior Court Monday that ruled Canada’s criminal laws on sex work are constitutional.

In his 142-page decision, Justice Robert Goldstein dismissed a Charter challenge of Canada’s Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, saying the law balances the protection of sex workers from legal prosecution while prohibiting “the most exploitative aspects of the sex trade.”

“Where a customer purchases sex, there is a significant possibility that the sex worker has been trafficked, manipulated, lured, forced and/or coerced into providing sexual services,” he wrote.

Anti-Human Trafficking Committee spokesperson Evelyn Vollet said the law “protects the most marginalized of our society, especially Indigenous and racialized women, and girls.”

Monday’s ruling, she said, “affirms our belief that nothing can make prostitution safe.”

Prostitution is “inherently exploitative and harmful” and “violates human dignity and gender equality,” and the court decision recognizes that prostitution drives human trafficking, she said.

Goldstein said prostitution allows individuals to be exploited or trafficked by third parties including legitimate services such as security or booking services.

“Even where a sex worker has entered the sex trade by choice, there is a significant possibility that she has become subject to the control of an exploiter or a trafficker.”

Goldstein said it’s not the law that causes harm, as the sex workers had argued.

The legislative framework was passed in 2014 after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down previous anti-prostitution laws and makes it against the law to pay for sexual services or to profit from them and makes communicating for the purchase of sexual services a criminal offence.

Although sex workers are immune from prosecution, the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform argued that that laws lead to stigma and targeted violence, while preventing sex workers from getting meaningful consent from clients, which is a violation of their Charter rights.

Goldstein ruled that the laws are constitutional compliant and don’t prevent sex workers from taking safety measures, receiving help from non-exploitative third parties, or obtaining police assistance

For more information visit the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter on human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Canada, “For Freedom Christ Has Set Us Free“ or the Anti-Human Trafficking Committee’s study guide “Working Towards Freedom.”


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