On Dec. 20, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down three laws governing activities surrounding sex work.
One law made it illegal to operate a brothel, another made it illegal to “live off the avails” of sex work and a third made it illegal for sex workers to communicate in public with clients.
The Supreme Court judged that these laws made it unsafe to practice as a sex worker, since the act of prostitution itself is technically legal in Canada. The court gave parliament a year to fill the void this judgment left in its wake.
The Supreme Court made the right judgement; sex workers will now be much safer when plying their trade. That was the primary problem with the situation as it existed before: sex workers were forced to the furthest margins of society in fear of the law.
Sex workers can now hire bodyguards. Previously, they resorted primarily to watching out for themselves and each other. Sex workers can now work out of supervised brothels rather than having to be on the street. They can now legally do “in-calls” where clients visit them at home rather than more dangerous “out-calls”. Preferable precautions like STD testing for both sex workers and clients may now be undertaken more easily as well.
While it’s good that sex workers are significantly safer, they now face the prospect of a Conservative majority making laws that regulate their work. Harper could choose to go with the “Nordic model” where clients are criminalized, or the “German model” where sex work is licensed and regulated. Both models have drawbacks but the latter would minimize harm, as criminalizing clients simply recreates the same problems.
Sex work will happen whether legal or illegal, so those who undertake it should be as safe as possible. The Supreme Court’s decision was but one significant step in a march towards the safety and inclusion of some of the most marginalized people in our society.
— Journal Editorial Board
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