News / Vancouver

Supreme Court verdict could decriminalize sex work

Vancouver sex workers are optimistically awaiting a final verdict from Canada's highest court six years in the making that could see prostitution largely decriminalized.

Katrina Pacey is the litigation director at Vancouver's Pivot Legal Society, which is an intervener in Bedford vs. Canada. The case is being deliberated by nine Supreme Court Judges in Ottawa, and Pacey will be there on Friday when they deliver their verdict.

If the three Ontario sex workers who challenged Canada's prostitution laws get their way, brothels, soliciting prostitution, and living off the avails of prostitution could all become legal.

"This is going to be one of the biggest cases in Canadian history," Pacey said on Wednesday. "Striking down an entire legal framework is a very big deal."

Last year, five Ontario Court of Appeal judges unanimously agreed that the ban on brothels puts prostitutes in danger and violates their Charter rights.

They also decided to amend the ban on living on the avails of prostitution, to make it clear that it should only be illegal in cases in which sex workers are exploited.

But the panel upheld the ban on soliciting in its decision as a reasonable way to protect communities.

Both the government and the sex workers appealed the decisions against them.

All three decisions could either be upheld on Friday or thrown out, and there will be little room left for further Charter challenges once they are announced, Pacey said.

Vancouver Police Department (VPD) spokesman Brian Montague said Wednesday it would be "inappropriate" for law enforcement to comment the case before the decision is made.

However, since the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry began in 2011 the VPD has been working with Pacey to put protocols in place requiring officers to take violence against sex workers more seriously.

"If you look at our sex-work enforcement guidelines, brothels or 'indoor-based' sex work is discussed within the VPD's overall policy," Montague wrote in an email.

"It explains that in many situations enforcement is, for lack of a better term, a last resort."

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