By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
Caption: The Supreme Court of Canada building. Sxc.hu
When the Supreme Court of Canada (SCOC) hears an appeal of a court decision striking down Canada’s prostitution laws, their decision could also impact euthanasia.
The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear an appeal of an Ontario Court of Appeal Court ruling that upheld most of a lower court’s decision to strike some of Canada’s prostitution laws.
The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) welcomed the news.
“With our partners REAL Women of Canada and Christian Legal Fellowship, we have been intervenors in this case from its beginning in Ontario Superior Court,” said CCRL executive director Joanne McGarry. “Our position was and remains that while the law is not perfect, any liberalization of it would not improve prostitutes’ safety, and would make it easier to lure and exploit vulnerable girls and women”
“Evidence from other jurisdictions suggests that when legalization occurs, the illegal side of the business continues to flourish,” she said in a statement.
Real Women of Canada national vice president Gwendolyn Landolt says she and the other two groups expect to file their intention to intervene by next April.
Prostitution is not illegal in Canada, but activities surrounding it are: soliciting for the purposes of prostitution; running a brothel or bawdy house; and living off the avails of prostitution or pimping. The lower court decision struck down these laws as unconstitutional because they violated the Section 7 Charter rights of security of the person. The Ontario Court of Appeal did not strike down the law against soliciting, but struck down the other two.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) is considering intervening now that the prostitution issue comes before Canada’s highest court. The EFC’s vice president and general legal counsel Don Hutchinson said the prostitution case bears on any instance where the lower court overturns a previous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.
An example is the recent Carter case in British Columbia that overturned Canada’s laws against assisted suicide and euthanasia despite the fact that in the 1993 Rodriguez decision, the SCOC upheld those laws constitutional. Prostitution laws also have been previously upheld by the SCOC.
In 1990, the SCOC ruled the provisions against maintaining a common bawdy house and against soliciting were constitutionally sound, Hutchinson said. In 1990, it did not rule on the living off the avails section. The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court judge that the bawdy house law could be overturned because of changed conditions in society but said it could not overturn the SCOC’s 1990 ruling against soliciting, he said.
“The Court of Appeal set before the SCOC three questions: when must an earlier decision of the SCOC be upheld by the lower courts? When can a decision by the SCOC can be overturned by lower courts? And when courts can exercise the jurisdiction granted by the SCOC to amend legislation so it complies with the constitution?” said Hutchinson. “These are three really juicy questions and I’m glad the court is going to address them.”
“Hopefully, we can return to certainty in the law where the lower courts respect the conclusive nature of decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada,” he said.
Landolt said Real Women would like to see prostitution itself prohibited. The EFC has also been active promoting the Nordic model which criminalizes the purchase of sex and goes after the demand rather than the prostitutes who are often victims of trafficking or addiction.
“We do want to see that women who are prostitutions have an option to get off the streets, into safe houses and to receive treatment,” said Landolt, who noted many have problems with alcohol or drugs and sell sex to maintain their addictions. “They need help. You don’t encourage them by widening the law.”
Landolt said some argue the circumstances concerning the safety of women have changed since Robert Pickton murdered so many Vancouver-area prostitutes. “Brothels do not protect women,” she said.
“In the Netherlands, one third of brothels had to be shut down because criminal element became involved.”
“Prostitution is inherently dangerous, no matter what circumstances are involved,” she said.
Landolt and Hutchinson both warned about the consequences to women and children who are being trafficked into, out of or across Canada into the sex trade.
Canada is already a transit country for traffickers bringing sex slaves into the United States, she said. Aboriginal women and children are especially vulnerable to trafficking.
“Human trafficking is one of the most lucrative criminal undertakings in the world,” she said, putting it up with the sale of illegal weapons and the drug trade.