British Columbia Sex Workers Gain Appellate Victory

BRITISH COLUMBIA, Canada—Sex workers in Canada are fighting mad about prostitution laws they believe violate provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and increasingly the courts are siding with them. In just the last few weeks, federal courts in Ontario and British Columbia have ruled in favor of sex workers.

Prostitution is Canada is in fact not illegal in and of itself; most of the activities surrounding it are.

“The Criminal Code prohibits communication for the purpose of prostitution. It also prohibits keeping a common bawdy house for the purpose of prostitution,” reported the CBC in September. “Those laws enacted in 1985 were an attempt to deal with the public nuisance created by streetwalkers. They failed to recognize the alternative—allowing women to work more safely indoors—was prohibited.”

The CBC was reporting on the ruling by Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court striking down three key provisions in Canada’s anti–prostitution laws. The government has since appealed, and there will be a four-month moratorium on the Ontario ruling while the appeal is underway.

Tuesday, another significant ruling was handed down by a British Columbia appeals court that struck down a lower court ruling that had determined that a former sex worker and a lobbying group for sex workers—Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society—did not have standing to challenge Canada’s prostitution laws. The lower court had ruled in 2008 that the individual and the lobbying group did not have standing because only active sex workers could be named.

According to, however, “It was ruled that although the former sex worker and the lobby group lack private interest standing, they do meet the criteria for public interest standing to challenge the constitutional validity of the provisions in issue, stating:

“’The appellants have framed their pleadings to advance their thesis that rights assured by ss. 2(b), 2(d), 7 and 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are infringed by the impugned provisions. This broad and comprehensive systemic challenge meets the criteria for public interest standing.”

The BC sex workers will be able to bring their case challenging Canada's prostitution laws to the province's Supreme Court.