B.C.'s Criminal Justice Branch moved Monday to counter what it said was public misunderstanding that most prostitution-related cases will no longer go to court in the wake of a landmark ruling.
Crown counsel have shifted their practice after a Dec. 20 Supreme Court of Canada decision struck down key aspects of the criminal law on adult prostitution.
The branch issued a statement that noted the high court decision rendering unconstitutional some offences – keeping or being in a brothel, procuring or living off the avails of prostitution, and communicating in a public place for its purpose – doesn't take effect for one year, during which time the laws remain in force.
Child prostitution offences remain illegal and unaffected by the ruling.
The branch's new guidelines to prosecutors say there's a continued public interest in prosecuting sex trade buyers for communicating, particularly when they solicit undercover police, as well as charges for both brothel operation and living off the avails when workers are exploited.
There's less public interest justifying charges against sex trade workers for street solicitation or working in a brothel, they say.
Prosecutors will consider all charge requests from police on a case-by-case basis, while ongoing prosecutions that don't meet the public interest test may be terminated.
Meanwhile, the federal government is embarking on one month of online consultations to seek public comment on how the country's prostitution laws should be rewritten in response to the decision.
"Doing nothing is not an option," Justice Minister Peter MacKay said Monday. "Our government is concerned about the significant harms that flow from prostitution to communities, those engaged in prostitution and other vulnerable persons."
The Supreme Court gave Ottawa a year to rewrite the laws, which it said currently endanger sex workers and violate their constitutional rights.
The law barring anyone from living off the avails of prostitution in effect barred sex trade workers from legally protecting themselves by hiring bodyguards or drivers and renting indoor premises.
Canadian law until now has left prostitution itself legal while criminalizing communication and related activity.
There are three main international models Canada could pursue.
- Decriminalization and legalization of regulated prostitution, as used in Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia.
- Prohibition of both the sale and purchase of sex, as well as involvement of pimps and other third parties, as is in place in U.S. states except Nevada.
- The 'Nordic Model' of Sweden, Norway and Iceland that decriminalizes prostitutes themselves but criminalizes clients and third parties who exploit them. An emphasis is put on social programs to help workers leave the sex trade.
It asks whether it should be criminal to buy sex from an adult, for and adult to sell sex, or to benefit economically from prostitution by an adult – and what exceptions should be allowed in each case.
"If you support allowing the sale or purchase of sexual services, what limitations should there be, if any, on where or how this can be conducted?" one question on the site asks.