In a statement released on April 25, the federal government announced it will appeal a recent Ontario Court of Appeals decision that struck down two sex-work laws as unconstitutional.
Federal Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson and Ontario Attorney General John Gerretsen made the announcement just one day before the closure of the 30-day appeal window.
“It is our position that the Criminal Code provisions are constitutionally sound,” the statement read. “It is important to clarify the constitutionality of the law and remove the uncertainty this decision has created.”
While sex work has been legal in Canada for some time, there are still laws that render most activities related to sex work illegal: operating a bawdyhouse, living on the avails of sex work and communicating for the purposes of sex work.
The first two laws were unanimously struck down by a five-judge panel in a March 26 Ontario Court of Appeals decision, while the third law was upheld by three-to-two vote.
Terri-Jean Bedford and Alan Young at a press conference following the Appeals Court ruling on March 26.
Alan Young represents the three defendants in the case: Terri-Jean Bedford, Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch.
“It’s not an unexpected development. It’s a fairly standard government response because it buys time and maintains the status quo,” says Young, who has long been known for his work in appealing laws that govern ‘consensual crimes’ such as drug use or sex work. “We’ve decided we will cross-appeal on the communication offence because it has problems. We’re going to impose a cost on this appeal – they may lose even more.”
A cross-appeal of the decision on the communication law is great news for opponents of last month’s Ontario Court of Appeals decision, who said it failed some of the province’s most vulnerable sex workers: those who work on the street.
“We hope the SCC will uphold Himel’s original judgment and fully decriminalize sex work in Canada,” tweeted Nikki Thomas, executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada, at news of the government’s appeal.
While the March 26 Court of Appeals decision applies only in Ontario, a Supreme Court decision would apply across the country.