The EFC welcomes court decision reaffirming prostitution law

19 September 2023
For immediate release from The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has found, in a decision released Sept. 18, 2023, that all the provisions of Canada’s prostitution laws are constitutional.

“This is a significant victory for the dignity and equality of women and girls in Canada. It is a significant victory for the many survivors of prostitution who have courageously shared their experiences and expertise over the years,” said the EFC’s director of public policy, Julia Beazley. “The EFC welcomes the decision wholeheartedly.”

The EFC applauds the decision in the case, known as Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform v. Attorney General, which heard from several interveners on both sides in October 2022.

The EFC acted as an intervener in support of the current laws as laid out in the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA). We argued that buying sex is inherently exploitive and that the current laws protect human dignity and equality.

In our factum, the EFC argued that the prohibition against purchasing sex is the lynchpin of the law. The objective of PCEPA is to denounce, deter and suppress the purchase of sexual services and to reduce demand. In this decision, Justice Goldstein upheld the prohibition and found it consistent with the objective of the law.

Justice Goldstein concluded that, overall, he finds that “Parliament’s response to a pressing and substantial concern is a carefully crafted legislative scheme that prohibits the most exploitive aspects of the sex trade while immunizing sex workers from prosecution.”

In the EFC’s factum, we argued that there is a normative judgement at the core of the prostitution laws, namely that the exchange of sexual services for consideration is unavoidably damaging to individuals and society, and therefore merits criminal prohibition. We argued that the statement in PCEPA’s preamble about the “exploitation that is inherent in prostitution” reflects Parliament’s judgment regarding the nature of prostitution itself.

“The judgment that prostitution is inherently exploitive is a determination that is for Parliament alone to make. The EFC argued that Parliament’s determination is a normative one, not a matter to be questioned by the Court,” said the EFC’s director of legal affairs and senior ambassador, Bruce J. Clemenger. “The Court affirmed this position. The remainder of the laws regulating prostitution flow from this determination.”

Aligning with arguments made by the EFC, Justice Goldstein wrote, ”The question of inherent exploitation is not, however, something that this Court can decide. It is simply not a legal or factual question.… Parliament has chosen a particular normative perspective, and it is not for this Court to second-guess Parliament in that regard…. Rather, this Court’s duty is to determine whether resulting legislative scheme is Charter-compliant.”

Justice Goldstein noted that Parliament’s view of the harms of the sex trade is well grounded in the evidence. He observed the evidence that significant numbers of sex workers come from marginalized and racialized groups – particularly Indigenous girls and women. He also pointed to evidence that sex work is highly gendered, with the overwhelming majority of sex workers being female and customers being male. He also found that there is a very strong link between sex work and trafficking, and that violence and the threat of violence are present in the everyday lives of many sex workers.

“The EFC has long argued that prostitution is not merely a series of interactions between purchaser and purchased that exist independently of one another,” says Beazley. “Prostitution is part of a system of exploitation that is based on structural inequalities and preys on vulnerabilities.”

The EFC applauds Justice Goldstein’s decision and his careful analysis of a complex and important issue.

See also a joint statement from Sept. 22 by the EFC and five other groups. Photo of hands by Hannah Busing on Unsplash