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Prostitution laws struck down

Update - 8:50 a.m.

Friday's ruling is considered a victory for the three current and former sex workers who brought forth the application to challenge the laws; they appeared both stunned and delighted by the decision.

"I would like to thank the Supreme Court of Canada for declaring sex workers to be persons," former prostitute Valerie Scott, one of the applicants, told reporters gathered in the court's foyer.

"This is the first time in Canadian history that sex workers are truly persons, we are truly citizens of this country. And now we can work in our legal occupation in a legal manner," she said. "This is the best decision I have ever had in my life."

Lawyer Alan Young, who represented the three applicants, said he always believed his team's arguments were "incontrovertible" but he, too, was surprised by the court's unanimity.

"Nine-zero in the Supreme Court of Canada is a little bit surprising to me. I thought in light of the divisive nature of the debate, there would be some dissenting judges," he told reporters.

"But that shows how strong our evidentiary record was and how much we were able to demonstrate that the current laws are irrational and hurting people."

Young added that he didn't expect to see much change at the street level, asserting that prostitution laws are some of the most under-enforced laws in the Criminal Code.

Justice Minister Peter McKay said he was "concerned" by the court's decision to strike down the provisions and said his office would be reviewing the ruling before deciding what steps to take.

"We are reviewing the decision and are exploring all possible options to ensure the criminal law continues to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution to communities, those engaged in prostitution, and vulnerable persons," he said in a statement.

"We are committed to the safety of all Canadians and the well-being of our communities. A number of other Criminal Code provisions remain in place to protect those engaged in prostitution and other vulnerable persons, and to address the negative effects prostitution has on communities.”

Original story - 7:10 a.m.

Canada's highest court has struck down the country's prostitution laws in their entirety in a unanimous 9-0 ruling.

But the Supreme Court of Canada decision also gives Parliament a one-year reprieve to respond with new legislation.

The high court struck down all three prostitution-related laws: against keeping a brothel, living on the avails of prostitution, and street soliciting.

The ruling is a victory for sex workers seeking safer working conditions because it found that the laws violated the charter guarantee to life, liberty and security of the person.

Ontario's Appeal Court previously struck down the ban on brothels on the grounds it exposed women to more danger.

Today's landmark ruling comes 34 years after the Supreme Court last upheld the country's anti-prostitution laws.

The court noted in its ruling that "the regulation of prostitution is a complex and delicate matter." It added then that it "will be for Parliament, should it choose to do so, to devise a new approach, reflecting different elements of the existing regime."

As well, they said their decision should be suspended for one year, meaning the laws will stand as they are until Parliament decides to amend the laws.

The court said that given that the prostitution itself is legal, the three laws made it too difficult for prostitutes to engage in sex work safely.

The court said the laws "do not merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate. They go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky -- but legal -- activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risks."

-- With files from CTV

The Canadian Press

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