OTTAWA — Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, describing prostitution as "a problem that harms individuals and communities," said Wednesday the federal government will appeal a landmark court ruling that struck down three anti-prostitution laws.
The government will also ask the Ontario Superior Court to suspend its ruling while the case winds its way through the system, a process that could take years.
Nicholson, who announced the appeal in the House of Commons, did not elaborate on the reason the government is continuing its legal battle.
The court decision, handed down Tuesday, strikes down laws against brothels, soliciting and pimping. While it applies only in Ontario, the ruling could have a nationwide impact if it survives appeals, particularly if it lands in the Supreme Court of Canada.
In her decision, Justice Susan Himel concluded that criminal prohibitions on running brothels, communicating for the purpose of prostitution and living off the avails of prostitution put the lives of sex workers at risk by forcing them to ply their trade in the shady underground world.
The ruling permits sex workers to openly do business in Ontario, but the court stayed the decision for 30 days. The government will seek an extension of the stay, Nicholson said.
The federal appeal is in keeping with the Conservative government's long-standing objection to softening prostitution prohibitions in the Criminal Code, despite periodic calls since the Tories came to power in 2006.
Two years ago, Nicholson flatly rejected a majority recommendation from the House of Commons status of women committee that federal prostitution laws be amended to stop charging prostitutes and start prosecuting only those procuring sex, or exploiting prostitutes, such as pimps and bawdy house owners.
"We have no intention of changing any of the laws relating to prostitution in this country," Nicholson told the committee during hearings.
"We have laws with respect to street soliciting or soliciting in public places that criminalizes completely the activity — the individual that is trying to purchase that service and the individual that is offering it. And (those) will continue to be the laws of this country."
While there is no direct Criminal Code ban on prostitution, many aspects of it have been criminalized by Parliament.
The court ruling deals with adult prostitution and does not affect laws involving children under 18 or measures that permit prosecution of pimps.
The case was brought to the court by three sex workers, including dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford.
New Democrat Libby Davies, a long-standing advocate of easing criminal prohibitions on prostitution, said the government's decision to appeal is "ill-advised" and will consume money that would be better spent helping sex workers.
"Rather than looking at this complex situation in a political way and bringing a discussion back to Parliament and considering what we should be doing to protect the rights and safety of sex workers as well as the community, they have rushed into an appeal that will be hugely expensive when that money could have been invested in much better ways," Davies said on Parliament Hill.
Liberal Marlene Jennings said that government should undertake consultation and start to "bring forward policies that will fill the vacuum and ensure that sex trade workers are protected and that our women and children are not exploited.
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