An Ontario court judge in London has recently ruled that parts of Canada’s prostitution laws are unconstitutional. Justice Thomas McKay ruled that the charges of procuring, receiving a material benefit and advertising sexual services laid against a couple who ran an escort business should be stayed or set aside as they violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Although the judgement is significant, it does not nullify the law as the decision was made in provincial court and is not binding. Therefore, the law remains in effect unless an appellate court agrees with Justice McKay’s lower court decision.
Hamad Anwar (“Anwar”) and Tiffany Harvey (“Harvey”) are common law spouses. They ran an escort business called Fantasy World Escorts from December 2014 to November 2015. Anwar owned the business and Harvey performed the management duties for the business. Sexual services were provided in exchange for cash at two apartments in London, Ontario or other prearranged locations in London, Calgary and Edmonton.
Both Anwar and Harvey were responsible for the company’s advertising, which included a website used to promote sexual services and to recruit new employees. They also advertised on bus stop locations throughout the City of London. They promised an average salary of $2,500 to $5,000 a week, paid annual vacation, benefits and help with tuition and book payments for students.
In October 2015, an undercover police officer booked an encounter at a hotel in London. The officer met the escort in the hotel room and gave her $220. He then explained that he became nervous and was having second thoughts. The escort texted Harvey to ask if she could return the money, but did not receive a response, so she left the hotel.
The couple were charged with receiving a material benefit from sexual services (section 286.2(1)), procuring (section 286.3(1)) and advertising an offer to provide sexual services for consideration (section 286.4) in contravention of the Criminal Code.
In 2014, Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, received Royal Assent and altered Canada’s prostitution laws. This bill criminalized the purchase of sex and communication, the actions of third parties who economically benefit from the sale of sex and any advertising of the sale of sexual services. However, it did grant immunity to those individuals who advertise or sell their own sexual services.
The couple brought an Application before the court to challenge the constitutionality of the Criminal Code provisions that they were charged under. They argued that these sections violate their Charter rights.
Anwar and Harvey argued before Justice McKay that the law did not provide sex worker protections to other sectors of society, including third-party managers, and did not allow sex workers the ability to form their own associations to protect themselves. They also argued that the law violated their freedom of expression and the freedom from unreasonable government interference.
In short, the couple maintained that these laws endanger sex workers by forcing them to work alone, without any protection or ability to outline terms or conditions or to screen clients.
McKay ruled that the criminalization of third-parties makes it almost impossible for most sex workers to work together, for health and safety reasons or to share staff. He wrote that the effect of the current law is, “at a basic level to deprive sex workers of those things that are natural, expected and encouraged in all other sectors of the economy. As a result, sex workers, who are more likely in need of protection than most workers, are denied the benefits accorded to mainstream labour.”
McKay also ruled that the criminalization of procuring has the effect of isolating marginalized or inexperienced sex workers and prevents them from seeking advice and support from more experienced peers.
Although this is a lower level decision, it is an important decision for judges who consider similar cases. Defence lawyer, James Lockyer, stated:
In order for the sections to be considered null and void, it would have to go up to the next level of court to the Ontario Court of Appeal. And that’s up to the Crown whether or not they appeal it. That’s in their hands, not ours. And if the Ontario Court of appeal gives a decision, if there was an appeal, then ultimately one or the other parties could take it on to the Supreme Court of Canada.
We will continue to provide updates on this blog regarding any developments with respect to prostitution law in Canada and specifically with respect to this case if Justice McKay’s decision is appealed.
In the meantime, if you have been charged with a sexual offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. For your convenience, we offer 24-hour phone services. We are available when you need us most.