The three women who filed the initial case: Nikki Thomas, Terri-Jean Bedford and Valerie Scott, left to right

It just got a lot better to be a prostitute in Ontario. On Monday, Ontario’s Court of Appeal voted to strike down two out of the three provisions of the Criminal Code that pertain to prostitution, deeming them in violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

While prostitution is technically legal in this country, it resides in a grey area of the law, since living on the avails of prostitution is itself a criminal act. Canada’s Criminal Code also prohibits “the keeping or frequenting of a bawdy house”, as well as soliciting for sex in public.

The appeal was filed on behalf of the federal and Ontario governments regarding a landmark ruling by the Ontario Supreme Court Judge Susan G. Himel in September 2010 that sought to strike down all three aspects of the current prostitution laws. While the Court of Appeal agreed that sex trade workers should be legally allowed to live off their trade and practice it indoors, they upheld the ban on street solicitation and public communication for the purposes of prostitution.

“This decision means that sex workers can now pick up the phone, and call the police and report a bad client. This means that we no longer have to be afraid, that we can work with the appropriate authorities,” noted Valerie Scott of Professionals of Canada, one of the original three women to challenge the laws.

While the ruling does mean safer working conditions for certain sex trade workers, like the ones who will now be able to employ staff including drivers and bodyguards, it ignores the safety of the street workers. The ruling did also stipulate that those living off prostitution in circumstances of exploitation would still violate the law.

It will take 30 days for the ruling on living off the avails of prostitution to kick into effect. The Court of Appeal gave Parliament 12 months to amend the law pertaining to the bawdy houses in such a way that it no longer infringes on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Colloquially referred to as the world’s oldest profession, prostitution has occurred in one form or another across different cultures since ancient history. Currently, each country has its own laws governing the legality of sex work. For example, in the United States, street and call services are illegal, as are brothels everywhere except for in about a dozen rural Nevada counties. The state regulates these brothers by requiring condom use and regular STI testing.

The most well-known example of legal prostitution occurs in Amsterdam’s Rossebuurt, or red light district, where registered prostitutes advertise and sell their services from windows on the street and pay income taxes.

In Thailand, one of the world’s most popular destinations for sex tourism, prostitution is technically illegal but is tolerated in practice, reflecting a trend throughout the continent where sex workers themselves are stigmatized by society while it is considered acceptable for men to use their services. In some countries, certain sexual acts are permitted while others are deemed illegal. Take Japan for example, which passed the Prostitution Prevention Law in 1957, which drew a distinction between peddling vaginal sex as forbidden while other forms of sexual activity were permissible. I wonder if this includes bukkake and tentacle rape?

Photo Credit: Alex Urosevic for National Post