Ontario's top court is set to rule today on whether Canada's anti-prostitution laws are constitutional.
Essentially, the Appeal Court is deciding whether three laws put prostitutes in danger. The laws ban brothels, soliciting, and living on the avails of the trade.
A lower court judge struck down the provisions, saying they put sex workers in danger by preventing them from working indoors, screening clients or hiring bodyguards.
The government maintains police need the powers to control street prostitution and investigate pimping and argues that prostitutes make an economic choice they know is dangerous.
Laws put prostitutes at risk, top court judge says
If the Appeal Court upholds a lower court ruling, it would effectively end prostitution-related prosecutions in Canada —pending any decision by the Supreme Court of Canada.
"It's a matter of life and death," said Valerie Scott, one of three women involved in the case. "In what other legal occupation is a worker not permitted by law to take any security measures?"
In September 2010, Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel ruled the laws were fundamentally unjust by making life more dangerous for sex-trade workers. Prostitution itself was not illegal in Canada, though many of the key activities were under the three laws that Himel struck down.
The provisions, Himel said, put prostitutes at risk by preventing them from working indoors, screening clients or hiring bodyguards.
The government appealed, arguing in part last June that the laws are necessary to allow police to control street prostitution and to protect vulnerable women from harm at the hands of pimps.
PM says sex trade 'bad for society'
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called the prostitution trade "bad for society."
Terri-Jean Bedford, a dominatrix involved in the legal challenge, said the laws discriminate against women.
"If the decision is in our favour, they can take control over their bodies."
Alan Young, the lawyer who launched the challenge on behalf of the women, said the case has "crystallized" the issues around the sex-trade.
"It's the beginning of a dialogue between Canadians, the courts and Parliament as to what we should do about something that we've unthinkingly just prohibited for the last 100 years without really evaluating what we're doing," Young said.
The Appeal Court ruling is to be released at 11 a.m. ET.
Landmark ruling on Canada's prostitution laws due today - Ottawa - CBC News