British Columbia has become the latest province to announce it will not prosecute most prostitution-related offences over last year’s ruling by Canada’s highest court that the laws are unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the laws — communicating for the purpose of prostitution, living on the avails and keeping a common bawdy house — in December, but said they would stay on the books for a year to give the federal government time to bring in new legislation.
Neil MacKenzie a spokesman with the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch said prosecutors have studied the ruling and decided that any ongoing or prospective prosecutions will be examined on a case-by-case basis.
“The branch concluded it’s possible to respect the constitutional concerns that are raised in the ruling without discontinuing necessarily all prostitution-related prosecutions,” he said in an interview on Friday.
“Shortly after the decision was released, the branch concluded that the focus in relation to any ongoing or prospective prosecutions should be on whether the cases involved any elements of exploitation or coercion.”
MacKenzie said the likelihood of prosecution will be strongest in cases where pimps, keepers of bawdy houses and customers have exploited the vulnerability of prostitutes.
He said only a couple dozen prostitution-related offences are currently before the courts in the province, and the guidelines take effect immediately.
“Some prosecutions may continue, but not necessarily all prosecutions are going to continue,” said MacKenzie. “It will be analyzed on an individual basis.”
The federal government has said it will introduce new legislation dealing with prostitution well ahead of the December deadline.
Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador have all given their Crown attorneys direction following the Supreme Court ruling.
In Ontario, the government said it will likely not prosecute under the laws struck down, but will enforce laws that remain on the books, such as those involving people under 18, procuring, human trafficking, stopping a motor vehicle for the purposes of prostitution and all forms of sexual assault.
Alberta officials say they’ll focus on customers and those who have exploited prostitutes, but it will generally not be in the public interest to prosecute prostitutes.