(CNN) — Canada’s Supreme Court must decide whether the government should be forced to repeal three parts of its controversial anti-prostitution legislation passed in 2015.
Earlier this year, the Court heard an appeal from the three sex workers against the provisions that make it illegal to sell sex in certain “non-routine” areas, to advertise a personal sexual interest and to put a price on sex services, according to Canada’s court system.
When the Supreme Court originally upheld the laws in 2016, a majority of the justices said the three sections infringed on the Charter rights of sex workers, who said they violate their right to freedom of expression and the right to organize without fear of exploitation.
Now, the Court must decide whether the law should be enforced across the country or restored to its previous state, and if it shouldn’t be enforced at all.
The hearing, which lasted for around 10 hours Tuesday, ended in a stalemate, leaving the case in limbo, court officials said.
The court announced that it would reconvene on Monday, and additional arguments would be heard on Tuesday, a list of which was not immediately available. The case is expected to be decided this summer.
What the two groups said in court
“We are not advocating any violent behavior. You do not profit from sex trafficking, but we have to work in areas that are not safe or where people will come and disrespect us and harrass us,” Laura, a sex worker who was not allowed to give her last name, told CNN.
Sex worker services organization Sacs and Peoples said that both sides agreed that a section requiring persons buying sex to sign a waiver allows sex workers to get out of dangerous situations.
But they argued that the waiver also puts a person in a vulnerable position and forces her into knowing what they are going to pay for sex before the agreement is made. And with the passage of time, that can mean that people also have power over sex workers’ choices and are able to extort money from them.
“We want the government to repeal these archaic laws but we’re doing it on our own because no one from the government contacted us to even explain what was going on or that they were going to take our case to the Supreme Court,” Alex McConville, a Sacs and Peoples associate director and member of All Nations Casinos and Ladies Night, told CNN.
What the Justice Department says
Amanda Price, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, said that since its passage, the Human Trafficking Prevention Act made it a crime to “purchase sexual services by an individual whom the purchaser reasonably believes is a child.”
The Act also criminalizes “prostitution, vagrancy and soliciting people for prostitution;” “solicitation of a person for a prostitute;” “procuring a prostitute for a prostitute;” “purchasing, receiving, or selling of sex for money;” and “using or engaging in services or accommodations in an area which is, or is likely to be, determined by the owner or operators to be unsafe for the person to work.”
The Supreme Court upheld the legislation in 2016, but stated that the government can be required to repeal parts of it that do not ensure the safety of sex workers.
“Certain amendments that criminalize the procuring and purchasing of sex still, however, fail to meet the requirements” of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the court said in its original judgement.
The Centre for Constitutional Rights, which represented the plaintiffs, originally argued that the Act violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it “interferes with sex workers’ rights to organizing and expression and makes it impossible for sex workers to work.”
They said that it also violated the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the right to life, liberty and security of the person, and the right to the equality of men and women.