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B.C. moves to case-by-case approach to prostitution

A sex-trade worker waits for a customer on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, March 28, 2012. B.C. prosecutors are revising their approach to prostitution-related offences in the wake of a Supreme Court decision ruling parts of Canadian prostitution laws unconstitutional.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

B.C. prosecutors will continue to weigh police requests for charges in relation to all prostitution-related offences, the province says. But prosecutors are most likely to press charges in cases where a public interest is involved, such as a bawdy house in which workers are being held against their will.

That puts B.C. in line with other provinces, including Alberta and Ontario, that are taking a case-by-case approach to prostitution offences in the wake of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that found some of Canada's prostitution laws to be unconstitutional.

B.C.'s Criminal Justice Branch issued the public reminder on Monday in response to a recent media report that said Attorney-General Suzanne Anton had announced the province would no longer proceed with prostitution-related charges.

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The branch said that report was inaccurate and that its statement was intended to "correct any misunderstanding the public may have about the approach the branch is taking."

The statement, which also included information on guidelines issued to Crown counsel to help determine what amounts to a continued public interest, comes amid ongoing uncertainty relating to prostitution laws in the wake of Canada v. Bedford. In that case, decided in December, 2013, the Supreme Court found some prostitution-related offences were unconstitutional and struck them down. The court suspended its declaration of validity for one year to give Ottawa time to craft new laws, if it chooses to do so.

That means the three offences the court found to be unconstitutional – including keeping a bawdy house, living on the avails of prostitution and communicating for the purposes of prostitution – remain on the books for now.

But some provinces have already changed their approach.

In Ontario, for example, Crown attorneys will not likely prosecute if there are no "alternate prostitution-related charges appropriate to the facts of the case," according to Brendan Crawley, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney-General.

But the Crown will continue to prosecute prostitution-related charges that are unaffected by the court's declaration of invalidity and "where there is a reasonable prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to proceed."

Earlier this month, the Alberta government issued a directive to Crown prosecutors and police advising that existing laws in the province should continue to be enforced when it comes to the customers of prostitutes.

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But prostitutes themselves should not be charged.

On Monday, the federal government launched a one-month online consultation process to seek public input to help Ottawa respond to the Bedford decision.

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