Swingers who met in private clubs here to swap sex partners or have group sex amid spectators did not cause "social harm" and should be allowed to continue, the country's top court ruled on Wednesday.
In a seven to two decision, the Supreme Court of Canada said that two Montreal men accused in separate cases of "keeping a common bawdy-house for the practice of acts of indecency" had not breached Canada's decency laws.
The justices ignored calls to uphold community standards, saying conduct at the two swingers' clubs had not harmed society.
"Consensual conduct behind code-locked doors can hardly be supposed to jeopardize a society as vigorous and tolerant as Canadian society," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said in the ruling.
"Only those already disposed to this sort of sexual activity were allowed to participate and watch. There is also no evidence of anti-social acts or attitudes toward women, or for that matter men. No one was pressured to have sex, paid for sex, or treated as a mere sexual object for the gratification of others."
Lower Quebec courts had found the clubs fostered "degrading and dehumanizing" conduct that was "calculated to induce anti-social behavior in its disregard for moral values, and raised the risk of sexually transmitted diseases."
Jean-Paul Labaye was originally fined C$2,500 (US$2,150) for operating L'Orage (The Thunderstorm) sex club. He charged members C$200 (US$170) to access the club with private rooms fitted with mattresses where members could swap partners, have group sex or watch goings-on.
The other defendant, James Kouri, operated the Coeur a Corps (Heart to Body) where club-goers paid C$6 to enter and watch or participate in group sex behind a black curtain on the dance floor. He was fined C$7,500 (US$6,450).
Both men appealed their initial convictions. The appeals court in the French-speaking province of Quebec upheld the case against Labaye, but threw out Kouri's conviction, saying the curtain shielded people who did not wish to witness the sexual acts.
The Supreme Court was called to reconcile the lower courts' contrasting judgements.
"It's a big victory," said Denis Chesnel, co-owner with his two daughters of Montreal's biggest swingers' club, dubbed 1082.