North America Canadian Prostitution Laws, Morals Drowning Real Debate
Recently the Ontario Court of Appeals reversed some of the illegal fringe aspects of prostitution; this has created a flurry of sensationalism in the news stoking opposing views on the morality of prostitution while effectively leaving out the realities of the actual legal reversals. In reality the changes in the law, though in theory are a step forward towards protecting the venerable, in practise, they are unlikely to make a big difference. A more balanced look at what is really going on is very much needed.
Not a week ago nearly most fringe aspects, save for prostitution itself, was illegal; this would include everything from communicating for the purpose of selling sex to actually doing so ‘indoors’. The legality of the actual act of prostitution in Canada coupled with the fact that prostitutes were legally ‘forced’ onto the street to solicit sex without the statistically proven safe(r) havens of indoor, worker controlled environments has lead to a somewhat unexpected court decision.
The Ontario Court of Appeals has reversed two of the ‘unconstitutional’ fringe aspects of the prostitution trade.
-Laws against keeping a common bawdy house prevent sex workers from working indoors.
-Laws against living on the avails of prostitution. (CBC News List)
-Laws against communicating for the purposes of prostitution. (not repealed though part of the heated debate)
What this has legally provided for prostitutes is the ability to work indoors in a controlled environment which, according to a multiplicity of reports affords prostitutes statistically increased safety in terms of collective protection or perhaps due to an ‘in house’ body guard. Secondly, the laws against living on the avails of prostitution had blocked prostitutes from the hiring of body guards or drivers etc which would theoretically protect them from aggressive clients.
What is immediately unclear are the actual differences that these laws will make; many are heralding in these reversals and the subsequent 12 month mandate for parliament to re-draft laws which will allow for this provisions as if it were a new regime for prostitution.
Firstly, while there are already ‘bawdy houses’ in action within Canada and this reversal in law will strip police of their mandate to raid and evict the inhabitants little will likely change considering. Prostitution has always flourished regardless of law or societal condemnation and theses houses are just another example.
In reality there may be a handful of properly certified brothels or ‘bawdy houses’ down the road once this is forged into law, however, most of the prostitution in Canada is controlled by criminal gangs, such as the Hells Angels. It would not be much of a jump to suggest that the criminal aspect of much of the industry surrounding prostitution will dissuade most prostitutes and their ‘pimps’ from registering their brothel. Furthermore, those brothels which are registered could theoretically end up trapping more young girls than helping due to what people are suggesting is an increase in the legitimacy of prostitution.
Secondly, while feminist groups are hailing this decision as a positive one mostly for the reasons of protection and safety, they perhaps are too zealous about the fact that prostitutes may now hire body guards and drivers.
“The decision allows those in the sex trade to protect themselves against work related violence, and to work together to increase their safety. As such, this decision encourages women’s collective efforts and solidarity. We celebrate rulings that remove judicial barriers to women’s collective organizing.” (Montreal Gazette)
In theory this is definitely a breakthrough; body guards would likely have at least cut down on the number of murders in Vancouver at the hands of serial killer Robert Pickton and there is no doubt that fewer assault and murder cases is where the Court of Appeals would like to see these reversals to apply. However, while this would be ideal, it would seem that the industry is not run in this way. Again, the criminal element more or less controls the sex trade in Canada and while these laws may affect some of the more independent workers it is unlikely that the ‘protection’ of gangs will move aside for privately hired bodyguards.
Lastly, any tweaking to a law dealing with the legality of communication between a prostitute and their potential customers is futile and a legal fiction except as a default charge that an officer could use to arrest a prostitute. A law preventing communication to elicit sex is useless and only achievable with the irradiation of prostitution, which is in itself unachievable. Any debate regarding the communication law is simply between those who find prostitution to affront their sense of morals and those who see it as a pesky charge to be brought up on.
A Balanced Look
Canadian newsstand sensationalism aside, I fully support the increased protection of prostitutes and the more vulnerable in society regardless of their work. And in this case I would fully agree with what the feminists seem to think only they grasp:
“We support a legal framework in which complex social issues are disentangled from patriarchal moral norms.” (Montreal Gazette)
Other nations have also grappled with these issues; The Netherlands is famous for having ‘tolerated’ prostitution, allowing sex workers to have protected areas in cities, personal rooms with windows facing the street in order to allow them to remain indoors and even unions, regular health and STD checks and support groups for those wishing to get out. This is not moral permissiveness; it is simply pragmatism and the social openness to afford these workers the rights needed to protect themselves at a job which they would be doing regardless of laws or moral condemnation. Major problems still exist in the Dutch system, however the increased cooperation of the government, police, public health services and sex workers allow for a more efficient and safe addressing of these issues.
Those who would morally oppose prostitution in Canada are many; this is one of the great aspects of Canada; the multiplicity of our (moral) views is what allows Canada to continue to function as one of the great nations of the world today. Furthermore it is a Canadian’s right as enshrined in the Bill of Rights to have the freedom of religion, speech and association. What is being argued here is to also afford the right of protection before the law to those in our society, which for whatever reason, work in an industry which is highly dangerous and perhaps still seen as ‘wrong’ for many Canadians.
This debate is not about condemning or permitting prostitution, it is to address the needs and rights of fellow Canadians, irrespective of their work. Often times the very morals which would react to condemn prostitution are the same morals which would purport social justice, protection and assistance to the weak. Moral disapproval and social responsibility are not mutually exclusive.
Like or not prostitution will continue irrespective of law, not only in Canada but around the world; it is the distinct, social responsibility of Canada and Canadians, whatever their political or moral stripes to allow those people the protections needed and deserved. Not only to ensure personal safety but also to provide the legitimate chance to remove themselves if that be there wish. Allowing for this would empower those who are disenfranchised, unprotected and thus venerable in our society.