Sometimes you just see something coming. You see the potential for the best possible outcome, but somehow you know that the worst or something close to it is on its way.
This is the case with the current situation on Canada’s prostitution laws. Peter MacKay needs to draft new prostitution laws by next December, and it appears that he is just going to make it worse. This is all of a sudden an issue because the Supreme Court of Canada struck down large parts of Canada’s current prostitution laws back on December 20, 2013.
The three parts of the law struck down were:
- Keeping a Common Bawdy-House
- Living on the Avails of Prostitution
- Communicating in a Public Place
Now, I’m no lawyer, and I will admit that the over 80 page decision was not closely read by me. However, I do understand that the crux of the SCoC’s ruling was that the three struck down areas were struck because they interfered with the “security of the person” guarantees of the Charter.
“The prohibitions at issue do not merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate. They go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky — but legal — activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risks.”
It really isn’t that difficult of a concept. The Court basically said this: prostitution is not illegal in Canada, therefore passing laws that make it impossible to practice a legal profession fall outside the accepted provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Court deferred its decision for a year to allow Parliament to pass new laws to regulate prostitution. It was pretty obvious to me that by “regulate” the Court meant things such as where and when prostitution could be practiced. Passing an outright ban of any kind is obviously something that would go against the spirit of the decision made public on December 20.
So, where is MacKay on all of this? He has mused the last few days that the government is not looking at provisions against prostitutes; they will now concentrate on laws that target johns and pimps.
Targeting pimps I have no problem with. These reprehensible individuals are the lowest of the low in society and in practice serve no purpose whatsoever, other than to themselves. Theoretically they are there for protection but often end up being one of the most dangerous parts of the whole enterprise.
Johns? This brings us right back to where we started. If you target johns, then prostitution will still be driven into the back alleys and underground where it currently is, and which the court clearly said is a situation which causes a prostitute to have to ply her trade in more dangerous conditions. Sure, you can make the brothel, the security guard, and the communication all legal, but if the customer gets arrested on his way onto the premises, then he won’t come to the legal premises. Prostitution will again be driven into the same dangerous underground areas that the Supreme Court said were unconstitutional because it forces prostitutes to work in more dangerous conditions because of the law.
Pass a law that makes being a john illegal, and we’ll be right back at the Supreme Court in a few years. It’s just a stupid thing to do, and by all accounts it looks like Peter MacKay is about to do it.
I think the part of this that annoys me the most is that a Conservative government could possibly be the architects of a really good law. They take the actual harms that surround prostitution very seriously. If they could actually just take the SCoC’s decision to heart and really understand it, they could craft a well thought out law.
But no, the official Tory stance seems to be, all prostitution is bad and icky. Peter MacKay said, “We believe that prostitution is intrinsically degrading and harmful to vulnerable persons, especially women and we intend to protect women and protect society generally from exploitation and abuse.” He didn’t say that that it is often degrading and harmful, or even mostly. He said intrinsically, at its core, prostitution is always harmful.
Look, I’m not going to argue that prostitution is some grand enterprise that should be honoured. I’m not going to pretend that vulnerable people, many vulnerable people, are not involved. What doesn’t help is marginalizing them even more. It also doesn’t help when all forms of prostitution are lumped together. Every time this topic comes up, someone points to child prostitution, as if we do not have laws on the books that already make it illegal to have sex with a minor child or teenager. The legalization of prostitution would not change this.
In fact, it has been my belief for years that if you stopped criminalizing the behaviour of what goes on between consenting adults, then you would have more resources to go after those who would prey on children and teenagers. They would also be easier to identify as they would be the only ones looking for sex outside the accepted legal channels. Equating consenting adults to those who would have sex with minors is essentially guilt by association; the two issues actually have nothing to do with each other.
It really comes down to the rights of consenting adults to do what they want with their own bodies and their own money. If you want to help vulnerable persons, make sure that their only economic option is not prostitution. Create a society that lifts vulnerable people out of their circumstances and make sure that no one turns to prostitution as a last resort. Fact is, some people who are involved in the sex industry are there of their own volition and have decided that for them it is a way to make money. I find it ironic that we wring our hands about this transaction between two consenting adults, but add a third person and a camera crew paying both participants and you have a perfectly legal transaction.
I guess the porn industry has better lobbyists than the prostitution industry.
To Peter MacKay: if you are actually really concerned about the livelihoods of our most vulnerable citizens, then adopt policies that make them less vulnerable, so that prostitution is not seen as their only option. Prostitution should be no one’s only option, but if they choose it as an option, I am not the moral judge to tell them different.
Mr. MacKay needs to actually understand what the Court has said. So far he has not.