Remember back in September when I talked about this story on the legalization of prostitution debate going on in Canada? If not the gist was that sex trade workers argued last year that the laws, as they stand now, prevent them from working in doors or in their homes, and prevent them from properly screening clients before they leave with them. Possibly putting them in danger. In June of this year a 5 panel committee of judges heard the case as the federal government appealed the September 2010 ruling focusing heavily on the safety concerns sex workers had regarding the laws in place in Canada. The panel grilled the government lawyers on the issue of safety. The judges on the panel challenged the government lawyer, Michael Morris, telling him that they find it “hard to understand why it is not self evident that these provisions harm the ability to carry out prostitution safely.”On June 17, 2011 the panel ordered a stay on the provinces laws surrounding prostitution stating: “”The stay will remain in effect until we say something different.” A ruling from the supreme court is not expected until this fall.
After weeks of presenting arguments, back in June, by both sides the appeal court announced their decision at 11 am local time. So what did the courts decide? According to CBC news the court agreed with the majority of Himel’s rulings last year. This comes as no surprise given the line of questioning the government lawyer faced. First, that provisions prohibiting common bawdy houses are unconstitutional in the form they are currently in. Second, they also found that not allowing people to live off the avails of prostitution was also unconstitutional. However, they found that communication for the purposes of prostitution law is not in violation of women’s rights.
However, the judges also ruled that living off the avails of prostitution law will remain in effect for the next 30 days, and that the bawdy house laws will remain in effect for the next 12 months allowing the government of Canada to draft appropriate legislation.
This decision from the appeals court in Ontario will have an interesting effect on laws across Canada. I suspect that other provincial laws will start to be called into question in regards to sex work. Paving the way for a re-structuring of the laws in Canada. I can’t wait to see how the Harper government will handle this one!
Although this is a relatively old debate I wanted to look at it again because it’s been back in the news recently in Canada, and because it’s been bothering me for over a year now.
Back in September of 2010 a judge in Ontario, Canada found that Canada’s prostitution laws were a violation of the Charter of Rights. Prostitution isn’t and has never been illegal in Canada. What is illegal is everything around it (ie-communication for the purposes and living off of) and the question was, does this violate the Charter of Rights? Justice Susan Himel made the decision that the following laws were a violation of the Charter of Rights: Operating a common bawdy house, living off the avails of prostitution, and communicating for the purposes of prostitution. “ I have found that the law as it stands, is currently contributing to the danger faced by prostitutes…Force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their right to security of the person” she said. In other words, these laws potentially endanger prostitutes.
Last October the Sociology Student Society at my school brought in a detective from our local vice unit to discuss the legalization of prostitution laws. The vice detective focused the conversation around the negative consequences of legalizing prostitution: human trafficking, and the impact it would have on organized crime. As I listened to her speak I also learned some things and started to genuinely rethink my position on the legalization of prostitution. I started to understand her view point and realize that it was not an issue that was as open and shut as I originally thought. No doubt, I had a problem with the state telling women what they could and couldn’t do with their own bodies, and I had a problem with the state forcing people, who are arguable some of the most vulnerable in society, underground and into dangerous situations. I found myself thinking that Justice Himmel’s ruling is too simplistic and possibly dangerous. There are too many people at risk (mostly women and children) to simply dismiss it.
This detective started presenting us with facts and figures about prostitution that I had never thought about before. One thing that that stuck out in my mind was that a person living off prostitution (a pimp) earns somewhere around $900/day/prostitute. When this number is then extrapolated to 20 or 50 prostitutes it gives us an idea as to why prostitution is so important to organized crime. It also explains to us why it is financially viable for gangs to go to the lengths they have to find vulnerable women to participate in the sex trade. This is obviously a real issue, a social problem that isn’t going to go away because we make prostitution illegal or legal. So I started to think about these issues, I’ve been troubled ever since.
Sex trade workers argued last year that the laws, as they stand now, prevent them from working in doors or in their homes, and prevent them from properly screening clients before they leave with them. Possibly putting them in danger. In June of this year a 5 panel committee of judges heard the case as the federal government appealed the September 2010 ruling focusing heavily on the safety concerns sex workers had regarding the laws in place in Canada. The panel grilled the government lawyers on the issue of safety. The judges on the panel challenged the government lawyer, Michael Morris, telling him that they find it “hard to understand why it is not self evident that these provisions harm the ability to carry out prostitution safely.”
On June 17, 2011 the panel ordered a stay on the provinces laws surrounding prostitution stating: “”The stay will remain in effect until we say something different.” A ruling from the supreme court is not expected until this fall.
Does this mean I think the ruling is wrong? On the contrary I think this is the correct ruling and I do not think it should be reversed. The ruling is about whether or not prostitutes have the right to work safely. I don’t see what there is to debate here. Everyone has the right to safety. Michael Morris, the lawyer for Ottawa, argues that prostitution was not illegal and that the laws surrounding it were specifically designed to attack johns and pimps that engage in this activity. The laws are not meant to risk the safety of the prostitutes. Ottawa I think the time has come to acknowledge that your laws have epically failed in this regard and they need to be revised. What we need is to alter the current legislation that does not protect women and girls who are at risk, and often makes decisions for us that as adults we should be able to make for ourselves.
The focus should be on criminal organizations and not on the prostitutes themselves. By altering our laws we allow those who want to operate independently do so more safely and, if done correctly, we can put more resources into doing something about the organized criminal element of this trade. We will be allowing law enforcement to work with agencies to better respond to problem elements, we will hopefully be able to better handle the spread of disease related to prostitution, and we will be in a better position to help those women who are trapped by prostitution. I am no fool; I realize it is not just as easy as that. Something like this will take time and collaboration with many different people and organizations but I think the time has come to start doing this.
Those who oppose legalized prostitution have not yet offered a solution or alternative to the troubled social problems we clearly have. While they are busy yelling and screaming about morality, women and children are being forced to work in terrible conditions and people are dying at the hands of pimps, criminal organizations, and scum like Robert Pickton. Instead of managing the problem or improving the problem we seem to be trapped in this downward spiral where women just keep getting the short end of the stick and no one actually wants to talk about the issues at hand. We can’t help anyone if they are hiding in fear of being prosecuted. It’s time to step up.