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What is wrong with the new prostitution law?

The Conservative government’s new prostitution law- which will criminalize the buying of sex -smacks of hypocrisy, mean conservatism, paternalism, and a continuation of Harper’s nonsensical “tough-on-crime” morality agenda.  This new law does nothing to protect the constitutional rights of persons who offer their bodies for money.

Not only are these conservatives uptight about sex, they want to “save” these poor prostitutes from their exploitative (also: dangerous) life choice.  Well, I think, if we try not to think about sex as something that is immoral if you pay for it, then we can discuss this issue applying some common sense.

If Prostitution is immoral,  does that also make it illegal?

The fact is that some of our criminal laws- such as our now stiffer drug laws, and our prostitution laws -still smack of ill-conceived morality:  “We think this is wrong for you to do, and, even though you are doing it to yourself, and this is a victimless crime, we think we should make your activity illegal because, to not do so, would cause the moral fabric of our society to unravel”.  The proposed prostitution law goes one step further by further victimizing prostitutes while, at the same time, trying to achieve the impossible goal of eradicating the world’s oldest profession. It is unlikely that these new laws will stop or reduce the number of men going to prostitutes, or women working as them.

Interestingly, in some circles (Nevada, Washington and Colorado, for example) legislators are agreeing that it is counterproductive to criminalize activity just because it is about sex or drugs, if the social and economic costs of its prohibition exceed those of the costs of an alternative regime that allows the activity to operate openly, and freely (subject to health and regulatory concerns).  The mainstream consensus to legalize or decriminalize marijuana comes out of an acceptance that the ‘war on drugs’ has been lost.  How many more prostitutes have to be further victimized by pimps and johns before it is agreed that this ill-conceived war on prostitution has been lost? There is no place for wrong-headed morality in the pages of the Criminal Code of Canada.

OK to sell sex, but not OK to buy it!

If the proposed legislation passes, it will be OK to sell sex, but verboten to buy it. Since it takes two to tango, the tango effectively becomes an illegal transaction.  So, now one has to go to “illegal”, underground tango clubs just to dance, as far away from police presence, in neighbourhoods that nobody cares about, just to make a living.  What an odd way to protect the constitutional (safety) rights of the prostitute? Wouldn’t it make more sense to allow them to advertise their wares, and conduct business like any other legitimate concern? This way the government can impose health and safety regulations on their conduct, and even collect taxes.  This makes so much sense. The problem is that the whole prostitution debate (if there ever really was one) has been won by our majority government and its paternalistic, uptight constituents. If Mr. Harper truly cares about life, liberty and security of the person of every prostitute he would not have created for them the unrealistic option to quit versus the dangerous one of ‘hiding in the shadows’.

Isn’t this really a Social Justice Issue?

Don’t get me wrong:  No one freely chooses to be a prostitute. Social problems such as poverty, abuse, addiction, and lack of education are usually behind what drives a woman or man to become a prostitute.  The same problems most likely inform the decision of a woman to become a porn star. We criminalize the former, and tolerate the latter. Wouldn’t it make more sense to tackle these issues head-on, as a social justice issue, by demanding more funding and resources for the poor and vulnerable of society? Here’s the rub:  Stephen Harper never frames an issue, such as the high rate of suicide and murder of aboriginal women, as a social problem.  To do so, would be to acknowledge that we don’t care about these people, and we have to do something to make our society a more just place to live in.  We might even have to spend more money tackling social problems, instead of giving tax breaks to the rich.  Instead, he tells us that he can solve those problems by getting more police involved. You are not going to get any votes by caring about the poor, but sure-as-hell will get lots of votes by telling people you are the only party that cares about the victim and fighting crime.

The Law does not protect Prostitutes from harm

Are you listening Stephen? During a session of the Senate committee hearings that purported to “discuss” the proposed legislation, dominatrix and activist, Terri-Jean Bedford, voiced her anger and frustration at the committee, with a threat that, if the law was passed, she would “name names of her politician clients”.  This was an attempt to underline the hypocrisy underlying the new legislation.  More poignantly, she was at the hearings to try and have her voice heard, to express her concerns that the new law does nothing to protect prostitutes from harm. Sex worker advocate Valerie Scott said it best in an interview with CBC News, published on February 7, 2014. Scott expressed serious concerns about the proposed law:

“Do not rewrite the laws. They did not rewrite the same sex marriage law, they did not rewrite the abortion law. But they know that we’re not a great huge amount of people — and we’re politically not a great cause to get behind in terms of vote-getting. The women who are doing the work should be the ones that are able to obtain a licence. We should be able to rent a place together and work together. That’s what safety is, being in proximity with each other”.

In the end, the Supreme Court of Canada will give Stephen Harper another nine thumbs down to this stupid ill-conceived law.  By that time, we hope, there will be someone else in power with the balls to do what the Supreme Court told Stephen to do in the first place.

Not only does the proposed prostitution law continue to violate the constitutional rights of prostitutes by exposing them to the violence and exploitation that occurs when an activity is made criminal, and driven underground, it also violates the rights of a prostitute to the freedom of expression guaranteed to all citizens who are trying to make a living, by taking away their customers.

Our Toronto Criminal Lawyers are Here to Help

At the Criminal Law Team, we care about these social, legal and economic issues, and recognize that the seed for most criminal activity resides in poverty, addiction, mental illness, and the lack of education.  By defending clients who are struggling to live a normal life, we hope that we are standing up for the right of every Canadian to continue to live in a free and fair democratic society.    See what our other clients are saying about us.  We can help you too!

By the way, what did the prostitute say to her politician bedfellow?

“Honey, I thought I was the only one who could suck and blow at the same time”

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