Tell The Government What You Think About Prostitution

Our government is soliciting (so to speak) input from members of the public about the issue of prostitution in Canada. As the relevant website explains:

On December 20, 2013, in the case of Bedford v. Attorney General of Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada found three Criminal Code prostitution offences to be unconstitutional and of no force or effect. This decision gives Parliament one year to respond before the judgment takes effect. Input received through this consultation will inform the Government’s response to the Bedford decision.

Bedford, by the way, is Terri-Jean Bedford, a retired professional dominatrix who was once charged with “operating a bawdy house” and decided not to take it lying down. She launched “a legal challenge against Canada’s prostitution laws”, along with a couple of other plaintiffs, and ultimately spanked the government in court. The laws that were struck down, on the grounds that they compromised the security of prostitutes, banned keeping, inhabiting  or even being found in a bawdy house, living on the avails of prostitution, and communicating in a public place for purposes of prostitution. In plain English, they banned brothels, pimpery, and streetwalking, even though there was no law against prostitution per se. In my opinion Bedford and her fellow plaintiffs, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott, deserve a great deal of credit for leading a charge against this two-faced status quo. Keeping prostitution legal, but criminalizing the arrangements that make prostitution workable, allowed a succession of Canadian governments to pose as broad-minded and non-judgemental on the subject while still maintaining a puritanical crackdown in practice.

Opposition to prostitution is one of those things that I once assumed would shrink to manageable levels along with organized religion. Barring some strange, theologically-inspired sense that sex was a very sacred or very profane activity, why would anyone object in principle to exchanging sexual services for money? Yes, there might be practical problems with things like disease transmission and worker safety, but in most industries those sorts of issues are handled with a regime of regulation and inspection – and I wouldn’t think recruiting brothel inspectors would be all that hard, frankly. Nevertheless, even as religiously inspired laws against everything from homosexuality to Sunday shopping rapidly shrink in Canada’s collective rear-view mirror, the idea of legalizing prostitution and treating it like any other facet of the economy remains controversial. So what gives?

What gives, of course, is a powerful but quite puzzling (at least to me) sense in some not-particularly-religious quarters that exchanging sex for money is somehow inherently exploitative and/or degrading. It’s not all that hard to find avowed atheists who object to prostitution, and Sweden, Norway and Iceland (not exactly hotbeds of religious fervour) have implemented a so-called “Nordic Model” that is just as hypocritical as Canada’s previous status quo. In this framework, selling sexual services is legal but buying them is illegal, so that the industry is unworkable and prostitutes are unable to operate within the law. The vaunted Nordic Model, in my opinion, is pointless prudery thinly disguised as thoughtful and enlightened public policy.

Whether you agree with me or not, the Department of Justice is interested in your opinion and the public consultation is set to continue until March 17. There’s every possibility that the exercise is a purely cosmetic one, but it shouldn’t be difficult or time-consuming to write a few sentences that make your opinion clear on the off-chance that it will be taken seriously. You can rail against the oldest profession, pen a solemn defence of the Nordic Model, put forward a calm civil libertarian view or simply yell at the government to touche pas à ta pute, but please do consider weighing in!

12 thoughts on “Tell The Government What You Think About Prostitution

  1. I support legalization, but there are in fact some problems that I’m trying to work through.

    The first is the supposed “sex tourism” influx that will occur and all manner of international dregs it will bring and the corresponding organized crime element that proliferates despite the local legality, when Canada becomes one of the only “free zones”.

    The only thing I can come up with is that we won’t avoid that, what seems to be a huge problem, until the legalization becomes much more widespread worldwide.

    The second has to do with your question:
    Opposition to prostitution is one of those things that I once assumed would shrink to manageable levels along with organized religion. Barring some strange, theologically-inspired sense that sex was a very sacred or very profane activity, why would anyone object in principle to exchanging sexual services for money? Yes, there might be practical problems with things like disease transmission and worker safety, but in most industries those sorts of issues are handled with a regime of regulation and inspection – and I wouldn’t think recruiting brothel inspectors would be all that hard, frankly.

    Well, it may seem very boorish and traitorous of me, but somehow I just can’t get over the thought that married men will tend to flock in droves so that you’re going to end up getting quite a heavy-handed opposition from married women.

    • 1) It’s hard to imagine Canada becoming a big draw for “sex tourism”, since most of the destinations for this are already well-known inexpensive tourist destinations, which Canada is not (though it remains to be seen how far the dollar will fall). Also, much of the sex tourism depends on providing the “tourists” with underage girls or boys, which would be strictly regulated under any imaginable Canadian law which allowed legal sex work.

      2) Are you suggesting that the only reason “droves” of Canadian married men are not hiring prostitutes is because it’s illegal? Is there any evidence for this?

    • I agree with Theo Bromine’s point about sex tourism, and I’d add – speaking only for myself, of course – that I wouldn’t object to Canada’s becoming a magnet for sex tourism as long as it was happening within the context of a well-regulated, well-policed, consenting-adults-only kind of sex industry. The sex tourists would be helping our economy, and hell, it would be nice if Canada were internationally famous for something other than hockey, maple syrup and Anne of Green Gables. Maybe I’m being too optimistic about the capabilities of Canadian law enforcement, but I really think that the involvement of organised crime and other problems surrounding the industry could be kept within manageable limits.

      Theo’s question about the motivations of Canadian married men also makes sense to me. In any case, some people (this surely isn’t an issue exclusively for women) might be willing enough to have their spouse visit a prostitute now and then if the alternatives were to have said spouse either moping around in a state of sexual unfulfillment or pursuing doubtful happiness on Ashley Madison.

  2. I very much doubt that the survey matters, Harper has already decided and we will have to wait for his decision
    to become public.

    • That may very well be true, but governments in democratic countries need to take public opinion into account (which need not amount, of course, to always following the wishes of the majority). If arguments either for or against legal prostitution dominate the consultation or are especially persuasive, that may give the our fearless leaders pause and influence their thinking at least in the long term. Besides, it’s not that difficult or time-consuming to put forward an opinion, so why not give it a try just in case?

      • My Conservative MP holds public ‘consultations’ to encourage his constituents to have their say in the federal budget. Every year we see a picture of him presenting the results of these ‘consultations’ to Minister Flaherty for his department’s consideration.

        This year’s ‘consultation’ took place on January 21.
        The Budget was announced on February 11.

        Obviously, these ‘consultations’ are merely part of scam being perpetrated on the Canadian public by the criminals currently in the Prime Minister’s Office.

        This illegal government cares not one whit about our voice nor our ‘democracy.’

  3. Support sex workers’ rights and the decriminalization of our jobs. The provision of sexual services for money has never been illegal in Canada. The charter challenge was brought to strike 3 laws that made our work dangerous. There are many other provisions in law to deal with abuse, underage and human trafficking. This is about consenting adults. It looks like they are considering a law that would criminalize the clients and deem all sex workers to be to be victims. That is far from reality. It patholigizes us and criminalizes customers and drives us underground again, from where we just negotiated our escape via this court challenge. Leave the sex trade alone! Indoor, outdoor, escorts, massage, indies etc.

    • I strongly agree with your general point of view, but I’d be curious to know how literal you’re being when you say that the law should “leave the sex trade alone”. Do you think there’s a place for licensing, inspections, health and safety standards, and all that boring but generally necessary (within reasonable limits) bureaucratic stuff that governments normally use to keep industries from becoming too dangerous and/or exploitative? I also see that the Sex Professionals of Canada site, which I assume you’re associated with, endorses “decriminalization” but opposes “legalization”. I frankly don’t understand the difference between those approaches. Could you explain (or point me to something that explains) how decriminalisation differs from legalisation, and why SPOC objects to the latter?

      These aren’t “gotcha” questions or hostile questions, by the way – I’d simply like to understand your point of view, which is probably a lot better-informed than mine.

      • I agree, I don’t like the idea of half measures. I think if there is legality then it should be a full one, whole-hog, with all the responsibilities and whatnot trappings etc etc….

        Maybe even you have to get a proper professional accreditation…spend a year or 2 in school before you get your license.

        As for my nagging fear of huge throngs of salivating half-zombie johns wandering aimlessly looking for god-knows-what, probably just over-sensitization from youtube life-of-a-prostitute and police john sting operation videos.

        • A year or two of schooling seems a bit excessive to me as a requirement to get a prostitution licence, but a quick course on safety procedures, public health and legal considerations, and other practicalities might be appropriate.

          As for those YouTube videos, I think it’s important to bear in mind that they’re not representative of prostitution – at most, they’re representative of the type of prostitution that is targetted by police (probably American police, in most cases). It’s precisely the more discreet, upmarket, professional and non-disruptive parts of the sex industry that one would expect to rarely appear in the videos.

  4. People always bring up the child prostitution strawman, even though no one is seriously proposing making that legal.

    Making prostitution legal is about not treating adults like children.

    • Ultra: Just in case it was not clear, I’ll point out that I made my comment about “underage girls and boys” I was arguing against the spectre of a huge influx of “sex tourism”, by saying that child prostitution would, of course, remain illegal in Canada. I completely agree that adults should get absolute control over what to do with their own bodies, for free or for pay.

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