The Supreme Court of Canada recently struck down the country’s prostitution laws, but it left open the door for the federal government to pass new legislation that could reinstate the harmful and unwarranted criminalization of sex-trade workers.
The court only ruled that existing legislation was unconstitutional and it gave Parliament one year to decide how, if at all, it would pass legislation that met constitutional standards.
The court said its unanimous ruling “does not mean that Parliament is precluded from imposing limits on where and how prostitution may be conducted ... It will be for Parliament, should it choose to do, to devise a new approach.”
Unfortunately, the Conservative government said it intends to pass new laws that will continue to drive prostitution underground. It said criminal sanctions are necessary “to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution to communities, those engaged in prostitution and vulnerable persons.”
So once again, the government intends to continue with its righteous moralizing in the name of protecting women.
A better approach would be to provide direct support for women who need help, particularly drug addicts, the mentally ill and homeless who sell their bodies to make ends meet. Children and other vulnerable persons also need special protection from exploitation, which is already covered under the Criminal Code. The broader solution also includes social supports and safe houses.
People who force women into prostitution against their will should be prosecuted, and cities should have the ability to pass bylaws preventing sex-trade workers from operating in residential neighbourhoods.
But any law that bans sex-trade workers from operating out of a house, hiring security or talking to their clients before getting into a car with them merely puts women at risk. That’s partly why the court struck down the existing criminal sanctions.
The government and its allies have simply been unable to distinguish between the vulnerable who need help, and others who have made a sober choice to engage in the sex trade.
Prostitution, like any business, should be regulated, but criminalizing it is an offence against the very people the government falsely believes it is protecting.
» This was a Winnipeg Free Press editorial.