Why Canada may (and should) decriminalize prostitution

Last Thursday, the Canadian Supreme Court saw the case that may in eight months decriminalize prostitution in Canada.

Last year, the Ontario Supreme Court overturned two key provisions in Canada’s Criminal Code related to prostitution. The Court ruling struck down sections that prohibited brothels and pimping but kept communication for the purpose of sex illegal. The last part, most likely an urban aesthetic choice than a moral one.

In a historic move, three Ontario sex workers and York University professor Alan Young successfully argued that the sections infringed on the Charter’s protection to life, liberty and security of a person. Ontario Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella determined the provisions targeted and violated sex workers’ rights by creating a hostile work environment.

The ruling has set into motion a precedent to decriminalize prostitution across Canada. Quebec has signaled it is already moving to establish licensed brothels and will likely follow Ontario and bring the world’s oldest profession out of the Dark Ages.

Department of Justice Minister, Rob Nicholson, through the Crown, has filed an appeal for more time so the Harper government may study and prescribe alternative solutions to address issues raised by Justice Abella. The request was supported by religious right wing and conservative groups that maintained prostitution degrades society’s moral fabric, harms women and supports criminal activities.

Participants in the recent Toronto and Quebec decriminalization street marches were predominately women but not all women’s groups are of one mind on this issue. Some advocate a similar position to that of Nicholson and the right wing groups.

Conservative feminist position prostitution as irreconcilable as a free and willing choice for women because the commercialization of sex mainly favours heterosexual men’s demand for women and that it objectifies women as sexual commodities. Broadly, they feel it degrades society as well as women’s career prospects, image and self-esteem.

It’s condescending to assert that women (or men, Conservative Feminist arguments hardly acknowledge male or LGBT prostitutes) do not have the mental faculty and free agency to decide who their sexual partner(s) are for themselves. Feminists claiming women engage in sex work lack education and understanding of their social condition are paternalistic and patronizing.

While they may see themselves as crusaders, much like the suffragettes, rescuing fallen sisters manipulated by mankind’s wicked ways, they are actually putting the patriarchal shoe on the other foot. Instead of men controlling women’s bodies, certain women control all women’s bodies. Prostitutes are treated as infants incapable of rendering rational decisions and understanding the world.

Rather than degrading society, especially women, affording prostitutes necessary rights and legal tools to protect themselves from bad johns (or janes), empowers them to decide who they will and won’t sleep with.

Currently, prostitutes not working for reputable escort services operate in total darkness and fear. Street workers are not hired often because they suffer from mental illness and substance addiction. They are the most vulnerable and subject to extreme poverty.

Present laws push them further outside the margins of society and deny them police protection. This forces them to get protection from pimps, or in some cases male officers (or “sperm whales”), both who are known to abuse and exploit them.

They cannot hire their own protection, such as boyfriends or husbands, because they would be charged with pimping. Those with children would also lose custody.

Opponents of decimalization rob women (and men) from making choices in their bedrooms while subjecting prostitutes to deadly environments. Street prostitutes cannot all leave the business, if they could they would. Arresting prostitutes does not stop them for the same reasons; they are desperate.

The patriarchy did not corner everyone into prostitution. Some willingly chose the profession.

For opponents of the patriarchy what better way to stick it to the man than to withhold sex. Men would have to be proper in all areas of male and female relations.

Arguments for decriminalization are similar to those favouring abortion rights. They revolve around choice and consent and that competent adults can decide for themselves what they can and cannot do with their bodies and with whom.

So if successful, Young may become the next Morgentaler. Unlike the latter, conservative feminists would not be able to attack Young by implying financial profiteering. He has taken on the growing half a million dollar case pro bono.

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