I wonder if we’ll ever make up our minds in this country what we want to do about prostitution.
Far from being the triumph for enlightenment an Ontario judge’s ruling is being hailed as this week, it’s further evidence of the muddled, fuzzy headed state of so-called liberal progressives, matched only by the punitive mindset of the conservative minded.
Those who promote the interests of prostitution under the banner of safety for sex workers are so contradictory in their messages I despair for any possibility of rational debate or a practical solution.
Rather than bringing any clarity or sense of direction to the prostitution issue, Justice Susan Himel’s decision epitomizes our national befuddlement. Himel ruled that current laws making communication for the purposes of prostitution, keeping a common bawdy house, and living off the avails (that’s “pimping” to you and me), are unconstitutional.
“By increasing the risk of harm to street prostitutes, the communicating law is simply too high a price to pay for the alleviation of social nuisance,” Himel wrote in her decision.
“I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public.”
To listen to the three sex-trade workers who brought the challenge to court, this is a great victory for the welfare of society. Two of them are prostitutes, the third is a Toronto dominatrix who goes by the professional name of Madame de Sade.
Apparently, we’re expected to give credibility to a woman whose business is bondage and sexual humiliation, and who said she intended to celebrate her victory in court by “spanking some ass.”
While Himel’s decision is intended to increase safety for hookers, it does the opposite.
Self-righteous columnists and commentators who paint themselves as socially with it like to point out that prostitution is not illegal in Canada, smugly declaring this to be some sort of legislative incongruity.
In fact, the law on communication is a smart, practical way to prosecute those who live off the sex trade. Instead of going around trying to catch people in the act of having sex and proving money was exchanged, police use the communication law. In Kamloops, RCMP frequently carry out sting operations in which undercover officers pretend to be either hookers or johns, arresting those who seek to buy or sell sex.
Himel says sex workers would be safer if they could work inside, so brothels shouldn’t be illegal. But removing the law against communicating for the purposes of prostitution would massively increase street prostitution, putting more hookers in danger and creating greater risk to the public via more sidewalk harassment, drug dealing and street crime.
The judge believes making pimping legal will allow prostitutes to hire security. Maybe, but it will also open up the gates on recruitment and exploitation of women, and the violence that goes with it.
Though prostitution laws are outside its authority, the City of Kamloops has its own contradictions: while funding harm-reduction programs for prostitutes, it pulls the business licences of massage parlours suspected of operating as brothels.
City councils will find themselves dealing with a whole new set of neighbourhood zoning issues if Himel’s decision is upheld and spreads across the country.
The greatest contradiction of all, though, is our inability to make up our minds whether we should embrace the sex trade, try to manage it, or continue the unending struggle to eliminate or at least limit it.
Those in the trade are as confused as anyone about this. While it’s currently de rigueur for sex-trade workers to regard themselves as victims, I’ve also sat in on a few panel discussions in which they’re loud and proud about what they do. That’s fine, but which is it?
If prostitution is a bad thing, and we’d be better off without it, why is there such celebration in the sex trade over a court ruling that would have the effect of perpetuating and even expanding it?
Public opinion polls fairly consistently show half of Canadians support decriminalizing prostitution; half want the status quo. We remain, as a country, without consensus.
This week’s court decision leaves only a potential vacuum; it does nothing to help find practical solutions.