1 – What are Sane Prostitution Laws?

SPL Article  Introductory Article image

I have been involved in politics since my childhood and I have never been so embarrassed as I was the day that my government stood in front of the highest court in the land and said that it should have the right to make bad and harmful laws. The government’s lawyer argued with a straight face that the government should have the right, legally, to outlaw bicycle helmets or outlaw safety measures in factories, because people can make the choice not to ride bikes or work in those industries. According to the government, they can make as harmful laws as they please without violating our Charter of Rights and Freedoms so long as someone could avoid these harms by making a different choice. This was the only argument that they could make in defense of Canada’s prostitution laws, because anyone who has studied these laws knows that they are harmful and unmitigated disasters. Nobody could rationally defend these laws on the basis that they are effective at their stated aim of preventing prostitution, nor that they prevent more harm than they cause. The only way to defend them is to defend the government’s right to make bad laws, laws that cause harm to Canadian citizens.

Think about this for a moment, and all of its chilling implications. According to this argument, if the government doesn’t approve of your choices, you surrender your right to be protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Give that a moment to sink in. Our government is claiming the right to create laws that harm any Canadians who are making different choices than the ones that the government wants them to make, so long as the person has the ability supposedly to make a different choice. The sex workers being put at serious risk of death and abuse by these laws are not criminals – sex work itself is not illegal in Canada – these are Canadians knowingly being put in danger by our government because it disapproves of their perfectly legal choices. The claim that this is something the government has every constitutional right to do is a very disturbing precedent indeed.

Prostitution in Canada is a very challenging issue on a great number of levels, and it is one that there are a wide variety of different views on. In general, most people in Canada view prostitution as degrading toward women, damaging to our social fabric or otherwise as something that we’d prefer not to have in our society. There is also a minority view that sex work can be an empowering and positive thing. It is not the purpose of Sane Prostitution Laws to argue for or against any of these points, and we welcome readers regardless of their personal views. What we are trying to accomplish at Sane Prostitution Laws is to cast light on how the current Canadian prostitution laws under debate are harmful, ineffective and against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and to advocate that any new legal approach – whether aimed toward abolition, legalization or anything in between – must be critically appraised to make sure that its practical effects don’t actually cause more harm than they prevent. A piece of legislation that in practice causes more harm than good is a bad law, regardless of what good intentions may be behind it.

The laws currently under debate make it illegal for sex workers to gather together in brothels, communicate about prostitution in public and for any non-sex worker to profit from prostitution. These laws were designed to keep prostitution out of the public eye, reduce its incidence by making it harder to practice and in the latter case to target abusive pimps. However, prostitution and the practice of pimping continue to flourish all over Canada, despite these laws. Worse, while these laws have nearly no effect in terms of their stated intent, they have significant and far-reaching effects in terms of making sex work more dangerous. They prevent sex workers from gathering together in indoor locations for mutual safety, from hiring any manner of legitimate bodyguards or managers, and from evaluating potential Johns and negotiating prices and limits  before getting into a potentially dangerous private situation, adding danger to a sex worker’s life in myriad ways. In trying to target pimps by criminalizing providing any manner of services (including security) to a prostitute, the laws ensure that the only ones to supply such services will be criminals, ensuring the existence of underworld pimps rather than legitimate managers or bodyguards. In making it difficult for sex workers to screen clients, the laws make them easy prey for killers like Robert Pickton and other abusers. These laws, while many may agree with their intent, are in practice a harmful mess.

There is a common saying, often misquoted to Albert Einstein, that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” While it may not be the most accurate scientific definition of mental illness, this saying is a quite telling one for a more colloquial definition of societal insanity. Laws that fail to accomplish their stated goal while causing more harm than they prevent and violating our Charter of Rights and Freedoms are futile, misguided, counter-productive and destructive – in a word, insane. Continuing to ignore the problems with these laws, clinging to their intention when their harmful reality is made clear, is the height of insanity. Sane Prostitution Laws is about having a discussion to inform people about how the current laws are insane and looking for sane approaches to confront the challenge of prostitution in Canadian society.

Leave Your Response

* Name, Email, Comment are Required