Monday 22 November 2010

Canada: On the brink of a social experiment?

As lawyers for the federal government would have it, Canada is on the brink of an unprecedented social experiment. A September ruling by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice struck down laws against keeping a common bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living on the avails of the trade. Prostitution is not illegal in Canada, but nearly everything related to it is.

In a 131-page ruling released in September, Justice Susan Himel determined the laws created a dangerous environment for sex-trade workers. "I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public," she wrote. She ruled the laws — operating or working in a brothel, communicating for the purpose of prostitution and living off the avails of prostitution — put the safety of prostitutes at risk and contravened the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The struck-down provisions deal with adult prostitution. Prostitution laws dealing with those under the age of 18 remain unaffected.

These changes would come into effect this coming Saturday, November 27. Lawyers for the federal government are arguing today, Monday, November 22 for a stay. They are presenting the case that such a radical change in Canada's laws should not be up to one judge. They are also saying that the ruling would make the policing of pimps who exploit prostitutes more difficult and would increase prostitution across the country.

The government also said that abolishing these laws would lead to an increase in other illegal activities, such as drug-trafficking, violence, and johns patrolling the streets plus it would also create a legal uncertainty between Ontario and other jurisdictions in the country. But Alan Young, the lawyer representing three sex-trade workers who brought the issue before the Ontario Superior Court, said countries that have legalized prostitution have not seen an increase in other illegal activities. "Their claims are really speculative opinions," said Young.

Professional Toronto dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford and two other sex workers back in 2009 launched a sweeping constitutional challenge to the legislation about prostitution, arguing it perpetuates violence against women.

The now 50-year-old Toronto grandmother, along with prostitutes Valerie Scott, 52, and Amy Lebovitch, 31, asked Ontario's Superior Court of Justice to invalidate Criminal Code provisions that serve as Canada's policy response to the world's oldest profession. They argued that prohibitions against prostitution forced them from the safety of their homes to the insecurity of the street, where they are exposed to physical and psychological violence.

The fact that prostitution itself is not illegal in Canada, but almost everything associated with it is was supposedly acknowledged by one judge of the Supreme Court of Canada as "bizarre." Bedford's home has been raided twice and she was charged in 1998 of keeping a common bawdy house. Sex-trade workers say removing the laws will allow them to work indoors, hire bodyguards and communicate with potential clients to determine if they would pose a threat.

My Opinion
I have never visited a prostitute in my life. [chuckles] At one time, when I was younger I had considered whether I should make up for a missed rite of passage but never did.

Nevertheless, I am certain that while our society has closeted prostitution like it hides everything related to sex, our society as a whole would not only benefit from the removal of a social stigma but would see the benefit of controlling and regulating what we all knows goes on but is pushed underground due to our laws.

Will the sky fall? Get serious. In my series on Pornography, the article Pornography: Does it lead to crime? Part 2, I point out how legitimate studies have clearly shown that with the increase of the availability of pornography, there is a corresponding decrease in the rate of sex related crime. This was shown in Japan, the United States, Denmark and Germany.

In other words, our traditional thinking, our traditional logic does not match reality. Outlawing something does not make it go away. Prohibition during the 1920's clearly demonstrated this.

In my articles on abortion, Abortion: If we make it illegal, the problem will go away and Abortion: My final word on unwanted pregnancy, I point out how making abortions illegal does not in any way stop them from happening. I also point out how the right wing Christian fundamentalists who pursue a policy of abstinence and no contraception are actually contributing to the increase in abortions instead of lowering them.

Regulation and control would be a good thing. The newspapers pick up periodically a story of the spread of disease, the terrible life of a sex worker, abuse, human trafficking and even slavery. Canada's laws have failed totally in eradicating any of these problems which exist in our society. It is time to take a new approach, one which does not attempt to solve the problem by outlawing it and hiding it but by dealing with it head on.

The writer Rita May Brown said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

It is time to try something new.


Wikipedia: Sex Professionals of Canada
Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) is a Canadian activism group. SPOC was formed in 2001, and campaigns for decriminalization through public education and legal challenges to decriminalize Canadian prostitution laws.

On March 20, 2007, Valerie Scott, Amy Lebovitch, both current sex workers, and dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford initiated an application in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice seeking the constitutional invalidation of s.210 (bawdy house), s.212(1)(j) (living on the avails) and s.213(1)(c) (communicating for the purpose of prostitution) of the Criminal Code.

official web site: Sex Professionals of Canada

Canadian Legal Information Institute: Bedford v. Canada, 2010 ONSC 4264 (CanLII)


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