The new prostitution laws in Canada. Why I don’t think a brothel is coming to a neighbourhood near you.
Canada’s Schizophrenic Prostitution Laws
Sue McGarvie, Clinical Sex Therapist
Canadians pride ourselves on being socially liberal and tolerant of a variety of lifestyles. We’ve been through gay marriage, marijuana challenges, bigamy, and the repeal of the abortion laws in the last few decades. Although we struggle to find that middle group of social mores we have arguably been schizophrenic on controversial subjects. We have wishy washy laws that don’t appear to be enforced. Marijuana isn’t decriminalized, but walk through any city park in the evening and note the patches of fragrant smoke. The bigamy laws have been recently upheld as long as you are not officially claiming to be married to more than one person. Having ten ‘girlfriends’ all living with you in openly sexual relationships and parenting all of your children is completely legal. But nothing illustrated this convoluted middle ground better than our prostitution laws. Sex for money is not in the Criminal Code of Canada. Talking about sex for money, or open solicitation is. We understand it’s the oldest profession, and we understand that it’s completely accessible, but we don’t believe in talking clearly about the transaction.
The Canadian prostitution laws have been openly ridiculous for a long time. Read the back pages of any tabloid or the yellow pages and you’ll find extensive listings of escorts along with detailed catch phrases outlining their sexual specialties. I’ve seen sandwich boards outside massage parlors offering up a price list and menu of sexual services in downtown Toronto. If we really had an appetite to enforce the laws against the open sex trade in Canada this would have been an obvious starting point.
And up until recently we haven’t had a revamp of Canada’s prostitution laws despite it being long overdue. A year ago that changed when the current prostitution laws were deemed unconstitutional after being tested by three Toronto area sex workers. The Government of Canada appealed, and today the Ontario Court of Appeal offered up a typically Canadian mixed ruling on Canadian prostitution laws. It is still considered completely legal to take money for sex, but activities such as negotiating value, open solicitation and living off the avails (pimping) are still illegal and in the Canadian Criminal Code. Interestingly, the bawdy house or brothel law was struck down by the Court of Appeals. The right to safely work inside was deemed more pressing than our distaste for having houses of ill repute popping up. But don’t look for a Nevada Chick Ranch coming soon to a neighbourhood near you. The court gave the Government a year before the ban on brothels comes into play.
I’m confident that well within that year the Conservative Government will appeal again, this time to the Supreme Court of Canada. It buys politicians another year at least. And with no appetite to let judges determine social policy in Canada, and a political base with entrenched traditional values, the Conservatives will have a hard time living with the new Ontario rules. As with many Canadian rulings, neither side feels like they can claim victory. But in this case it may actual solve the legal problem that was originally presented. It’s been our collective shame that by not looking at these laws we have made it easy for predators such as BC’s William Picton to prey on a vulnerable group of women. Statistically there are not many serial killers around but of those there are half of them kill prostitutes. By not addressing this problem we were guaranteeing more women (like those missing in Alberta or on northern BC’s Highway of Tears) will be without any options. By keeping pimping and exploitation illegal, it keeps the laws enforceable for any underage or international sex trade, while allowing women who decide for whatever reason to do this for a job, an opportunity to do it safely.