The Court of Appeal for Ontario today struck down as unconstitutional a few of country’s anti-prositution laws. Arguing that the state is placing its citizens in danger with its laws, the unanimous decision legalizes both brothels and the hiring of security and support staff. It also makes it illegal for pimps to exploit prostitutes for financial gain. The law against communication for the purposes of soliciting was kept intact, a decision two of the five judges dissented in their written decision.
The court heard reams of arguments from all over the map. Some feminist groups sided with religious organizations to try and keep the laws in place. A lawyer for the Attorney General argued that it wasn’t the state that was endangering prostitutes, but the act of prostitution itself (implying that it’s their choice.) A few conservative groups brought up the issue of morals, that the state will be encouraging people to act immorally if these laws are withdrawn. This argument seems especially outdated. The days when a strong, shared sense of morals (Sex outside of wedlock is bad! Paying for sex even worse!) takes priority over women’s lives is, hopefully, a thing of the past.
A National Post column argues that liberals (and the “liberal media”) think of the sex trade as an occupation like any other, that the women in it are there by choice and whistle proudly to work. Little do these lefties know, the writer Barbara Kay points out, that the sex trade is an exploitative, violent enterprise that should be legally discouraged at all costs. She even talked to a real prostitute who agrees with her! Of course, this representation of the “liberal” viewpoint isn’t completely accurate. She presents an opposing argument in an erroneous light just to strengthen her point. Or maybe she just doesn’t get it. Even “liberals” admit that many sex workers are out there on the streets in a state of desperation, feeding drug addictions or trying to get out abusive homes.
For the Court of Appeal, and for many “liberals,” it comes down to a question of harm reduction. Women are being assaulted, many are killed. What can be done so that fewer people die? How can the laws be adjusted to help protect people who, although engaged in illegal activity, are still Canadian citizens? Today’s ruling is their answer.
But it’s up to Parliament now. As the three majority judges wrote in their decision, if the government tries to save the prohibitions, it “implies that those who choose to engage in the sex trade are… not worthy of the same constitutional protection as those who engage in other dangerous, but legal enterprises.”