Our government is soliciting (so to speak) input from members of the public about the issue of prostitution in Canada. As the relevant website explains:
On December 20, 2013, in the case of Bedford v. Attorney General of Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada found three Criminal Code prostitution offences to be unconstitutional and of no force or effect. This decision gives Parliament one year to respond before the judgment takes effect. Input received through this consultation will inform the Government’s response to the Bedford decision.
Bedford, by the way, is Terri-Jean Bedford, a retired professional dominatrix who was once charged with “operating a bawdy house” and decided not to take it lying down. She launched “a legal challenge against Canada’s prostitution laws”, along with a couple of other plaintiffs, and ultimately spanked the government in court. The laws that were struck down, on the grounds that they compromised the security of prostitutes, banned keeping, inhabiting or even being found in a bawdy house, living on the avails of prostitution, and communicating in a public place for purposes of prostitution. In plain English, they banned brothels, pimpery, and streetwalking, even though there was no law against prostitution per se. In my opinion Bedford and her fellow plaintiffs, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott, deserve a great deal of credit for leading a charge against this two-faced status quo. Keeping prostitution legal, but criminalizing the arrangements that make prostitution workable, allowed a succession of Canadian governments to pose as broad-minded and non-judgemental on the subject while still maintaining a puritanical crackdown in practice.
Opposition to prostitution is one of those things that I once assumed would shrink to manageable levels along with organized religion. Barring some strange, theologically-inspired sense that sex was a very sacred or very profane activity, why would anyone object in principle to exchanging sexual services for money? Yes, there might be practical problems with things like disease transmission and worker safety, but in most industries those sorts of issues are handled with a regime of regulation and inspection – and I wouldn’t think recruiting brothel inspectors would be all that hard, frankly. Nevertheless, even as religiously inspired laws against everything from homosexuality to Sunday shopping rapidly shrink in Canada’s collective rear-view mirror, the idea of legalizing prostitution and treating it like any other facet of the economy remains controversial. So what gives?
What gives, of course, is a powerful but quite puzzling (at least to me) sense in some not-particularly-religious quarters that exchanging sex for money is somehow inherently exploitative and/or degrading. It’s not all that hard to find avowed atheists who object to prostitution, and Sweden, Norway and Iceland (not exactly hotbeds of religious fervour) have implemented a so-called “Nordic Model” that is just as hypocritical as Canada’s previous status quo. In this framework, selling sexual services is legal but buying them is illegal, so that the industry is unworkable and prostitutes are unable to operate within the law. The vaunted Nordic Model, in my opinion, is pointless prudery thinly disguised as thoughtful and enlightened public policy.
Whether you agree with me or not, the Department of Justice is interested in your opinion and the public consultation is set to continue until March 17. There’s every possibility that the exercise is a purely cosmetic one, but it shouldn’t be difficult or time-consuming to write a few sentences that make your opinion clear on the off-chance that it will be taken seriously. You can rail against the oldest profession, pen a solemn defence of the Nordic Model, put forward a calm civil libertarian view or simply yell at the government to touche pas à ta pute, but please do consider weighing in!