Yes, you read right. Susan Himel, judge of the Ontario Superior Court, recently ruled in favour of dominatrix Terri-Jean Bradford’s litigation, which pushed for the abolition of Canadian laws that heavily restricted the legal rights of prostitutes. There has been a lot of controversy about the decision, so let’s hear all the information.
Bradford argued that the laws previously in place violated women’s Charter rights to security of person and freedom of expression.
Prostitution itself has never actually been illegal in Canada. However, at www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com, you find, “Currently, four classes of prostitution-related activities are prohibited:
1) procuring or living on the avails of prostitution; 2) owning, operating, or occupying a bawdy house; 3) all forms of public communication for the purpose of prostitution; and 4) knowingly transporting another to a bawdy house.” The first one made it illegal for prostitutes to hire security, drivers, managers, accountants, etc; basically, it was illegal for a second party to benefit from the prostitute’s business. The second rule is self-explanatory: the act of owning or operating a brothel was prohibited (although it is widely reported that many massage parlors in Toronto operate similarly). The third rule prohibited the advertisement or public solicitation of sex services, though we often see cleverly disguised ads for such services in the back pages of classified sections. The fourth one specifically made it illegal to drive prostitutes or clients to or from a location that involved any sex-trading operations.
These four prohibitions have been deemed unconstitutional by Himel.
The permanent abolition of these statutes could create very real and very visible social shifts in our streets and communities. Brothels could be publicly advertised, meaning you would likely walk by many locations overtly advertising sex trade services, particularly downtown. Sex trade services could be overtly advertised—on TV, radio, billboards, etc. Prostitutes could solicit you publicly, like squeegee kids, with no fear of legal repercussion. Legalizing professional prostitution would also mean that sex workers’ income would be taxed.
These are just some of the more obvious effects of abolishing these laws. We might start to see large institutions or even brand names attached to the prostitution industry. Many more jobs would be created as a byproduct of this industry—management, call centres, security, and driving services could all flourish in their attachment to prostitution.
Economically and politically, aspects of these judicial shifts could be considered beneficial. But what about the moral aspect of it all? Increasing the safety and practicality of the sex trade may encourage people who were previously undecided or apprehensive to finally pursue such a “career”, especially the financially desperate. It’s human nature to weigh benefits and risks before making a decision, and, if legal penalties and safety concerns are removed from the equation, we could see an increase in the number of willing Canadian sex workers. As a community and a nation, is this the sort of behavior we want to encourage? It’s tough to predict the indirect repercussions that may result from such laws.
(A note from the editor: There has, of course, been lots of argument on both sides. One side argues that these restrictions of freedom were unconstitutional; the other argues that all prostitutes are victims and will be further victimized; still others weigh in on either side of the “ethical to allow vs. unethical to forbid” issue. Meanwhile, the Canadian government announced that it will appeal the ruling.)
Nothing is set in stone, though: even the Superior Court judge who passed the ruling provided a 30-day waiting period before any of these changes officially come into effect—enough time to prevent brothels from cropping up on the street tomorrow while appeals are still in motion. This case, with its economical, political, and social repercussions, will almost certainly be appealled to the Supreme Court, and only then will we know for certain what permanent changes await our nation.