Court strikes down Harper-era prostitution laws

Sex workers rights advocates say Trudeau should get rid of laws that have driven the trade further underground and endangered the lives of women



On Friday (February 21), a London, Ontario judge ruled that prostitution laws prohibiting the procuring, advertising and “material benefit” from sex services are unconstitutional.

The ruling has taken the judge a year to prepare. The motion challenging the law in the case was presented on behalf of Fantasy World Escorts, no doubt at great expense.

The decision echoes another made by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2013 in Canada v. Bedford. I am the Bedford in Canada v. Bedford.

Back then the court ruled that laws restricting sex work exposed women to danger. For example, the laws prevented sex workers from working from secure premises or hiring security. 

The Harper government responded to the Supreme Court ruling by ramming through a new law, the so-called Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, which was patterned after the so-called Nordic model. It allowed the sale of sex acts but criminalized buyers or enablers.

Opponents of the new law argued that it replicated the constitutional flaws of old laws. The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform says the Harper-era laws have pushed the trade underground and led to more missing, murdered and abused women.

Despite the laws, the sex trade is booming. A strong economy is one reason. Reason number two is that most clients of sex trade workers don’t even know that the Harper-era laws exist. Reason number three is that advertising online is now done via off-shore servers, out of the reach of the law. Reason four: landlords and hotels who obey the law lose revenue, so they break it. And reason number five is that authorities do not have the resources to enforce the law in the first place.

The Harper-era laws, however, have been a gift to organized crime and human traffickers of women for sex. They’ve made Harper the godfather of sex trafficking in Canada. Peter MacKay and Rob Nicholson, his justice ministers at the time, were eager henchmen. Why should they care? Those victimized were unlikely to vote for them.

The judge who first struck down the old prostitution laws, Susan Himel, argued that existing laws against assault, confinement and illegal immigration would address the worst aspects of the sex trade. It hasn’t worked out that way. The authorities have important issues to answer.

In the debate over whether the sale of sex acts between consenting adults should be decriminalized, there were many cherry-picked stories used to argue for the Nordic model.

That so-called evidence has been debunked. Yet the stories and the “evidence” are dredged up again and again by opponents of decriminalization. This won’t change with the most recent ruling and should be seen for the fraud that it is.

There are also those who support the current law for what may be called ideological or moral reasons. Their morality is as perverted as their so-called evidence. Women have a right to control their own bodies.  

Justin Trudeau and his party voted against the current law when in opposition. His late father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, famously said that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. Trudeau has a choice to make. If the PM says he cannot comment because the matter is still before the courts, I have no problem with that.

But when there is a national crisis real leaders act. Will he protect women by getting rid of the law before it’s too late? Or, will he continue to do nothing? 

@nowtoronto

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