On Dec. 20, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned our country’s outdated and nonsensical prostitution laws. However, in an effort to dissuade us all from running naked into downtown, spilling our coins and ourselves into the streets, the court kept the laws in place for one year in order to give the federal government enough time to draft new legislation.
In the mean time, however, New Brunswick has tossed caution to the wind and has become the first province in Canada to stop prosecuting both prostitutes and Johns. On Jan. 27, the province even went as far as to drop the charges of solicitation against six men in Moncton in light of the recent Supreme Court decision.
New Brunswick does not have the best track record when it comes to facing women’s issues head on. This province has some of the nation’s most medieval abortion laws, our rate of sexual assault is astronomical and women are embarrassingly underrepresented in UNB’s Board of Governors as well as in our Legislative Assembly – being elected to only seven of the Legislature’s fifty-five seats.
New Brunswick’s dismissal of Canada’s current prostitution laws, dragging the issue of sexuality and the expression of it into the centre of the provincial spot light, is probably the best thing to happen to this province’s women since they won the right to hold public office – which wasn’t until 1934, by the way.
Furthermore, earlier this month, on Feb. 6, Ontario announced that it too would be following New Brunswick’s lead and not be pursuing cases that involve keeping a bawdy house, living on the avails of prostitution, or communicating for the purposes of prostitution, the three offences the Supreme Court struck down.
That’s right, Ontario is now following New Brunswick. The prophecy of St. Irving is finally coming true.
But the Federal Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Peter MacKay, said not enforcing existing prostitution laws is “not an option.” MacKay, however, is apparently still learning that the law is a nuanced thing, as he seems to be unaware that it is indeed an option since the laying of criminal charges is a function of police, who work independent of the attorney general.
The head of the Saint John Police Force, Chief Bill Reid, has stated that his city’s officers will not prosecute prostitutes or Johns until federal laws are clarified. Reid commented that to continue laying charges “would be a bit of fool’s errand right now.”
Enter a fool, presumably in need of an errand:
Moncton City Councillor, Shawn Crossman is adamantly against letting sex workers walk the streets. Crossman stated, “As the father of a 13-year-old daughter, I mean that is truly unacceptable, to know that our province has taken that mentality.”
Councillor Crossman, I have absolutely no idea what your 13-year-old daughter has to do with why you insist on enforcing prostitution legislation. It seems that your argument rests upon your connection that most sex workers are female and your child happens to be female as well. However, if the only things keeping your daughter from selling her body on Moncton city corners are antiquated and labyrinthine laws, then perhaps that says more about your parenting style than it does about New Brunswick’s policing standards.
In the future, Councillor Crossman, you may wish to consider not assembling your public policy statements by copying and pasting the CBC comments section.
Laws that broadly criminalize prostitution, using a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel, do very little to prevent prostitution. If they did prevent it, prostitution would not be literally the world’s oldest profession.
We know that blanket prohibition does not work. People are going to sell their bodies for sex inside or outside the confines of the law. All that prohibition achieves is a unregulated market, controlled by criminals. We also know that criminalizing the sex trade only encourages human rights abuses to prostitutes, making it exponentially more dangerous for sex workers. If a society’s laws are supposed to protect those in need of protection, laws that criminalize prostitution hinder more than they help.
If acts surrounding prostitution are illegal then that makes prostitutes criminals. The label of “criminal,” however, doesn’t make moral or logical make sense. One of the most common things with which to market yourself is your body, which is fine as long as the transaction is between two consenting adults. We create prostitution as an ethical enclave, removed from other standards of labour, solely for the reason that we don’t like to think about it. It’s icky.
Prostitutes themselves should not be the target of the law, but rather the parasitic appendages that are all too often attached to the sex trade. The sex trade debate extends deep into issues such as gender inequality, addiction resources, poverty, aboriginal relations, and many more.
It would, however, be foolish to think that the wholesale legalization of the sex trade would fix the socio-economic problem of disenfranchised women selling their bodies for sex. Simply making brothels legal will not eradicate the lack of agency suffered by many sex trade workers because a 35-year-old aboriginal woman, working in Vancouver’s downtown Eastside will never make it into a brothel.
The debate surrounding prostitution is incredibly complex. Comments like those of Councillor Crossman’s only appeal to the lowest common denominator, using innuendo and implication more than actual argument. This country has lived with such primordial laws concerning the sex trade because we were all to scared to talk about it. Perhaps the terms for sexual acts would not be so overwhelmingly pejorative if we were able to talk about them without the fear of shame or deviance.
It is only by encouraging a meaningful discussion about how our culture and country views the bodies of both males and females, and how we can achieve a space in which those bodies may act in a way that benefits both parties physically and mentally, that we will move towards living in a society that is able to applaud sexual freedom without accepting sexual exploitation.