Thursday, October 8, 2009

National Post Editorial

Despite some rather tasteless references to the missing women of the Downtown Eastside, this article is full of the common sense the world seems to be lacking about sex. Now if we could just get it straight for everyone - it's "decriminalization," not "legalization" we need.

National Post editorial board: Legalize the sex trade

Posted: October 07, 2009, 8:30 AM by NP Editor

The three sex-trade workers trying to pursue a Charter argument against Canada’s prostitution laws in an Ontario court this week have a very simple message. Whatever your moral principles, whatever you think of prostitution, whatever you think an “ideal” sex trade would look like or whether there would be one at all, we cannot possibly do worse at protecting vulnerable women than we are now.

Is it possible to disagree? One man of pretty modest intelligence and means, Robert Pickton, is said to have admitted to killing 49 prostitutes in British Columbia before the police descended on him. That’s not just a crime; it’s an epidemic — practically a public-health issue.

It was only possible because every Canadian metropolis, at any moment, has a large collection of “missing” women who live in a precarious demi-monde of disconnectedness and invisibility. They make easy prey for sociopaths, since the furtive, illegal nature of their work requires that they jump into the cars of strangers after a few seconds of commercial negotiation. If they don’t show up at “work” the next morning, they aren’t missed — except perhaps by their pimps (who must surely rank among the biggest supporters of the current legal regime). In regards the larger society, they get noticed only when their remains pile up high enough to attract statistical attention.

In the past, our weird Criminal Code approach to prostitution — the thing itself being lawful, but its practitioners being forbidden to advertise, do business collectively, or hire help — has been found to pass Charter muster because minimizing the nuisance of prostitution is considered a pressing legislative objective, and because the “economic rights” of sex workers to solicit business and seek certain efficiencies and economies of scale are not the sort of core entitlements the Charter is meant to protect.

But what we’re left with is a combination of incentives that serve to isolate women. That some will sell their bodies is guaranteed, on the demand side, by eternal human nature; there has never been even a medium-sized social grouping where somebody wasn’t peddling sex to somebody else. The effect of our existing laws is to practically require that the business be practiced alone, outside the law, without regulatory oversight or a permanent health and security infrastructure.

And what do we gain from it? Have the nuisance effects of street prostitution vanished from our cities? Have young runaways stopped being cajoled or impressed into the business? Do they not get, and spread, HIV and other sexually-transmitted pathogens? The one certain thing, supported by indisputable evidence available to every legislator, is that a lot of them are being murdered.

What progress has been made is mostly attributable to careful overlooking of the strange text of the Criminal Code within certain environmental niches. In many Canadian cities, rub-and-tug shops are now slightly more visible than they were even a decade or two ago; the police and the municipal authorities have allowed them to flourish, in an understated manner, in industrial neighbourhoods where their presence is less likely to raise objections. The women who work behind those doors may be miserable, but they’re not being fed to pigs by the dozen.

In light of this, the arguments being made by government lawyers in the Ontario Charter case seem ridiculous: Their essential claim is that all prostitution is equally dangerous. Every adult knows perfectly well it’s not so, and the sooner we start making laws and regulations consciously on the basis of the truth, the better for everyone.

National Post

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