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Commentary: New prostitution laws a step in the right direction

Public opinion concerning a landmark ruling by an Ontario Judge that has decriminalized prostitution has ranged from unbridled enthusiasm, to downright dismay, and has not been without its fair share of confusion as Canadians begin to come to grips with the new laws.

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by Trevor Fik (Staff Writer)

Public opinion concerning a landmark ruling by an Ontario Judge that has decriminalized prostitution has ranged from unbridled enthusiasm, to downright dismay, and has not been without its fair share of confusion as Canadians begin to come to grips with the new laws.

In debating whether the laws against communicating for the purpose of prostitution, pimping and operating a common bawdy house violated the rights of the accused individuals, Ontario Superior Court Judge Susan Himel noted that “laws set up to protect prostitutes actually endanger their safety, forcing them to furtively engage in hasty transactions conducted in shady locations,” according to The Globe and Mail.

In this way these criminal code statutes violate the accused rights held under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and have been shown to be unconstitutional. Ontario Crown lawyers have 30 days to argue for an extension before the laws take effect. The federal Conservative
government, as well as the Ontario government have said that they plan to file appeals.

Individuals are already up in arms over the rulings, fearing that prostitution will inevitably find its way in to their formerly quiet neighbourhoods. The reality is, however, if both the Conservative and Ontario government’s appeal fails (which is unlikely), regulation will be up to each individual municipality.

This could result in, as noted by York University Law Professor Bruce Ryder, sex-trade workers coming under even greater scrutiny than before the laws were passed.

“Licensing schemes could be highly restrictive and fees could be high,” Ryder said. “Zoning bylaws could be used to restrict bawdy houses to particular parts of a city.”

This is exactly what sex-trade workers were hoping to avoid in the first place. As the issue is becoming increasingly more complex, proponents of legalized prostitution often do not think about how systems of regulation and taxation will be implemented. The issue is not as cut and dry as legalizing the act and taxing the hell out of it, as many people wish to do. An entirely separate department within municipal governments would need to be set up to handle such cases, with policy construction up to individual cities.

With many individuals not wishing to be branded with the moniker “sex-trade worker” through forced registration with the local government, how many individuals will come forward and continue working under the watchful eye of their local government? Will women give up large amounts of income to forced taxation in exchange for the protection offered by the local police?

The crime will remain underground, and all that legalization will inevitably accomplish is the construction of a lot of bureaucratic red tape that makes it more likely women will continue plying their trade without the legal permission of their local government.

Another one of the central issues brought forth by the litigants, and an often discussed topic that goes hand in hand with the legalization of prostitution, is the perceived increased safety that accompanies legalizing prostitution.

The idea is that by being able to legally solicit sex, prostitution will be under the control of strict government regulation. As with alcohol or tobacco, any attempt to skirt or abuse these regulations will result in stiff penalties and legal consequences.

In theory the idea is sound, with any abuse or neglect towards sex trade workers being reported to authorities leading to a safe environment in which prostitution can be controlled.

However, in execution legalizing prostitution does little to dispel the harms that often befall sex-trade workers behind closed doors. In Holland, where prostitution is legal, human trafficking of young women from Eastern European countries still occurs at an alarming rate. As reported in the Montreal Gazette, these individuals often include minors, and other individuals who are lured in to the trade under false pretenses.

A Dutch policeman, who was interviewed by the Montreal Gazette, noted that although authorities regularly patrolled brothels, there was little they could do about the firm grip many pimps had over the women that they oversaw.

“This isn’t the kind of happy place that these people think it is,” the officer noted.

Pimps, also referred to as “lover-boys,” often keep control over women through violent displays of abuse and degradation. The officer noted a recent incident of a women who had been discovered with her breasts nailed in to a wall in a show of authority by one man, according to the Montreal Gazette.

Obviously the police can not be everywhere at once, and whether prostitution is legal or illegal incidents of violence are bound to happen. However, when the greatest reason for legalizing prostitution has a proven track record of not working, maybe alternatives need to be explored that do not divide the issue.

Prostitution is something that will be ever present in society. Whether it is shoved behind close doors in a dark alleyway, or out in the open behind glass store fronts. The only way to traverse the fine line between open and underground commission of the act is to make it legal in a way that satisfies both the safety aspect, while streamlining a uniform system of taxation and regulation.

Advocates and opponents of legalized prostitution have to work together to create a system where prostitution is a safe activity, and one that does not unfairly label sex-trade workers through public registry. Moreover, a Canadian wide system of implementation will have to come in to effect in order to minimize confusion, and make the practice more acceptable to each municipality.

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