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Sex-work bill defies logic



Sex-work bill defies logic


Special to The Globe and Mail


Last updated 


The Harper government’s bill on prostitution smacks of hypocrisy, just like the existing law it is supposed to replace. Prostitution in itself is not completely illegal but the new law would make it nearly impossible for prostitutes to sell their services in a safe environment.

Whereas the old law prohibited solicitation, the new one would prohibit advertising. Such provisions defy logic. Why would people who sell a legal service be prevented from communicating with potential clients? Under the new bill, prostitutes would also be prohibited from working near places where minors might happen to be present or near churches. Please find me a place in Montreal, for example, where there are no teenagers and where there’s not a church in sight (this, in a city that used to be called “la ville aux cent clochers” – the city with a hundred steeples!).

Well, actually, I can imagine a few places where sex workers could be allowed to practise their trade: along the railway tracks, in dilapidated industrial zones, or in dark, isolated alleys, where they would be easy prey to various sorts of criminals. This is exactly what the Supreme Court wanted to avoid when it stated that prostitutes should work in safe conditions.

As it stands, Bill C-36 would be overturned by the Supreme Court for the same reasons it struck down the old law last December. This is so obvious that one wonders if the government isn’t setting up another confrontation with the Supreme Court in time for the next election, in order to shore up its traditional conservative vote.

The new bill is partly inspired by the so-called “Nordic model” used in Sweden, Norway and Iceland (France is considering it, too), which penalizes the clients but not the prostitutes. Here again, this is a thoroughly irrational scheme. Why prosecute the buyers, but not the sellers? Why allow women (as is most often the case) to sell sexual services if the law makes it more and more difficult for them to find customers? The risk is that they will be pushed into the underground and accept any quick deal without taking the time to assess what kind of person the customer is.

The major flaw with the Nordic model is its paternalistic attitude toward women, as if all prostitutes were irresponsible creatures unwillingly brought into the sex trade. True, this is the case of some prostitutes, often illegal immigrants, who are enslaved by smugglers and pimps, and of course the state should act against these criminal networks and help these women escape from their misery. The exploitation of illegal migrants is especially severe in Western European countries such as Spain and Germany, but in Canada, many prostitutes are independent citizens who freely entered the sex trade and do not feel exploited. The Nordic model is sexist in that it paints women as perennial victims and customers (who are usually men) as inherently immoral.

There is no need to legalize prostitution. Decriminalizing it would be enough. And Canadians should be mature enough to tolerate the existence of brothels, where sexual services could be sold and purchased safely by consenting adults. Proponents of the Nordic model believe their system can eventually abolish prostitution but they’re deluding themselves. Prostitution cannot be eradicated by laws. It never has been and never will be.

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