A proposed new prostitution law by the federal Conservatives doesn’t seem to be making anybody happy.
On Thursday, Justice Minister Peter MacKay told a Commons committee that he’s open to new ideas but that they’ll have to be proposed soon.
It’s one of those topics that is going to infuriate somebody regardless of how perfect a solution there might be.
The sensible thing to do seems to fall on one of two extremes. Either ban it and then punish both the johns and the prostitutes like you’re serious about enforcing it or legalize it, license it and tax it.
Anything between those two extremes seems like a half measure.
Prostitution was virtually legal under Canada’s old law, unless of course you were pimping, looking after a brothel or communicating in a public place for the purposes of prostitution.
The change that’s now being undertaken was actually forced by the Supreme Court, which was worried the old law put sex workers at risk, and as a result said the statutes violated the Charter right to security of the person.
The Conservatives have made some sweeping changes to deal with that criticism.
• They criminalize the purchase of sexual services.
• They ban the sale of sex near places where children gather, which seems reasonable.
• They target the people who benefit from prostitution.
• They ban all advertising of sexual services on the Internet and in print.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says that prostitution is harmful to women, a point that’s difficult to dispute. Many sex trade workers are fighting addictions of different kinds or in vulnerable financial spots.
But it’s difficult to see where exactly their changes are going to make the lives of sex trade workers better.
In fact some advocates for the women say the bill will actually force workers to operate in even more isolated areas, putting them further at risk. And if that’s the case, it will be interesting to hear what the High Court thinks.
It’s a point that NDP justice critic Francoise Boivin, a committee member, made during an interview with the Canadian Press on Thursday.
“There’s going to be tons of suggestions for either amending, or making it more compliant to the decision,” Boivin said. “I think we need to reflect on it so we don’t create something as non-Charter compliant as the previous sections in the Criminal Code were.”
The committee will begin four days of hearings on Monday on the matter and it’s to MacKay’s credit that he’s willing to listen. The new law must be in place by December to meet the Supreme Court’s ruling so there is a sense of urgency in the proceedings.
Let’s just hope that MacKay’s ears are as open as he suggests, because he has already said he believes the new law will be fine with the Supreme Court. But a good idea is a good idea, regardless of where it comes from.
Prince Albert Daily Herald