Conservative government turns to the public to ‘inform’ its prostitution policy

Matthew Coutts
France Passed Restrictive Legislation on Prostitution
A prostitute from Eastern Europe waits for customers along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. (REUTERS/Eric Gaillard)

Do you have thoughts about how Canada should police the sex trade? Then the Canadian government kind of wants to hear from you.

The Department of Justice, in its mission to craft new laws to govern prostitution following a unanimous Supreme Court ruling that junked their old ones, has opened up the lines of communication and is seeking input on what Canada’s prostitution laws should look like.

The month-long online forum, however, comes just two weeks after Justice Minister Peter MacKay said new legislation was already being drawn up and would be presented well before the December deadline.

Last December, the Supreme Court of Canada found three Canadian laws surrounding the sex trade to be unconstitutional. The courts gave the government one year to draft new laws that were ... lawful before the old laws would be abandoned entirely.

Instead of jumping to work, the government deferred, pouted and questioned the ruling.

A "concerned" MacKay had this to say following the Supreme Court ruling:

We are reviewing the decision and are exploring all possible options to ensure the criminal law continues to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution to communities, those engaged in prostitution, and vulnerable persons.

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The one-year review period given by the courts may have been necessary leeway, but it has caused confusion on the provincial level, as courts and law enforcement agencies try to decide with what vigor they will enforce the rejected laws.

It has also left alive the perception that those laws can be tinkered with, rather than replaced with a new set, or no laws at all.

Indeed, the Justice Department's online consultation isn't actually asking Canadians what the new laws should look like – an act that would be suspect in its own right considering the public's dearth of legal knowhow – it is seeking information "to help inform the Government's response" to the Supreme Court.

Adult prostitution is legal in Canada, but the three now-rejected laws made some specifics illegal. The unanimous Supreme Court ruling ended the prohibition on brothels, street solicitation and living off the avails of prostitution (ie: pimps, drivers and security guards).

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Among the questions asked on the government survey are:

  • Do you think that purchasing sexual services from an adult should be a criminal offence?
  • Do you think that selling sexual services by an adult should be a criminal offence?
  • What limitations should there be, if any, on where or how this can be conducted?
  • Do you think that it should be a criminal offence for a person to benefit economically from the prostitution of an adult?

In short, do you think the Supreme Court was wrong?

One fears this survey is more about underlining the government’s current thesis rather than crafting a new vision. After all, “informing the government’s response” is a far cry from seeking input on what that response should be.

Still, public input is public input. And anyone with strong feelings on either side of the debate should take this rare opportunity to be heard.

It’s not every day the government allows itself to be informed by others.

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