I have to admit that when I first heard on AM980 that Justice Susan Himel stuck the prostitution laws for Ontario, I was a bit dismayed. Many people who think of prostitution think of the typical “street-walker” on the corner soliciting “john’s” for a quickie in the back of a pickup, and (hopefully) getting arrested in a COPS style raid.
Now that I’ve had a little opportunity to digest the news, here is what I think. Although a quick caveat, I have not read the actual decision.
First off. What is a common bawdy-house?
“common bawdy-house” means a place that is (a) kept or occupied, or (b) resorted to by one or more persons
for the purpose of prostitution or the practice of acts of indecency;
Second, what are the relevant prostitution laws in for Canada?
s. 210. (1) Every one who keeps a common bawdy-house is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
(2) Every one who
- is an inmate of a common bawdy-house,
- is found, without lawful excuse, in a common bawdy-house, or
- as owner, landlord, lessor, tenant, occupier, agent or otherwise having charge or control of any place, knowingly permits the place or any part thereof to be let or used for the purposes of a common bawdy-house, is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction
212. (1) Every one who
(a) procures, attempts to procure or solicits a person to have illicit sexual intercourse with another person, whether in or out of Canada,
(b) inveigles or entices a person who is not a prostitute to a common bawdy-house for the purpose of illicit sexual intercourse or prosti- tution,
(c) knowingly conceals a person in a com- mon bawdy-house,
(d) procures or attempts to procure a person to become, whether in or out of Canada, a prostitute,
(e) procures or attempts to procure a person to leave the usual place of abode of that per- son in Canada, if that place is not a common bawdy-house, with intent that the person may become an inmate or frequenter of a common bawdy-house, whether in or out of Canada,
(f) on the arrival of a person in Canada, di- rects or causes that person to be directed or takes or causes that person to be taken, to a common bawdy-house,
(g) procures a person to enter or leave Cana- da, for the purpose of prostitution,
(h) for the purposes of gain, exercises con- trol, direction or influence over the move- ments of a person in such manner as to show that he is aiding, abetting or compelling that person to engage in or carry on prostitution with any person or generally,
(i) applies or administers to a person or cau- ses that person to take any drug, intoxicating liquor, matter or thing with intent to stupefy or overpower that person in order thereby to enable any person to have illicit sexual inter- course with that person, or
(j) lives wholly or in part on the avails of prostitution of another person,
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.
213. (1) Every person who in a public place or in any place open to public view
(a) stops or attempts to stop any motor vehi- cle,
(b) impedes the free flow of pedestrian or vehicular traffic or ingress to or egress from premises adjacent to that place, or
(c) stops or attempts to stop any person or in any manner communicates or attempts to communicate with any person
for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or of obtaining the sexual services of a prostitute is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
(2) In this section, “public place” includes any place to which the public have access as of right or by invitation, express or implied, and any motor vehicle located in a public place or in any place open to public view.
Okay, with the logistics out of the way, lets look at my opinion. I am glad to see that Justice Himel reserved judgement for 30 days to allow for an opportunity for the Provincial Crown to appeal, which is what they did the very next day. From my understanding Justice Himel’s reasoning, in agreement with the litigants Terri-Lynn Bedford, Valerie Scott, and Amy Lebovitch, indicated that the laws needed to be struck from the Canadian Criminal Code because they created real safety concerns for current sex-trade workers. The Globe and Mail article indicated “in her [Justice Himel] 131-page ruling which took her a year to produce, Judge Himel found that laws set up to protect prostitutes actually endanger their safety, forcing them to furtively engage in hasty transactions conducted in shady locations.” The rationale behind this is now sex-trade workers will be able to get off of the street and into what was “formerly” known as a common bawdy-house which in their opinion would be a controlled environment that would allow for protection from predators such as Robert Pickton.
Additionally, it is hoped (by the litigants) that this will also move the sex-trade indoors and remove some of the visible signs that are currently on display.
Well, I have to admit that in my policing career I did not have the opportunity to enforce Canada’s prostitution laws on any “street-walkers,” I can say that the trade is flourishing in illegal massage parlours and strip clubs. I do not agree with the rationale that this law will protect sex-trade workers from potential Robert Pickton’s for a couple simple reasons:
1. Massage Parlours and strip clubs have notoriously been areas were the solicitation of sex is an ongoing “problem” and striking these laws down does nothing to curb the problem. If anything, it can put the “girls” in more jeopardy as massage parlours and strip clubs are generally owned by individual members of organized crime factions – specifically Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs like the Hells Angels. As I see it if sex acts become legal and are able to be performed in strip clubs and massage parlours, we are feeding the “girls” to the MOST dangerous criminal elements in society.
2. It believed that girls who currently walk the streets will be able to obtain protection in the safety of massage clubs or other “brothel” type establishments. While this is laudable on its thought, in practicality it does not work. The girls who (again in my opinion) walk the street are generally addicted to drugs, have mental health concerns, and have turned to the streets because there is nowhere else for them to go. The people who would start up a potential brothel or massage parlour generally pass over the girls who are older, not “attractive” enough, and have drug and mental health issues. Where will the protection be for these sex-trade workers?
3. Where will the protection be against unfair labour practises? In all seriousness, will they unionize? How is this going to be monitored, will they be taxed? Will by-laws be involved?
Additionally, evidence presented urged Judge Himel to also reflect on the fact that prostitution is inherently degrading and unhealthy, and should not be encouraged as a “career choice” for young women through a slack legal regime. With all due respect to the learned Justice Himel, I do not think any 6 year old girl dreams about the nitty gritty of “Pretty Woman.”
One misleading inaccuracy in the article includes: Several cities – including Toronto, Victoria, Windsor, Calgary and Edmonton – charge fees to licence body-rub establishments despite the general understanding that many sell sexual services. While they do in fact license “body-rub” establishments, they are not (as the article would lead you to believe) licensing massage parlours for sexual services. What they are licensing is a massage establishment which begins and ends at the massage.
In the end, SHOULD these laws be struck, I suspect it will be many years before this makes its way through the Ontario Court of Appeal and then on to the Supreme Court of Canada. However, once this legal drama makes its way through its appeal process, in the end if it is struck from our laws (which for the record, I do not believe it should be – see above) there are other issues and areas of law (Administrative Law, Employment/Labour Law, Municipal Law…etc) that will need immediate addressing.