Canada‘s highest court struck down the country’s anti-prostitution laws Friday, a victory for sex workers who had argued that a ban on brothels and other measures made their profession more dangerous. The ruling drew criticism from the conservative government and religious leaders.
The court, ruling in a case brought by three women in the sex trade, struck down all three of Canada’s prostitution-related laws: bans on keeping a brothel, making a living from prostitution, and street soliciting. The ruling won’t take effect immediately, however, because the court gave Parliament a year to respond with new legislation, and said the existing laws would remain in place until then.
The decision threw the door open for a wide and complex debate on how Canada should regulate prostitution, which isn’t in itself illegal in the country.
Because freedom, they said:
The court found that Canada’s prostitution laws violated the guarantee to life, liberty and security of the person. For instance, it said the law prohibiting people from making a living from prostitution is too broad.
It is intended “to target pimps and the parasitic, exploitative conduct in which they engage,” the ruling said. “The law, however, punishes everyone who lives on the avails of prostitution without distinguishing between those who exploit prostitutes and those who could increase the safety and security of prostitutes, for example, legitimate drivers, managers, or bodyguards.”
You know what I think about this already, so I won’t bother elaborating. I will simply quote from Antonin Scalia’s Lawrence dissent:
The Texas statute undeniably seeks to further the belief of its citizens that certain forms of sexual behavior are “immoral and unacceptable,” Bowers, supra, at 196–the same interest furthered by criminal laws against fornication, bigamy, adultery, adult incest, bestiality, and obscenity. Bowers held that this was a legitimate state interest. The Court today reaches the opposite conclusion. The Texas statute, it says, “furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual,” ante, at 18 (emphasis addded). The Court embraces instead Justice Stevens’ declaration in his Bowers dissent, that “the fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice,”ante, at 17. This effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation. If, as the Court asserts, the promotion of majoritarian sexual morality is not even a legitimate state interest, none of the above-mentioned laws can survive rational-basis review.
Canada today, America tomorrow. The Sexual Revolution is permanent.
UPDATE: As several of you have pointed out (thanks), prostitution was already legal in Canada; the Canadian high court simply found that the way prostitution was regulated violated the rights of prostitutes. This is an important distinction, obviously, but it doesn’t, to my way of thinking, invalidate the point that in a society in which our ideas of freedom mean maximal sexual liberty, it’s hard to justify restrictions on sexual expression.