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Whoring Now Legal In Canada

Thanks to Canada’s Supreme Court: [1]

Canada [2]‘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 [3] 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 [4]:

    The Texas statute undeniably seeks to further the belief of its citizens that certain forms of sexual behavior are “immoral and unacceptable,” Bowerssupra, 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.

74 Comments (Open | Close)

74 Comments To "Whoring Now Legal In Canada"

#1 Comment By KateLE On December 22, 2013 @ 10:26 am

“I bet most people would support the idea of having something like ice cream and cake at every meal. That doesn’t mean it’s good for them. As we can see from the rates of obesity and obesity-related diseases.”

Agreed, but that does not mean you get to ban cake and ice cream.

#2 Comment By Mont D. Law On December 22, 2013 @ 10:53 am

(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.)

It may not invalidate your point but it doesn’t illustrate it. Prostitution has NEVER been illegal in Canada. As of next summer that covers approximately 150 years. It is unrelated to ideas of sexual liberty or justifying restrictions on sexual expression. This decision says the government shouldn’t be making it easier to hunt and kill anybody, even whores.

#3 Comment By Charlieford On December 22, 2013 @ 10:54 am

The problem with slippery-slope arguments isn’t that they aren’t true (as the historian Leslie Tentler once remarked, “We live our lives on slippery slopes”)–it’s rather that they’re too true.

50 years ago people were making the same arguments about married couples using birth control, or engaging in the broad range of activities then classified as “sodomy” or “unnatural acts.” And about inter-racial marriage.

And they were right. If the state has no legitimate interest in those things, does it have a legitimate interest in regulating morals at all?

But to so argue isn’t enough. One must say, if one wants to mount an argument that will truly compel, just what that interest is.

Slippery-slope arguments are parasitic upon the native conservatism of most folk at any given time: “If we allow x, then sure as Sunday, y is right behind!” And a lot of people will recoil–emotionally–at the thought of y.

But that’s a foundation of sand. It’s not solid. It shifts over time, and the argument slips, too. Hence, the sexual revolution.

If one wants to convincingly make a case that the sexual revolution was misguided, one needs to do more than merely stand athwart history shouting “Stop!” People may rally for a moment, but sooner or later, they’re going to ask, “Why?”

One best have an answer ready, and one best be courageous to apply it to all that distance down the slope we’ve already slid. Apart from doing that hard work, we don’t really have an argument. Or even a position. We’re just nay-saying.

#4 Comment By balconesfault On December 22, 2013 @ 11:06 am

@EliteCommInc. How does one make these distinctions? The entire affair has that icky feel –

I think the rubber meets the road, so to speak, where the prostitute has an ability to go to law enforcement to complain about being exploited under coercive force without fear of arrest.

That’s the problem with keeping prostitution illegal – the prostitute might have more to fear from the legal system than she does from an exploitive pimp … and in some cases it might be the pimp’s under-the-table connections with law enforcement that creates a web that not only binds the prostitute to being exploited, but even binds her to the profession.

#5 Comment By TomB On December 22, 2013 @ 11:33 am

While it may well be that the U.S. never legalizes prostitution beyond its presently legal borders the broader point here is just simply its reflection of the same thing Lawrence reflected and the same thing that’s moving state legislatures (and not state courts) to recognize same sex marriage and that is an uneven but still clear societal change of view about personal sexual behavior.

In this regard then it seems to me people whose religious views are opposed to this change have a choice of sorts and that is to either stand resolute saying that we should continue to criminalize these sorts of behavior, or step back and examine the tenets of their religious beliefs to see why an ever-growing number if not an already majority of people reject what those tenets have seemed to say.

Clearly, it seems to me, at *some* point at least most people would say that some tenet-reviewing is in order: While it has of course happened to some religions, which bodies of faith accept with equanimity the idea that they could eventually be reduced to being utterly fringe associations, with a tiny membership, and with its values and perspectives having no influence whatsoever outside its own tiny membership.

Certainly it would seem that most if not all Christian religions would regard that with horror: If as they hold Christ dies for our sins and so to save us, clearly it is not just incumbent upon believers to evangelize his message but perhaps their second greatest obligation of all after saving themselves.

Seems to me at the very least some reexamination of the tenets they have believed might not only start with the obvious fact that now many and growing numbers of people don’t agree that these personal sexual behaviors are worthy of criminalizing, but the relative evil their own tenets would adjudge such behaviors.

Sure, that is, one might hold homosexuality in repugnance, but there at some point there has to be some admittance that legalizing same is not forcing anyone into it, that it involves total consent by the participants, and in a world awash in intentional violence and mayhem and malice and lies and oppression and the taking advantage of others does it really make sense to still so focus on people’s consensual sexual behavior? On whether two people of the same sex say they will be happier married? Or even if two consenting individuals agree to exchange sex for money? (When it’s further clear that lots and lots of sex—indeed maybe most—is legally exchanged for all kinds of other things other than as an expression of tender love or the desire to make babies?)

Citing Mr. Douthat Rod Dreher notes the dramatic turning away at least from organized, traditional religion that’s been going on in the West.

Seems to me how those religions react today to these issues of personal sexual behavior might just determine the future trajectory of that phenomenon. Do they really wish to continue to drive people away by insisting on the exalted ability to pass profound judgment on them based merely on what they do between the sheets with other consenting adults?

Hell, even Catholicism’s *own* priests have rather abundantly demonstrated their own obviously widely-shared belief that same isn’t really important in the grand scheme of Catholicism even.

Isn’t that saying a lot? Just a *helluva* lot?

#6 Comment By M_Young On December 22, 2013 @ 11:43 am

“Now, you can cut out all the BS; and hookers aren’t going to send you dirty text messages or leave voicemails on your answering machine for your wife to find. “

I think it was Emilio Estevez who said, “I don’t pay hookers for sex, I pay them to leave.”

#7 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On December 22, 2013 @ 11:55 am

Jane’s right , Rod. In the early 20th century, one-third of men in this country had their first sexual experience with a prostitute. that’s much fewer today. The biggest factor that decreased the prevalence of prostitution was the increased tolerance of premarital sex. If you can have sex easily with your girlfriend or a casual partner, there’s less reason for anyone to go find a prostitute.

JonF is right too: prostitution was legal for most of the Christian Middle Ages.

#8 Comment By Kenneth On December 22, 2013 @ 2:01 pm

“…..The Sexual Revolution is permanent…”

That’s what I love about Rod. Ornery as he is, he always knows just what to say to put a smile on my face in the dark days of winter! 🙂

#9 Comment By grendel On December 22, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

Doug seems to have nailed the fallacy of rushing into print with “the sky is falling” scenarios over what amounts to punting the ball to a conservative parliament to write new laws that will keep prostitution illegal in a constitutionally acceptable manner.

What to take bets on that Siarlys? There is no way in hell Parliament is going to make prostitution is going to touch the issue.

#10 Comment By grendel On December 22, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

oh for an edit function: There is no way in hell Parliament is going to touch the issue.

#11 Comment By EngineerScotty On December 22, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

I think it was Emilio Estevez who said, “I don’t pay hookers for sex, I pay them to leave.”

What is it with the Sheen/Estevez family, anyway?

#12 Comment By EliteCommInc. On December 22, 2013 @ 3:12 pm


morality by consensus — I will pass. Sexual relations outside marriage is out for the christian regardless of how many so participate.

Understanding the legal, social and emotional justifications does not make the matter anymore permissible or tasty in my book.

So many here remind me of child who comes in and says, “there’s nothing wrong with it — everybody does it.”

Laws come and go — moral codes and what is beneficial answer to a much tougher call.

Celibacy today, tomorrow — single best choice for single people.

#13 Comment By WorkingClass On December 22, 2013 @ 4:57 pm

Mont D. Law says:
December 21, 2013 at 11:27 pm

“This decision has nothing to do with the sexual revolution or licentiousness of any kind. It’s about hundreds of dead and missing street prostitutes, citizens of Canada, prevented by law from protecting themselves from murderers.”

Thanks Law. I was wondering what this story is about.

#14 Comment By jaybird On December 22, 2013 @ 5:17 pm

JonF is right too: prostitution was legal for most of the Christian Middle Ages.

This is an interesting angle – homosexuality was a crime punishable by fines, imprisonment, or even death through out most of Western history. But prostitution, even if not explicitly legal, was more or less tolerated. Basically, it was the inverse of the situation we have now in this country – homosexuals are basically free to do as they please, whereas prostitution is proscribed by law everywhere outside of a few counties in Nevada.

Rod has stated more than once on this blog that he is against the criminalzation of homosexuality and/or sodomy, even though he finds these practices morally offensive and sinful. So why is it so intolerable that other sexually immoral practices (according to his view) like prostitution should likewise be de-criminalized? I don’t think he finds M_Young’s arguments about disease among homosexuals to be persuasive with regard to re-criminalizing sodomy, so that argument doesn’t hold water with regard to heterosexual prostitution either.

#15 Comment By Sean Scalloon On December 22, 2013 @ 6:04 pm

“Canada today, America tomorrow. The Sexual Revolution is permanent.”

If so then you’ll save a lot time from having to write about it.

Although one could argue such judgement could have been made 20 or 30 years ago.

#16 Comment By Pinkjohn On December 22, 2013 @ 6:05 pm

I’m not really sure what the aims of these sex workers are, having not read the specifics. But those who want “maximal sexual freedom” are usually men who want nothing to interfere with their appetites, and so want nothing to interfere with their exploitation of women. I hear the arguments about the dignity of sex work and that the workers should have protections while they ply their trade. OK, yes. They should be able to do it without fear of disease, death or injury. But prostitution is about the sexual exploitation of the person whose body is being bought. Minimizing the harm that exploitation does might be a worthy goal, but do we really have to settle for such exploitation in our society and culture?

#17 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 22, 2013 @ 9:55 pm

grendel, I wouldn’t bet on any outcome. I just admired the factual refutation of the headline. You may have missed my observation that conservative politicians are known to patronize prostitutes.

#18 Comment By M_Young On December 22, 2013 @ 10:38 pm

“The biggest factor that decreased the prevalence of prostitution was the increased tolerance of premarital sex.”

I’d argue that it was the original ‘Progressive’ movement. People forget how puritan it was. Giving women the vote actually increased morals based legislation, from prostitution to alcohol prohibition.

#19 Comment By M_Young On December 22, 2013 @ 11:54 pm

“I think it was Emilio Estevez who said, “I don’t pay hookers for sex, I pay them to leave.”

What is it with the Sheen/Estevez family, anyway?”

Oops, I stand corrected…apparently it was Charlie Sheen. My apologies to Emilio!.

#20 Comment By M_Young On December 22, 2013 @ 11:56 pm

Definitely my system or the forum’s software at fault.


#21 Comment By JonF On December 23, 2013 @ 5:57 am

Re: So why is it so intolerable that other sexually immoral practices (according to his view) like prostitution should likewise be de-criminalized?

Prostitution is not just a sexual activity; it is also an economic activity. This puts it in a different category from homosexuality, cohabitation etc. And it also means that the “privacy” argument does not apply, since we have long since determined that economic activities fall into the public sphere. Liberals especially can’t argue for legalizing prostitution on privacy grounds (though libertarians might).

#22 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On December 23, 2013 @ 10:28 am

Re: I’d argue that it was the original ‘Progressive’ movement. People forget how puritan it was. Giving women the vote actually increased morals based legislation, from prostitution to alcohol prohibition.

I’m pretty sure prostitution has been *illegal* for a very long time in this country, before and after women got the vote. What’s different today is that many fewer men participate in it (mostly because it’s easier to find sex without going to a prostitute).

#23 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On December 23, 2013 @ 10:31 am

Jeff R makes some good points. I’m not sure what I think about the legalization of prostitution, personally, but the fact that a lot of countries get along fine having it legal certainly is food for thought.

#24 Comment By The Wet One On December 23, 2013 @ 5:49 pm

BTW, here’s a comment about the SCC from a law professor in Canada.

Unlike much of the sturm und drang the decision has provoked in Canada, this one seems halfway intelligent and considered.


Furthermore, it deals with the actual legal issues at play in the court rather than what everyone seems to think the issues were.

I thought that this paragraph captured the legal issue quite nicely in a readily comprehensible form:

“Underscoring this point, the Court compared prostitution to another sometimes dangerous but lawful activity: riding a bicycle. The law may not need to allow people to ride bicycles. If it does, though, it cannot prohibit them from wearing helmets.”

As I say though, my thinking on this is that the Conservative government of Canada will outlaw prostitution, but we’ll see. If almost 50 women being ground up and fed to pigs didn’t get their attention, I’m not sure that an SCC judgment will get their attention either. I’m not sure that there’s much in the way of political points to be scored on legislating on this topic, but they claim to be all “law and order” in that party, so we’ll see.