Opinion Column

Vancouver sex trade to stay in shadows

Leo Knight Prime Time Crime columnist 24 hours (PHOTO SUBMITTED).

By Leo Knight, Law and Order, 24 hours Vancouver

Protests have been held outside of where hearings have been held into a proposed new prostitution law. (QMI AGENCY)

Protests have been held outside of where hearings have been held into a proposed new prostitution law. (QMI AGENCY)

Watching the hearings on the proposed prostitution law before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has been strange indeed. The new law was made necessary after the Supreme Court of Canada threw out several provisions of the pre-existing law last December, and gave the federal government a year to come up with new legislation.

The government put forward new legislation, which is being examined by the committee. The hearings have provided much theatre, to the point that the CBC has been live tweeting the proceedings as dozens of witnesses from all manner of organizations — some legit and some from the fringes — testified.

But for all the questioning and posturing, there don’t seem to be any amendments forthcoming from any side to make the law more palatable to everyone or, more importantly, constitutionally acceptable to the Supreme Court.

The inherent problem is the new law still keeps prostitution in the shadows. The government may say the act of selling sex may be legal, but the act of buying it remains illegal. There are two parties to a deal.

If the act of one is legal, but the act of the other is not, then it cannot possibly be taken from the shadows. And if it is not out of the shadows, then sex-trade workers cannot be made more inherently safe than they were when the Supreme Court members said what they said.

It’s difficult to see from this vantage point where the solution lies. The chief justice said in the decision that she doesn’t believe the question is about whether prostitution should be legal or not. In the view of the court it is about how the law is written so that the constitutional right of sex-trade workers to be safe is legislated.

It would seem that the government doesn’t believe any aspect of the sex trade can be made safe given this quote from Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the subject of sex-trade activities: “They are not harmful because they are illegal, they are illegal because they are harmful.” And, to be sure, the PM wants to ensure he doesn’t alienate his base before an election.

It doesn’t seem like the new law will satisfy the Supreme Court’s edict. But then, I’m not sure the government really cares at this point. Any appeal once the law is passed is several years away from any Supreme Court sitting and well past the next election.

So, we are likely saddled with this new law that seems neither fish nor fowl.

Strange days in Ottawa.

Leo Knight is a former police officer, security expert and host of primetimecrime.com.


Should the government just legalize all aspects of prostitution?

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