Sex trade workers one step closer to decriminalization

Sex work is not illegal in Canada, but most of the activities surrounding it are. However, today the Ontario Superior Court ruled that sex-trade workers can rent or own the premises in which they work (or keep a “bawdy house”, as the Canadian Criminal Code puts it), and can pay people such as drivers or bodyguards (who would be “living on the avails of prostitution”). In a split decision, the majority voted to keep the law prohibiting “communication in a public place for the purposes of prostitution”. In practise this means that a euphemistic advert on craigslist is okay but standing and talking terms for a few minutes before getting in the guy’s car is not. The changes will come into effect in a year, unless there’s an appeal to the Supreme Court, which is likely a political necessity, unless the federal government chooses to write an entirely new law which attempts to address the court’s criticisms.

What would such a law look like? Four years ago, my guess was a law which criminalizes the purchase of sex instead of its sale, and indeed this idea has been gaining traction. Such a law would still push sex workers underground and into dangerous situations, since no client would frequent a sex worker who operated in the open for fear of being arrested, but it would at least save them the hassle of a criminal charge in return for referring them to some patronizing social worker. Ceasing to criminalize sex workers would be a welcome change, but I am still looking forward to the day when sex workers can do their job safely and openly. If such a law is passed I expect it will eventually be defeated in yet another court battle, but the current legal challenge is four years old and counting so that won’t be happening any time soon.

And finally, from the “it could always be worse” department: until recently, Louisiana labelled sex workers as sex offenders, with all the baggage that comes with that label (required disclosure to potential employers, not being able to live in neighbourhoods with elementary schools, having the words “sex offender” printed on their driver’s license). That changed last June, but the 400 or so sex workers previously convicted under that law were not removed from the registry. So yes, it could be worse.