My response to the online consultation on our prostitution laws

Prostitution Réprimée Santé Sacrifiée

Prostitution Réprimée, Santé Sacrifiée / “Repress prostitution, sacrifice health” (William Hamon, Flickr)

Here are my responses to the online consultation on prostitution laws. The consultation ended on March 17, so now I can post what I’ve submitted without unduly influencing the words of other people.1 No doubt better arguments have been made than mine (here’s the response from South Western Ontario Sex Workers, and here’s a response from an author whose sister was murdered by Robert Pickton) – and as my use of the above image2 reminds me, I didn’t really get into the health issues of it and argued on basic principles instead.

Police chiefs were asked for their views, but could not come to a consensus.3

1. Do you think that purchasing sexual services from an adult should be a criminal offence? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.

No, because people need physical attention and not everyone is fortunate enough to have enough appeal to get it easily. Ideally love would be free – both as in speech and as in beer – but making it illegal to purchase won’t help.

2. Do you think that selling sexual services by an adult should be a criminal offence? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.

No, because we should be free to employ our bodies how we like, provided it is not causing intrinsic, innate harm to another individual.4 For me, this axiom is more important than almost any other.

3. If you support allowing the sale or purchase of sexual services, what limitations should there be, if any, on where or how this can be conducted? Please explain.

I don’t necessarily think there should be limitations, at least not by default. A better legal and social climate for conducting this business would probably get a lot of it off the street anyway (if that is in fact something that should be aimed for, and I’m not convinced of that). Especially in our winters! Moreover, this sounds like something that should be a municipal issue. They are best equipped to make decisions for themselves on what types of business may be conduced where. (For example, in most places I can’t turn my home into a gas station without some sort of permission.) While some municipalities may make regrettable decisions, they are also in principle the most accountable, immediate, and tractable level of government.

4. Do you think that it should be a criminal offence for a person to benefit economically from the prostitution of an adult? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.

I think it should be a criminal offence for someone to benefit from the bondage / indenturement5 / enslavement of another individual. And just as it is for any other job, the workplace must be free of harassment, violence and coercion. Making this a more open activity will help ensure that. We must take care not to make illegal things that are 1) not innately/intrinsically harmful and 2) that people crave. It’s practically giving criminals a charter and a business plan.6 And once people are operating outside the law, our ability to ensure ethical behaviour and safety approaches zero. It would be good for both prostitutes and their clients to have safe places to work and to benefit from the work of, for example, office administrators. Conceivably, the person taking calls and booking appointments is someone “benefiting economically from the prostitution of an adult”.

5. Are there any other comments you wish to offer to inform the Government’s response to the Bedford decision?

With many things, we have to be careful to distinguish the innate/intrinsic risks/harms from the extrinsic/circumstantial ones. When most of the risks and harms are driven by the legal climate, we need to rethink our approach.

6. Are you writing on behalf of an organization? If so, please identify the organization and your title or role:

No, but here’s my name and address anyway: William Matheson PO Box ## Sherbrooke NS B## ###

Further reading:

Jesse Kline, National Post: “The wrong way to deal with prostitution”

Susana Mas, CBC: “Jimmy Carter offers Canada advice on updating prostitution laws” (Sigh. Another person who won’t distinguish intrinsic and extrinsic harms. He calls prostitution “inherently violent”. CPC MPs are cooing over his letter like it’s a newborn baby.)

More things to read, added June 19:

Erika Tucker, Global News: “Why ex-sex worker calls prostitution law consultation ‘ridiculous’”

Laura Stone, Global News: “[CPC] government received 30,000 responses to prostitution law consultations”

Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News: “Catholics called to respond to prostitution consultation”

Me: “An open letter to Peter MacKay regarding his proposed restrictions on prostitution”

I kind of suspected this consultation was a farce but I wanted to take it at face value. I wouldn’t have known about it at all were it not for Parker Donham’s Twitter.

  1. Apparently some religious authorities didn’t scruple about telling their sheeple what to say

  2. I don’t really take the argument in this direction, though I happen to agree with the message. 

  3. Their having been asked is somewhat problematic. As a friend on Facebook puts it: “It’s not the cops’ job to make laws/speak about laws/have anything to do with law other than hand-cuffing people who broke said law.” 

  4. I ought to have added that it should be something reasonably safe and not something likely to cause significant but preventable costs (e.g. a search-and-rescue mission if you decide to go for a week-long hike in the woods without leaving a note). 

  5. Oops. “Indenture” is correct. 

  6. I apologize for invoking “criminals”. In my defence, it is the sort of sentence likely to appeal to conservatives. 

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