Despite what proponents of fully decriminalizing prostitution may want people to believe, Friday’s Supreme Court of Canada ruling on prostitution is no great victory.
The unanimous decision did strike down legal prohibitions on running brothels, living off the avails of prostitution, and communicating for the purposes of prostitution. The justices did agree that those laws put the safety and lives of prostitutes at risk, which is unconstitutional.
But they also agreed Parliament will have a year to make legislative changes to fix the problem.
What’s brought us to this juncture is simple. As Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin says in the first sentence of her decision: “It is not a crime in Canada to sell sex for money.”
She notes that the appeal was not about whether prostitution should be legal or not. “(It is) about whether the laws Parliament has enacted on how prostitution may be carried out pass constitutional muster.”
Most of the rest of the 83-page decision is taken up with explaining why those laws don’t pass muster, and then throws it all back to Parliament, which the justices have given a year to sort out.
Finally, the government is being forced to do something on an issue about which the only thing that everyone agrees on is that the status quo isn’t working.
Faced with the choice of decriminalization by inaction or criminalization, it is almost certain that the Conservative government will choose the latter.
Not only will it play to their own constituency, it is the preferred option for many who view prostitution as just another form of violence against women. Among those are: the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, the Asian Women’s Coalition to End Prostitution, and Vancouver Rape Relief Society.