It may come as a shock
to many, but prostitution
is legal in Canada.
"Law is not a deterrent to crime, it's a consequence. It doesn't prevent."
— Scharie Tavcer, criminal law expert
In 2009, sex workers Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott decided it was time to challenge the Canadian legal system. They brought their concerns to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, saying that these laws were unconstitutional, and deprived women of their right to safety and security by forcing them to work in secret.
The three women said decriminalizing these laws (in other words, removing the current laws in place) meant women working in the sex trade would "no longer have to worry about being raped, robbed or murdered."
On Dec. 20, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously decided that the laws criminalizing prostitution were violating basic human rights. The high court ruled that these laws deprived sex workers of "security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."
The Canadian government has one year to create new legislation regarding the current laws surrounding prostitution, or the recently struck down legislation will be withdrawn altogether.
After speaking with many experts on the subject, it was difficult to decide whether we are for or against the decriminalization of prostitution.
Talking to Amanda Baxter from Shift Calgary, we wholeheartedly felt that decriminalization was a must in order to ensure women's safety and work towards dispelling notions of sex work as a taboo subject.
But after hearing a different perspective from Detective Jeff Anderson from the Calgary Police Service, we were unsure if decriminalizing prostitution would really do much to help more vulnerable populations such as street-based sex workers.
While the exchange of sex for money or goods itself is not a criminal act, laws have been put in place by the Canadian government that make it virtually impossible for any person to survive as a sex worker without being charged with criminal activity.
"Not being able to work indoors and have control over your work environment is a huge safety barrier."
Dr. Scharie Tavcer, a researcher of prostitution and sexual exploitation, made the point that even if, for example, bawdy houses were made legal, they aren't going to admit women who are homeless, have drug addictions or don't have "the look" of a higher class sex worker.
Stuck between two conflicting, but valid and compelling arguments, we decided it was okay to be unsure of where we lie in the decriminalization debate.
Julie Kaye, an assistant professor of sociology at Ambrose University College, has extensively researched responses to the sex trade industry, and explained that while there are obvious pros and cons to decriminalizing prostitution, a major issue is the lack of rational discussion regarding the debate.
"I see the concern for the rights of people on both ends of things," Kaye said. "Everyone claims they want to protect the most vulnerable, it's just a matter of how you do that."
"I think there's arguments to be made on both sides, but we need to be able to have a better conversation in Canada to understand all sides."
"When you legalize it, you're almost saying it's okay. It's not a job you would ever want anyone to do."
Information courtesy of the Government of Canada
Above are just a few of the main laws outlined in the Criminal Code of Canada. Sex workers and those looking to purchase sex usually end up getting fined or arrested over the operation of a bawdy house, communicating or procuring.
See what Jeff Anderson from the Calgary Police Service has to say about decriminalizing prostitution.
See what Amanda Baxter from Shift Calgary has to say about decriminalizing prostitution.
See what researcher Julie Kaye has to say about decriminalizing prostitution.