Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Response to Government's Public Consultation on Prostitution.

    Years ago, I wrote my MA thesis on a principle of effective rule enforcement I stumbled upon while designing rules for a live action roleplaying game. I devoted much of one chapter to the question of prostitution, and how our current criminalization regime is largely responsible for making prostitution as nasty and exploitative a business as it is. (This nastiness, of course, is what we point to to justify criminalizing it. The argument is viciously circular, and not because it's about vice.)
    Well, today, a friend linked to a government web page soliciting public input on what to do about the recent Bedford decision, which struck down most of three sections of the Criminal Code dealing with prostitution. I thought I would share the government's questions, and my responses to them, here.

Absolutely not. While I wouldn't feel comfortable about purchasing such services myself, there is no legitimate reason for the state to interfere with consensual transactions between informed adults. The basic principles of contract law are largely effective in reducing abuse and exploitation in other areas, and it is perverse to deny such protection to sexual transactions.

Of course not, for the same reasons outlined in question 1. Commerce including can and should be regulated through zoning and other rules, but the criminal law is absolutely the wrong tool to use.

The very same limitations that we apply to all other transactions: abuse, coercion, fraud must not be allowed, and, if appropriate, health, safety and environmental protocols. For commercial establishments, health inspections and business licenses are appropriate, and perhaps there could be some sort or trademark or certification scheme, but casual transactions are nobody else's business.

Absolutely not. If we make it a criminal offence for people to benefit from someone's exploitation, most of our economy will grind to a halt. It is not the BENEFIT which is the bad thing, but the harm it may induce someone to inflict. Let us ensure that people are free and uncoerced in their various transactions, but I should think that in general we would WANT people to benefit from things.

Prostitution triggers a powerful ICK! response from most people, myself included. But government's duty is to protect our liberties, not to enforce our personal preferences, even if a majority happens to share them. As immoral and distasteful as we may find prostitution, our attempts to stamp it out with the criminal law only serve to make it more abusive, more dangerous, and more in need of stamping out. Not only is this an injustice for those involved, but it is fiscally irresponsible: we are actively spending money to enforce laws which make the problem of prostitution worse and more costly.


  1. Places with lots of interesting discusion of canadian laws regarding sex work and perspectives around the world, from sex workers.




  2. a further link that I couldn't find at presstime but wanted to include


  3. Thanks for the links, Wally. Good to have those perspectives.