Canadian pimps and johns will feel super safe now.

Yesterday, Justice Susan Himel struck down three Criminal Code provisions around sex work in Canada (communication for the purpose of prostitution, keeping a common bawdy house for the purpose of prostitution, living on the avails of the trade).

While this is being hailed by some as a win for sex workers, I fear that all this kind of decriminalization does is make life just a little easier for those who profit from and frequent sex workers. I fail to see how this changes the way in which we, as a society, treat women and feel that it only encourages men’s sense of entitlement around access to women’s bodies.

While it is true that current laws offer little protection for sex workers, the elimination of these provisions from the Criminal Code also offers little in terms of protection. Decriminalization does not, in any way, guarantee that sex work moves indoors, nor does indoor work protect sex workers from violence, rape and abuse. What about challenging the idea that women exist to service male needs? What about offering alternatives to women who feel they have no alternatives? Men who are violent will continue to be violent regardless of these laws and now what? They can make a living off of women freely? They can beat up women within the privacy of a brothel? They can see themselves simply as customers? Consuming some just another service?

Oh Canada, let’s talk about this.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Shelley


  • Meghan

    I just wanted to share this post from the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network. I think it really articulates the concerns that many Women’s groups in Canada have around this controversial ruling:

    “Women’s Groups Outraged at Courts Granting Men the Constitutional Right to the Prostitution of Women

    by Aboriginal Women’s Action Network on Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 12:28pm

    Women’s Groups Outraged at Courts Granting Men the ConstitutionalRight to the Prostitution of Women

    (Vancouver) It is with stupefaction and anger that feminists have learned of the ruling of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. The Court ruled in favor of the Constitutional Challenge aimed at decriminalizing prostitution today. The criminal codes sections: keeping a bawdy house, living off the avails and communicating for the purposes of prostitution will be struck.

    This judgment impedes on the work that women’s groups committed to ending violence against women have been working for over the past decade. The ruling has failed to meet the equality needs of women across Canada and Québec.

    Spokeswoman from Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle (CLES) “We must go back to the fundamental question, which is the legitimacy of the purchase of sexual services. The premise of the Nordic model, developed in Sweden, Norway and Iceland, is that to achieve sexual equality we must challenge the merchandising of women’s bodies and sexuality. A society that defends the human rights to dignity, freedom and equality must confront the sex industry, which is rooted in exploitation, domination and profits made at the expense of those who are most vulnerable.”

    The vast majority of prostituted women want to get out of prostitution, so clearly it cannot be qualified as a genuine choice or job. Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) “Aboriginal women are overrepresented and victimized in the sex industry, which testifies to the link between racism and misogyny in prostitution. Decriminalizing the prostitution industry will only expand the illegal and legal trade of buying and selling women”. Organized crime, pimps and traffickers will be legitimate businessmen in this context.

    Canadian Association of Elizabeth Frye Societies (CAEFS) Kim Pate: “While we deplore the circumstances that result in too many women and girls being prostituted or trafficked, we reject any and all attempts to vilify, criminalize, or otherwise punish women for any prostitution-related activities.”

    The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers (CASAC) demands that the Canadian government act quickly to bring the issue of equality back to the forefront of the discussion about the changes that must be made to the Criminal Code of Canada. CASAC spokeswoman Daisy Kler: “Women must not be criminalized because they have been prostituted; services must be developed and funded to help women leave the sordid conditions of the sex industry; emphasis should be placed on prevention; and all these measures should convey a very clear message: the purchase of sexual services is incompatible with the safeguarding of human rights, especially equality between women and men”.

    Women’s Groups across Canada deeply concerned by the Ontario Superior Court ruling, but are even more determined to win the battle against commercial sexual exploitation.”

  • Liam Maitland

    I am a man, yes this is true. A fairly young man. but I have spoken with many many women on this issue. And I must both agree and disagree. I disagree that the changes to Canadian Law harm prostitutes in any way. But I do agree that social attitudes need to change. That PEOPLE need to stop seeing other PEOPLE (Male prostitutes exist, I know this is a feminist site, but it should be brought up) as objects for satisfaction. The problems commonly associated with prostitution are a SOCIAL problem, not a problem inherent in the idea of exchanging sex for money. Because not all men who pay for sex are violent brutes with no respect for the women they pay. Something people really need to remember.