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These are external links and will open in a new window. For most of the year, the drive to enact new laws against prostitution, such as France's recent move to increase the penalties on purchasers of sex acts, have garnered international attention. That debate was turned on its head last week, with the decision by the Canadian Supreme Court to strike down three of that nation's anti-prostitution laws. The court invalidated laws that make it illegal to keep a brothel, communicate in public about acts of prostitution or live off its proceeds.
It has set off debate about the morality of sex work and whether the ruling will be good or bad for prostitutes. Andrew Coyne, writing for Canada's National Post, argues that the court's decision has more to do with bad law than with judicial activism.
In an attempt to prevent pimps from exploiting prostitutes and keep sex work out of the public eye, legislators ended up putting the health and safety of prostitutes at greater risk. On the other hand, two filmmakers who recently made a documentary about prostitution, Tricked, call the Canadian court's decision a "triumph for those who live off and enjoy the commercial sex industry".
The fact that prostitution is a risky business, writes Coyne, should not be grounds for making it illegal to practice more safely, however. At its heart, the debate is about who sex workers are and how to balance the interests of those who enter the business willingly versus those who are forced into it and exploited.
What they do need is help to escape their bondage. Alan Shanoff of the Toronto Sun counters that foes of prostitution like to equate the business with human trafficking, but that is merely a diversion. Or is prostitution just a point on the continuum of sexual relations between women and men? Call it the "you pay for it one way or another" view. Maybe it's because in my observation, there is so often a quid pro quo aspect to relationship sex - gorgeous young women with rich old guys, older gay men with beautiful boys, famous people with other famous people, lifeguards with lawyers - that I am hard-pressed to take offence when the transaction is merely franker.