Some Reflections on the Prostitution Appeal

We have now concluded the hearings of the appeal by the governments of Canada and Ontario of Justice Susan Himel’s striking down of Canada’s prostitution laws in the fall of 2010. A decision is expect in the fall of 2011. It is widely expected that the matter will go to the Supreme Court of Canada, but this is not certain. The stay on Judge Himel’s decision remains in effect until at least the release date of the current appeal decision.

There is also widespread agreement amongst those following the case and involved in the case, that Parliament, not judges should decide what is legal and not legal between consenting adults. I will comment on that in the future, but for today I just want to share a couple of observations looking back on the week just passed.

Most of those studying this matter, by far, in the academic community are women. I know this from contacts I and others have made during the three years of this case and from seeing who attended the overflow room at the courthouse. In my opinion, many women are concerned about being told how to conduct themselves in private and about being legally denied the right to take measures for their security. This case has hit a nerve amongst women, whether for or against the original decision. Perhaps the current laws remind them of the authorities in other countries denying women basic rights and protections.

Another observation to share. At the Conservative Party convention before last week delegates voted to oppose any liberalization of the prostitution laws – meaning not giving prostitutes any more rights. At their convention this weekend, as far as I know, the New Democrats have been silent on the issue. Whatever these parties advocate, I hope they begin by defining exactly what prostitution is. I hope they distinguish which private behaviours between unmarried adults at home for free are to be illegal in private for money. The more specific they are the fairer they are. Fairness would be a start.

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