Ontario Court’s Bold Move Protects Sex Industry Workers

In a stunning and potentially landmark court decision, an Ontario federal court struck down key criminal provisions related to prostitution and the sex industry yesterday. Essentially, prostitution is not, in and of itself, criminal in Canada; however, almost all of the connected actions to the institution that offer any safety or protection to those men and women engaged in the are criminal. The ruling removed those criminal barriers. The basic argument is that the law creates a real and present danger to the workers violating their Charter Rights as Canadians.

The ruling will allow those in the sex-trade industry to organize unions and worker co-operative. It will allow co-operatively managed bordellos. In community health terms, it will allow licensing, health codes, and other means of worker and consumer protection to enter this taboo industry dominated by physical and emotional abuse, slavery, and unsanitary working conditions. For several years, organizers in British Columbia have been pushing for de-criminalization provided that the workers are organized in a bona-fide worker co-operative.

The Harper government will be appealing this ruling. Even if the ruling stands, the Parliament will likely take steps to re-criminalize the sex trade. That would be a shame. Despite thousands of years of being illegal, the sex trade thrives. It is through the criminalization of the industry that the worst abuses are allowed to become prevalent. A well regulated and taxed sex trade will benefit those  all who engage in it. Rather than creating some puritan myth that this trade can be eliminated by sweeping it into dangerous back allies and creating economic incentives to engage in slave trade, the government would be better off by creating worker and consumer protections.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-ops in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University.
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