Pimps, Brothels and Hookers, Oh My!

The Ontario Court of Appeal released its much anticipated judgment on the legality of Canada’s prostitution laws yesterday in the decision of R. v. Bedford.

Predicated on the rights of sex workers to ply their trade in an environment that does not jeopardize their constitutional right to security of the person, the case succeeded in overturning two of the three central pillars of the Criminal Code’s anti-prostitution sections.

Provisions prohibiting “common bawdy houses” (what non-lawyers might more commonly refer to politely as brothels) have been declared unconstitutional with the government being granted a one-year reprieve to try its hand at drafting a revised section that would comply with constitutional principles. The language of the Court of Appeal seemed to hint that while a woman working solo in her own residence could never run afoul of bawdy house legislation, the government might be able to draft non-offending legislation that targeted larger commercial operations and there is little doubt that where criminalization fails, municipal regulation enjoys a broad authority to fill the gap.

Muddying the waters further, Canada’s “living off the avails of prostitution” provisions have been substantially altered by the reading-in of a proviso requiring the crown to prove “circumstances of exploitation”. This modification opens the door to legitimate work in the sex trade for body guards, drivers, screeners, administrators and other ancillary duties that could improve the safety of women who employ such services. Clearly the Court wishes to continue to criminalize “pimping” by reading in “exploitation” though I wonder what kind of evidence prosecutors will be required to produce to establish such circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. The line between exploitive pimp and hard-working “booking agent” may be difficult to draw in the sterile walls of a courtroom.

Somewhat perversely, in the area in which women are arguably most in need of protection — the common street-walker — the law prohibiting communicating for the purposes of prostitution was upheld and remains in full force.

The combined effect of this decision is to make the sex trade industry significantly safer and lawful for those fortunate enough to be operating in the ‘higher-end’ fringes while doing little to protect the drug/alcohol-addicted women who turn to street prostitution in desperation. One might reasonably question whether – on a practical level – this decision will have any significant impact on the operation of the sex trade in Canadian cities. As the “personal pages” of any tabloid broadsheet or the backrooms of suburban massage parlours will tell you, escort services and brothels have already operated with little police molestation for decades. Thus, the fears expressed by many that the Court has turned on the “Red Light” on Ontario are likely overblown. A date with the Supreme Court in Ottawa seems almost inevitable.


  1. Good grief!

    It’s such a relief to finally read something halfway intelligent and largely correct about the decision.

    It’s also wonderful to finally have someone point out the collosal elephant in the decision, namely this:

    “Somewhat perversely, in the area in which women are arguably most in need of protection — the common street-walker — the law prohibiting communicating for the purposes of prostitution was upheld and remains in full force.”

    How ridiculous is it that the very people that suffer the worst violence and most often end up dead, get no new protections from this decision? I know the court looked at this on dry, legal grounds, but nothing there will provide “justice” to the street walkers (who, seemingly, are the only prostitutes the media recognizes). Oh well. Once again, society is leaving them (through the law no less) to the likes of Willy Pickton. They are worth nothing more than sausage filler after all. That’s how we treat the most downtrodden in society after all. Pig feed and sausage.

    Beautiful isn’t it? Sure smells like justice was served that morning. I think I’ll have seconds of that.


    It really was nice to have something intelligent written on the issue. Thanks for that. I really appreciate it! I feared that only idiots, illiterates and raging loons were permitted or capable of speaking on the issue. And I feared that no one would see the obvious flaw in the decision (socially if not legally).

    So it goes…

    The Wet One

  2. I would also like to say that the sex trade is largely legalized, safe and decently regulated in the City of Edmonton. About 40 – 50 brothels (aka massage parlours) operate here in town. There was one incident of trafficking in the last 8 – 10 years (the time that I’ve been paying attention), no murders and little violence. There’s been a few bad apples that were weeded out.

    How do I know you ask? Years of reading commentary and reports of insiders, namely the buyers and sellers @ http://www.perb.ca . It’s not the unvarnished truth for sure, but it’s more accurate than most of the horse hockey pucks thrown around in the mainstream media. And yes, I’ve got first hand experience. Been pretty safe, secure and reasonable from the buyer’s end too. The business operates in every major city in Canada to some extent in a large grey area. Toronto, Calgary and Montreal have the best developed legal scenes (i.e. outcall), but the massage parlour business operates at it’s best in Edmonton. YMMV city by city. Once you’re in the know, it seems to be a largely safe, secure means of getting your itch scratched and for a smart business woman to make a whole load of loot with enough drive and determination.

    One could also end up a complete trainwreck, but then again, they could be a lawyer too, charge the same hourly rates and end up pretty much the same (as we all know). Same, same, and hated just as much (except we get to wear our fancy things in public instead of in private). I’ve seen a few trainwrecks too, but more lives lived than trainwrecks.

    This of course says nothing of the street scene, which is a whole other barrel of apples of which I know little or nothing. Those reports don’t make it to PERB anymore, though a few years back, one individual was all about that scene (and presumeably still is). It was about Vancouver, and did not sound like the best way to make a go of it in the business. Of course, no one really cares about them, so off to the meatgrinder they go when the next pig farmer comes along.

    Where does the solution lie? Increase supply even more to meet demand. How does one do that? I don’t know. I have read that after the sexual revolution, prostitutes made less because sex was more readily available. Given that this is an economic exchange, where supply and demand is at work, this only seems reasonable. How do we increase supply more? Beats the heck out of me. However, in the long run, this seems to be the most effective solution as it deals with the problem at its root. Insufficient supply of sex to meet the demand. Once the economic incentive to supply sex to a sex demanding public, is gone (i.e. satiate the sex demanding public), the supply side will wither up and die. I realize this places an unreasonable burden on the female gender, but it’s the female gender that profits (sometimes handsomely, see Elliot Spitzer’s squeeze (a Canuck btw)) from the supply side, both legally and illegally (i.e. marriage wise and prostitution wise).

    I don’t think that we will untangle this mess because their is no untangling it (apparently, even crabs engage in prostitution of a sort while our nearest relatives more clearly do). It’s part and parcel of the human condition. Men want what women have and women exploit this (poorly or well as the case may be) to their advantage. It’s both necessary (someone’s gotta have children after all and they historically got made one way), and problematic (prostitution, divorce, jealousy, STIs, family law, human trafficking, etc. etc. etc.).

    Ideally, we’d be like Vulcans about the whole thing. Mate every 7 years, have an eloborate logical ceremony about it, and ignore it for the other 7 years. However, this is the real world, so the problems remain.

    For the life of me, I can’t understand why the males and their seemingly insatiable desire (though the sex revolution put a huge dent in supplying the demand) is never talked about in these things except to criminalize men for their natural and rightful desire (see the Swedish model for doing the equivalent of criminalizing the need to urinate. No I’m not really a fan of it, but at least it’s a discussion of the needs of men if only to demonize and criminalize them, which never comes up on this side of the ocean). Strange that isn’t it?

    But I’ve digressed enough on this topic.