BOOTH: Sex trade laws should protect workers while nailing abusers

It’s a brave new world for the world’s oldest profession in British Columbia.

In case you missed it, last Friday B.C. Attorney General, Suzanne Anton, announced that the province would no longer proceed with prostitutionrelated charges.

The decision stems from a Supreme Court ruling in December that Canada’s existing prostitution laws are unconstitutional. Despite said unconstitutionality, those laws remain in effect as the federal government has a one-year deadline to come up with a new and better law.

Faced with the prospect of having police do the legwork of arresting and processing prostitutes with the full knowledge that the charges would be thrown out because of bad law, the province has tossed in the towel on the whole issue altogether.

Police in B.C. are understandably sensitive to the subject in the wake of Robert Pickton’s pig farm of horrors in which untold numbers of prostitutes from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside were systematically murdered in one of the most notorious cases of serial killing in this country’s history.

As such, prosecuting prostitutes is a low priority for police, who are instead focused on protecting sex trade workers from predators like Pickton.

Pimps, brothel operators, human traffickers, massage parlours and the scumbags who coerce minors into becoming prostitutes are still fair game for the cops. And so they should be.

It’s the sex trade workers themselves who no longer have to worry about being picked up for such charges as communicating for the purposes of prostitution, living off the avails of prostitution, or stopping a motor vehicle for the purposes of prostitution, among others.

And to be honest, that part of the change

in approach by police is probably a good thing. Prostitution is not a victimless crime. Nobody willingly chooses to sell their body for money unless they are in the direst financial straits, often related to drug or alcohol problems. It’s not a career option, nor are there colleges offering programs for those planning to get ahead in the business. It’s a dead-end street for those who get caught up in the trade and the ending is rarely visually appealing.

Reining in the world’s oldest profession has caused headaches for police around the world for millennia and this decision by the provincial government is not doing the cops any favours. There’s a reason there have been laws against prostitution in this country since before confederation.

In addition to the human cost of the business, prostitution is linked to health issues, property crime, sexual assault, drug use and the lowlifes who try to make money off the miseries of the people who actually do the work.

None of these issues are going away with the latest twist in legal semantics offered up by Canada’s Supreme Court. Diseases like AIDS, gonorrhea and syphilis are not going away, nor are the patrons who enjoy beating up prostitutes as part of the party package. Drug use is epidemic among sex trade workers and human trafficking is a worldwide problem. Many of the women and girls who end up in North America searching for a better life wind up in a living hell of forced prostitution to work off their debt.

There’s no way the provincial government’s announcement that an end to prostitution charges means our society is condoning the sex trade. The move is likely aimed at wasting time on prosecutions that have no hope of ever reaching a courtroom in the current legal climate.

The Supreme Court has given the federal government one year to get its act together and come up with new legislation addressing prostitution. Unconstitutional or not, the old laws clearly weren’t effective. Need proof? Check out the number of massage parlours and escort services listed in the back of Vancouver’s leading entertainment paper.

So the government is on the clock. Come up with better legalese to address the issue or risk ringing in 2015 with no prostitution laws at all. Such a scenario would be disastrous for all involved.

Governments have been fruitlessly trying to come up with effective laws concerning the sex trade since before there was a Canada. The goal should be to protect the people caught up in the business, hammering the abusers who either force women into the sex trade or parasitically live off the proceeds, and punishing the, um, "end users."

Now the feds have less than 11 months to solve these problems, all while paying close attention to constitutional rights, a concept that has little to do with common sense.

Good luck with that.

Michael Booth can be reached at

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