Prostitution in Canada

At 11am today, the Ontario Court of Appeal will rule whether the nation’s anti-prostitution laws are unconstitutional. I am not a constitutional expert, so I will defer to others for constitutional arguments around the issue of prostitution.

When it comes to controversial issues like these, debates quickly slip into the red-herring territory of whether we are “for” or “against” prostitution. Nevertheless, in the sphere of economics, prostitution is simply a category of trade. In the eyes of the economist, a great many things are traded that are not particularly savory. Weapons are produced and sold, drugs, poisons, dangerous animals, body modification services, perilous thrill rides, cigarettes, and so on. Categorically, it is essentially impossible to differentiate between these markets in an economic sense. We know for a fact only that some people have a taste for things that other people consider unsavory, abhorrent, or even morally reprehensible.

Critics of legalized prostitution fall back on different arguments entirely. This CBC news story summarizes a great many of the objections raised, which is summarized thusly: “The government maintains police need the powers to control street prostitution and investigate pimping and argues that prostitutes make an economic choice they know is dangerous.”

A logical flaw is immediately obvious: if prostitution were not illegal, would the police still require the “powers to control” prostitution and “investigate pimping?” Certainly not. For all the laws and regulations designed to make these markets disappear, they persist in any case. Whether or not one considers such laws “effective,” it is an objective fact that they have had no impact on the elimination of the markets themselves. The question then becomes whether society is best served by creating institutional formalities that apparently aim to formalize the majority’s moral objections to certain tastes, or whether these laws do, as the Ontario Superior Court recognized, make “life more dangerous for sex-trade workers.”

We shall soon see whether the Ontario Court of Appeal has the courage to uphold Judge Himel’s ruling.

UPDATE: 11:13am

Amazingly, the Court upheld the lower court’s ruling and, as The National Post put it, “greenlighted brothels.”

There remain limits on the practice, but notwithstanding those limits, this is a great day for free markets and liberty!


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