Why Is There A Debate On Legalizing Prostitution in Canada?

• Questions of debate/discussion to analyze
o Through what lens is the government viewing this matter?
 Is it through a moral/ethical lens?
 Or is it through a “free market” capitalist viewpoint?
 Or is it a stance unrelated to either of the aforementioned reasons, and more to do with the basic principles of Liberalism?
o Why is the government, or more importantly the Supreme Court, now considering a different stance concerning the validity and legality of sex trade?

Reconsidering the Sex-Trade

I found it interesting and a bit surprising when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the validity of the ban on prostitution. It is fascinating for many reasons and breeds much discussion for or against its merits for legalization. It indeed shows how far along we have come in secular society to decide based on logic and thought-provoking arguments to come to this consensus in our Liberal democracy in Canada. What we can take from this is that our constitution in Canada is not set in stone and untouchable, and this progressive attitude has always been refreshing to see and witness in this country. However, we should also be aware of the reasons for this change in thought and the ideological influences that have led us to reconsider the legality of some controversial issues such as prostitution.

The Canadian system of government is of course founded on the basic principles of Liberalism and the undeniable rights we guarantee to all citizens regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. We are blessed with right to a fair trial and equality before the law afforded to all, citizen or not. Our freedoms, like any other matter have limits. We are cognizant that we are free to speak, to act, to protest, and express ourselves as long as we do not harm others. This “harm principle”, first introduced by Liberal thinker John Stuart Mill in his book titled “On Liberty”, explains this notion that we are free as long as we do not impede the freedoms of others, through physical or psychological abuse.

If I may ask our government the following question, I would be delighted if I received a response. That is, if our basic principles of democracy are arguably, a calibration of the works of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, among others, then why have we not adopted a more liberal approach to prostitution in the past? These thinkers had a relatively similar argument that a government’s role in the private lives of its citizens should be minimalistic. Thus, why have these recent reconsiderations of the legality of the sex-trade (which clearly do not “harm others” if supervised by authorities under strict regulation) not come sooner? One could argue that the role of religion was all too present in the public and private lives of citizens, which is now arguably much less apparent in modern society.

But to simplify the matter and our ability to debate the legality of prostitution to the undermined role of religion would be a mistake. Religions in secular society are strong and influential in the lives of those who choose to live under its guidance. Faith is still prevalent, but of course, its role in making or influencing political decisions has been diminished to minimal influence. So, how can we account for the sudden change of heart by the Supreme Court of Canada? Is it based on simply a Liberal account on the right of a sex-worker to sell his or her body for pay? This last sentence and change of terms helps those making the case for the legalization of prostitution because its wording frames the matter quite differently.

The legalization of prostitution now not only becomes a matter of individual liberty, but also grants merits for “worker’s rights”. It is now not a matter of not just a liberal juxtaposition, but one that introduces a capitalist “free market” ideology and the undeniable right for all to use their bodies to sell their “labour” for pay. This “Lockean” terminology makes it increasingly difficult for the courts to uphold the current laws and easy to question its validity. Labour is a man or woman’s use of his or her skills either physically or otherwise to receive pay in exchange. In our capitalist society, once we accept that our need to labour is a consequence of the fact that as individuals, we too are commodities, then we can see why in a “free market” society it would be difficult to sanction against a prostitute’s right to use his or her body for commercial use.


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