Look Who Just Decriminalized Prostitution

I’ll leave out the place name for a moment, so you can take a guess:

A Superior Court justice gutted the federal prostitution law in ___________ on Tuesday, allowing sex-trade workers to solicit customers openly and paving the way for judges in other provinces to follow suit.

Justice Susan Himel struck down all three Criminal Code provisions that had been challenged – communicating for the purposes of prostitution, pimping and operating a common bawdy house.

The answer is Ontario. More here, from the Globe and Mail. This means that prostitution might become decriminalized throughout Canada, although it might not:

The decision will take effect in 30 days unless Crown lawyers return with arguments that are strong enough to persuade her to grant a further delay, Judge Himel said.

Her landmark ruling drew immediate fire in Ottawa, which has little time to regroup and battle the judgment. A domino effect of judicial decisions could quickly topple prostitution laws across Canada, as happened several years ago with prohibitions against gay marriage.

Worth noting: the “buying and selling of sexual services” per se are not illegal in Canada, but many of the activities associated with prostitution are. Here’s more detail, including a piece of judicial reasoning that’s as clear as any I’ve ever read in a newspaper (which of course doesn’t mean you’ll agree with it):

In her 131-page ruling which took her a year to produce, Judge Himel found that laws set up to protect prostitutes actually endanger their safety, forcing them to furtively engage in hasty transactions conducted in shady locations.

“By increasing the risk of harm to street prostitutes, the communicating law is simply too high a price to pay for the alleviation of social nuisance,” she said. “I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public.”

We wrote a chapter in SuperFreakonomics that was mostly about prostitution, and in the upcoming illustrated edition of that book, we reprint some 100-year-old survey data about what led women into prostitution. The answers are surprising.

Related: Sudhir Venkatesh (whose research is the basis of the SuperFreak section on street prostitution) identifies five myths about the trade.

Fred in Beausejour.

Fortunately, some members of our Supreme Court are quite familiar firsthand with the complaints of prostitutes.

Mr. Alibhai

Awesome response to this point


this is good. by our ontario laws, a prostitute was unable to report being sexually abused, raped, or assaulted, and was charged with running a bawdy house for the simple act of taking her business indoors. It was an awful was to set up the rules, and it really did harm prostitutes.


Dang, I was hoping it was my home town of Ontario, California!


tax it!


CANOSH (Canada's version of OSHA) is going to need to take a very careful look at this industry, which seems ripe for regulatory action.


Wow, and I thought we had activist judges in the US. That's just crazy. The judge can say, "I don't like this law. I don't think the costs are worth the benefits. I will thow it away."
Why bother with legislatures? Judges like this one can just rule however they like.


Yup the judges are the people running (ruining) the country now. It has to stop


The author missed a very important point. The judge said her decision could also be change if the Government would simple make prostitution illegal. Another thing the Judge toke two year to come up with her decision the author wrote this piece after only three days maybe the author would take some more time.

David Chowes, New York City

My tendency is to approve the potential legalization of prostitution in Ontario -- and, maybe eventually in the entire country north of us. And, the good ol' U. S.

But, I also have some degree of ambivalence -- later...

From a civil rights perspective -- definetly -- yes. The sexual behavior of consenting adults is not within the domain of the governmental legal strictures -- with or without the exchange of money or other material valuables.

How many young women marry a far older and wealthier man -- simply being an exchange for the male being able to have sex with a woman who (on average) is far more appealing than someone closer to his age -- plus a trophy to parade around?

The woman has traded her youth and body for riches now -- and, most likely far more after her husband's likely death.

Marrige is sanctioned by society and even the church. Does a marrige certificate make this significantly different than a paid escort relationship?

In fact, a paid relationship with a prostitute is far more honest -- no pretense of love or committment. Just pleasure given for dollars. Not to mention that prostitution has and always will be -- whether legal or illegal since...

Also, matters of health are involved. If legalized, the government can step in and give greater assurance that the spread of STD's will be reduced.

I said that I had some ambivalence: sex is not just another activity: it is instrinsicly intertwined with the construct Freud labeled "the id." So, sex is interwined with aggression. It is a particullary strong impulse due to its main purpose (which we sometimes forgetten), procreation. Surely, it is exttemely powerful.

Since the latest sexual revolution (circa, the 1960's) there has been much change in Western nations... All kinds of sexuality has leaped out of the closet.

From the ideal of a woman being a virgin on her wedding night... to an 18 year old girl experiencing low esteem because she is still a virgin...

From gays hiding at great cost their erotic predilicitions... to being gay in major big cities being practiced in the open -- at times with greater status than straights... And, now gay marriage seems likely to be enacted in most states.

From S&M being considered perverse...to it being commonly practiced to some degree with some groups of people...

From the Victorian mores... Maybe we are now slouching to Roman decadence? Sexual practices can be manifested in so many ways in accordance with so many standards of morality. Nation by nation; religion by religion; culture by culture; sub-culture by sub-culture... And, by individual by individual. Who knows?

My reservations: we are moving to fast without much thought and consideration of potential negative implications. The mantra: "if it feels good, do it" seems to summarize the prevailing progressive attitude. The huge changes we have evidenced I suspect have been moving too fast.

Yes, I think using the benefit/risk ratio, prostitution should be legalized. But, it must be accomplished in a thoughtful and rational manner.

One more comment: the legalization of prostitution would help the (freako)economics of our country.



I think this is great. A free country, yes we should have freedom to pursue what ever interest's we preferr. That old way of thinking is gone or should be. Good luck girls.

Lanny Fisher

I love how people throw around the term "Activist Judges" whenever a legal case overturns a law. The judge made a very sound ruling, and now the government will appeal the decision. If the government should lose the appeal when it goes to the highest court, then there was truly something wrong with the law in the first place, and the government can write new laws that fix what was wrong with the old law. Even if prostitution is decriminalized it could be recriminalized in other forms down the road.

That said, it is going to happen no matter what, so why not tax it and allow vulerable women to operate in more secure environments.


Ontario joins parts of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands and a collection of other progressive countries who accept varied forms of brothels or prostitution. This decision arrives against the backdrop of the ongoing Robert Pickton legal saga in Western Canada.


how do they pay taxes.simple, they dont.they can afford to hire bodyguards. it is a very lucrative trade.

Chris in Baltimore

"By increasing the risk of harm to street prostitutes, the communicating law is simply too high a price to pay for the alleviation of social nuisance"

That's a reasonable -if debatable- point for a politician or voter to make; it's irrelevant to the Constitutionality of the law. This ought to be a warning about the heights of judicial activism US judges will reach unless voters take a stand to stop them.


lets see, on welfare,so medical&dental is paid.food a the food bank.low income housing .maybe 50 to 100 bucks a night of tax free money.nice gig if you can get it.


Before people like #7 post, perhaps they should take a moment to research the basis of the complaint that led to this ruling, as well as the Judicial context in Canada. The complaint noted that the 3 laws in question violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Judge agreed; judges can strike down laws in Canada on that ground. Parliament has recourse to legislate against a judge's decision in cases which they feel are exceptional; furthermore, this case will likely end up at the Supreme Court before it is resolved.


Chris in Baltimore,

If you actually read the decision it clearly lays out how each of the laws struck down violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which is part of the Constitution Act of 1982.

"7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."

This wasn't judicial activism this was interpretation of the highest law of the land.

If Harper wants to change the Charter or the Constitution there is a clear route he has to take to do that but he won't.

FYI this is a Canadian court not an American one.


The decision is perfectly sound. There is no activism here.

Matthew R.

Years ago, progressives decried prostitution because it dehumanized and commodified women. Now progressives think it's empowering to women? I'm confused.