Angiulo: Comparing Legalized Prostitution in Canada versus America

Monday, December 23, 2013

This week I learned that prostitution is legal in Canada. I swear I didn't know this until December 20th when the Canadian Supreme Court ruling of the Attorney General of Canada v. Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovich and Valerie Scott showed up in my twitter feed. Since this week's column already runs the risk of appearing in work inappropriate search engine results, I want to make it clear that I have no intention of dwelling on the bawdy side of this issue.

Instead, I suggest that this case shows how our two countries have similar constitutional provisions that get applied in similar ways for very different purposes because of a simple truth: a healthy democracy does not create second class citizens.

As a starting point I think we can agree that sexual conduct for a fee is, for the most part, illegal in the United States. This is an important distinction between the legal and social traditions in our Country from those in Canada. As the Canadian Supreme Court outlined in AG v. Bedford it's simply not illegal to engage in prostitution. It is, however, illegal to do things likeadvertise these services,share profits with prostitutes, and either be in or run what we would commonly call a brothel.

Both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution as well as Article 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms all talk about the same things: individual rights to life, liberty and protection under the law. Interestingly, the case of AG v. Bedford is a case where prostitutes claimed they have a right to equal protection from unreasonable restrictions and that the application of the above described laws is unfair. Those in the business of prostituting successfully argued that the restrictions, rather than encouraging good moral order, are in fact endangering their health, safety and welfare. Essentially they state that the existing legal structure permits their behavior, but endangers their lives because they can't have people legally acting as business agents, security teams or even have support staff like accountants.

Arguments for Equal Protection under the law have a well respected tradition in the United States. One of our most famous cases, like so famous that it shows up in Fifth Grade History books, is Brown v. Board of Education where the United States Supreme Court ruled racially segregated school systems were unconstitutional. The underlying principle is that there should be no aspect of our laws or government that creates second class citizens evens if some social pressure places a particular group people in an unpopular caste.

On the face of it, the Canadian case of AG v. Bedford appears to be all about legal sex and a morality issue that we as United States Citizens could never understand. In reality, the legal issue presented is much more approachable. This case is just about a group of people, engaging in a legal business, who want the same protections that other people get. Even though they are very unpopular in some social circles.

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