Canada’s unjust prostitution laws

“If nobody wants to sell sex, it is a crime to force anyone to do so. But when men or women do want to sell their bodies, they should have that full right without encountering punishment or discrimination. If the client behaves decently, the relationship between the sex buyer and the sex seller must be considered a purely private transaction”, Nils Johan Ringdal, Love For Sale. (Prostitution Quotes, n.d).  Prostitution is considered legalized, then why are there objections against these practices of keeping a common bawdy house and living on the avails of prostitution. In addition, it should be noted that the women have always faced inequality because of their status as ‘prostitutes’. I will discuss the work of two philosophical scholars of Lon Fuller and John Finnis. Moreover, I will also incorporate the review of Missing Women, Missing News: Covering Crisis in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, written by David Hugill. From reading Hugill’s work, there are three prominent themes which become prevalent to the reader; two of the themes will be discussed: power that police failed to practice and neo-liberalism.

The first theme that will be discussed is of the power that the police failed to practice. It was discussed in Hugill’s book that the police did not care about the disappearance of the women, known as prostitutes, who were identified as missing by the family members. It is important to note of an instance when the police refused to file a complaint of a missing woman in downtown because they believed that she would return herself. As stated, “Angela Jardine, who asked Vancouver police to follow up on her daughter’s disappearance in later 1998, was told not to worry and that her daughter would turn up [furthermore] [p]olice delayed producing a missing persons poster for two months…”(Hugill, 2010, pg. 10). To further exemplify, this particular missing woman was not of a particular concern to police is because of the identity that the woman held; she was known as a prostitute. Thus, she held of no importance to the police officials.

The second theme which gets discussed in Hugill’s book is neo-liberalism. The key emphasis of neo-liberalism is on individual equality and responsibility. The focus of neo-liberalism is to enable the needy individuals to gain job positions and not rely on the social services, such as welfare and social care. For neoliberalists social justice means equality of opportunities. It is further noted that the women were forced to become prostitutes because of the lack of opportunities of jobs that would help them survive.

As for Fuller and Finnis, both philosophers would argue that it is unjust to object the practices of keeping a common bawdy house and living on the avail of prostitution. The point that Fuller would assert to support his claim is as follows: he would state that there is an enactment of“…contradictory rules” (Pavlich, 2011, p.31). That is, it is unjust to object these practices when prostitution is legalized. Finnis, on the other hand, lists seven principles and it is upon following these principles that a law can be considered as morally valid. One of the seven principles which Finnis would use to object the above noted issue is as such: he would note that objection on practices such as keeping a bawdy house and living on the avail would devalue the prostitute’s life. To further exemplify, the government is being ignorant of the fact that sex workers are frequently placed at risk. As stated, “ [a]dvocates for the safety of sex workers say the provisions make the work more dangerous in specific ways: [f]or example: [l[aws against keeping a common bawdy house prevent sex workers from working indoors, where its safe [and] [l]aws against living on the avails of prostitution prevent them from hiring bodyguards” (“Should Canada”, 2012).

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Canada: Oxford University Press.

Hugill, D. (2010). Missing women, missing news: covering crisis in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Halifax: Fernwood.

Prostitution Quotes. (n.d.). Notable Quotes. Retrieved September 22, 2012, from

(“Should Canada”, 2012). Should Canada’s prostitution laws be changed? (2012, September 21). CBCnews. Retrieved from


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One response to “Canada’s unjust prostitution laws

  1. This is a very thorough post. Kudos! This could easily provide the starting point for a term paper, if you are thinking of writing about this topic. The perspectives of Foucaultian legal studies (Pavlich, ch. 9) or Critical Legal Studies (Pavlich, ch. 8) would provide interesting alternative analytical frameworks.

    Your opening remarks on the failures of the police in relation to missing women in the Lower Mainland are effective. Critical criminologists have often discussed the differential treatment of persons based on their social construction as ‘innocent victims’ or ‘disposable populations’. Zygmunt Bauman’s sociological work on ‘wasted lives’ offers some useful conceptual resources for thinking about this.

    Some additional explication of Fuller’s points about contradictory rules would be welcome here. Assume that your reader is unfamiliar with this material. Good engagement with Finnis. Again, a further unpacking of your points would be helpful for new readers.

    Good work! Looking forward to future posts.