Monday, April 13, 2009

Legalizing Prostitution: A Step in the Wrong Direction

(originally posted at:

I read with interest today a column from yesterday's Toronto Star, in which Star reporter Leslie Scrivener interviews Canadian journalist-turned-author Victor Malarek about his new book, “The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It” ( In the interview, Malarek discusses his concerns regarding legalizing prostitution, and instead makes a case that legal reform is necessary, but only up to a point. He points out that Sweden has decriminalized prostitution for women, but has aggressively been targetting the Johns who use prostitutes.

Malarek's views are insightful, even though they may not be in keeping with what many of us believe about prostitution. His views are that men have always gained the most out of prostitution, calling prostitution “the world's oldest oppression”. He argues that those parts of the world, such as Amsterdam, which legalized prostitution are now kicking themselves, because women are still being controlled by pimps, and drug problems are rampant.

Many in the Green Party might be surprised to discover that the Green Party of Canada now supports the legalization of prostitution, through the adoption of Resolution G08-p014 by internet voting last summer, and recently ratified at the February policy convention. Many who might be concerned about the rights of women might find this resolution interesting, and either a step in the right direction, or the wrong direction. After reading Leslie Scrivener's interview of Victor Malarek, I've no doubt that Malarek's reaction to our new policy would be similar to my own: absolutely appalled.

I have to tell you that I've only recently begun looking into the issue of legalizing prostitution. This all came about when a member of my EDA Executive brought this “green lighted” policy to my attention back in January, and had a conversation explaining to me why this was a very bad direction for the Party to be going in with regards to the rights of women. Legalizing prostitution, he explained, only leads to more situations of abuse, which may seem counter-intuitive. I challenged him and suggested that if prostitution were turned into a legal industry or profession which could be regulated and taxed, wouldn't that be better for everyone?

It might be better for those prostitutes who would qualify for the legal protection of the state, but what legalization will do is create an atmosphere, perhaps even a society of acceptance. My friend pointed to the experience of Amsterdam as an example, much as Victor Malarek has done. There, in part through the sex trade, Amsterdam has become an internatinal sex tourism destination, and prostitution is accepted by all as the “new normal”. And while many sex trade workers might have benefitted from government regulation (such as through health coverage and testing), the experience of many, many more women has been quite different. As demand for sex workers increased, women from elsewhere have been brought in illegally, to service demand. And these women and children continue to be exploited.

My friend also took issue with the second point about taxation. While certainly legalized sex trade workers could assist the national economy through payment of taxes (and receive benefits such as health care, worker's compensation, etc), is this something which the state really wants to get itself involved with? In essence, we would be living off of the avails of prostitution in the much the same way that we currently rely on taxation from tobacco. Why on earth would we want to look for new revenue sources from things like this?

And that's what really got me thinking, and investigating. I understand that there are multiple sides to this issue, and many passionate voices out there who are either completely for or against the legalization of prostitution. Many people believe it will be a benefit to our society to legalize and regulate prostitution. Others, such as my friend, and Victor Malarek, and myself, disagree.
But whatever your views on this issue, you have got to acknowledge that our new policy which supports the legalization of prostitution is going to be extremely problematic for this Party.

Prostitution is simply one of those emotional wedge issues which can turn voters away in droves. For many, there can be no rational argument or debate about this issue: legalization is either right and should have happened a long time ago, or it's wrong and how on earth could I ever support the Green Party if they are going to be the champions for the oppression of women and children?

If we are to grow as a Party, we need to attract voters who are generally more conservative in outlook, because the left is already a very crowded place to be. And not to suggest that all of those on the left are of the same opinion on the issue of legalized prostitution, but certainly those on the right tend to identify themselves more as anti-legalizers. With this notion in mind, we gain nothing from having adopted such a divisive emotional policy.

Further, after our good showing in the last election, there is no way that all of the other parties are going to let us get off scott-free in the next election. Many of our policies, from carbon taxation to proportional representation to income splitting, are going to be offered up by the other parties as reasons to voters to give the Greens a pass in the next election. We're already going to have our hands full offering priority policies to voters and defending from the attacks of other parties. Why on earth, then, have we handed the other parties this emotional-based wedge issue with which to hit us over the head with?

We will turn off voters as a result of this new policy. Already, we are losing members.
I note that in the convention's minutes there was discussion about policy development during those periods between conventions, and that a process might be set up for membership to offer new policies and presumably review existing ones. That process needs to be kick-started before the next general election so that this policy can be revisited by Party membership.

Remember, this policy was adopted through our very cumbersome online voting process; it did not receive the benefit of any personal debate.

I believe it is the wrong policy for our Party at any time, but especially at this time when so many voices, such as Victor Malarek's, are now just starting to be heard about the fiasco which sex trade legalization has caused elsewhere in the world.

And the last thing this Party needs is a liberal candidate (or the media) somewhere out there telling voters that the Greens are going to finance all of those new alternative energy projects by taxing prostitutes.

No comments: