Following Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel’s decision to throw out any restrictions on the sex trade as incompatible with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, numerous newspaper editorials called for the issue to be returned to Parliament because elected representatives, not judges should decide social policy.
The Ottawa Citizen’s own libertarian stance is that “what consenting adults do is not anyone else’s business.” They would basically like Parliament to debate and approve what Judge Himel has dictated: the decriminalization of prostitution. And yet, the paper’s editorial board realizes it would be a “mistake” for Parliament “to avoid this question, as it has avoided abortion, same-sex marriage, polygamy and other difficult issues.”
Typically those who want to challenge the status quo call for debate. However, the status quo is unsatisfactory and confusing – selling sex for money is legal, but communicating for such purposes or setting up a business enterprise for those ends is not – and therefore a clarifying debate is in order.
A debate on all aspects of prostitution is necessary. The Toronto Star, which also calls for Parliament to settle the issue, warns that “it would not be easy for MPs to ignore strong social and religious taboos and political pressures” – the implication being that MPs should ignore morality.
Like it or not, morality is part of the discussion about whether society should give its stamp of approval to prostitution, turn a blind eye to it, or restrict or prohibit the sex trade. We hope our elected representatives are up to the job and do not hide behind polls and social science. The morality of selling sex is of central importance to this issue and MPs should not be afraid to address this aspect of the debate. Clearly, Justice Himel thought it irrelevant or beyond the scope of her expertise. Voters should demand more of their representatives.