07/09/2012 05:03 EDT | Updated 09/08/2012 05:12 EDT

Safe Drugs -- But Not Safe Sex?


Immigration Minister Jason Kenney recently announced that the federal government would no longer offer work visas to immigrants applying for positions in the sex trade. While this is certainly a step in the right direction in terms of moderating the oldest profession in the world, it is not enough. Yes, it takes into account prostitutes and strippers from outside our borders, but does little else to protect those sex workers already within Canada.

In March, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down the ban on "bawdy houses," more commonly known as "brothels." The motion is under review by the Supreme Court, and should it be passed, brothels will be allowed to open all across Canada.

After 20 years of the abuse of women, it's about time.

The opposition to the legalization of brothels is nothing more than conservative squeamishness at a fact of life masquerading as moral integrity. As difficult as it may be to swallow (no pun intended), the objective reality is that prostitution is here to stay; always has been, and always will be.

If this is the case, then why haven't we been quicker to take steps into legitimizing and destigmatizing this line of work which, frankly speaking, is no different from any other profession which centres around the utilization of one's body? Athletics, bricklaying, and modelling -- yes modelling, whose sole difference from prostitution is the line "look, but don't touch."

We express outrage when, in football locker rooms, a coach has his way with children. We throw our arms in the air when a world bank official rapes a hotel maid. But when a prostitute is abused, we hear nothing. This is the War on Women -- the invisible women to whom society turns a blind eye when they are abused, beaten, drugged and raped during their evening shifts. We adopt the same mentality that we reserve for "everyday" rape victims: They shouldn't have dressed like that. "They shouldn't have gone into that line of work."

Think about it this way: Canada is a nation that offers drug addicts a safe place to shoot up heroin (and not contribute to society), but leaves prostitutes out in the cold, to work at the mercy of potentially criminal customers. As odd as it may sound, prostitutes do contribute to society in offering a service. The drug addict however, does not. This is not so much to attack those who are sadly addicted to substances, but rather, to show the hypocritical way in which we, as a society, decide whose safety comes first. We take pity on drug users. We get squeamish about sex. Do we only shield those we pity, and refuse the same to those who turn a profit?

Any argument against brothels falls flat on its face. Those who claim it will encourage infidelity are probably the same type of people who blame a rape victim for having been raped. Any man (or woman) who is unfaithful enough to engage the services of a prostitute, and lie to his partner, is just as likely to lie to any individual at the bar, and perform the same infidelity. We cannot blame prostitutes for infidelities -- only those who wholeheartedly seek them.

Currently, prostitutes exist in legal limbo. They are allowed to practice their craft, but cannot do so in the privacy even of their own homes. And for safety they must rely on the law much in the same way that their counterparts do in Amsterdam -- or at the very least, upon the security guards of the establishment in which they work. As much as we may want to believe that the famed Red Light District exists as a sort of Xanadu for college graduates on vacation, the fact of the matter is that it exists for the safety of its workers. Help is but a button press away in every room, and police charge to the scene as they would for any other crime.

Jason Kenney's recent announcements regarding the safety of foreign sex workers is certainly encouraging. One hopes that this is but the first step in the Conservative government's initiative to allow those in this desperate line of work (for that is what it is) to operate freely, and more importantly, safely. But if this latter point is not enough to convince the Supreme Court, then maybe they will be tempted by the argument made for the legalization of drugs: higher tax revenue.

Of course, the important difference to note between these two situations is that we've never heard of someone overdosing from a good lay.