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Laws against bawdyhouses must go, committee hears

Getting The Criminal Code Out Of Your Life

STATE ANTICS. Canada's sex laws have resulted in people being charged for having consensual sex. Credit: David Hawe

As a result of seemingly endless police raids and prosecutions on gay and lesbian sexual spaces, Pink Triangle Press began a campaign called Bawdy Work: Getting The Criminal Code Out Of Your Life. That campaign called for the repeal or reform of a number of provisions of the Criminal Code which continue to criminalize consensual sexual expression. The title page and two attached articles I provided set out the details of that campaign.

Pink Triangle Press, which publishes three gay and lesbian newspapers and has internet and television projects, advocates for those changes because the law should not police consensual sex – and doing so causes much more harm then it could ever claim to prevent. The Press equally believes that many of the laws regarding prostitution need to be repealed or reformed because they also cause much more harm then they aim to prevent and, perhaps worse, they obstruct the creation of a safer society for all.

As Gary Kinsman said in an article published by the Press, “Once we are rid of the sexual policing of consensual sex, we can focus all our energies on addressing the real roots of sexual violence and harassment as we build a world defined by erotic pleasure and the ending of sex-related violence and danger.”

Of particular concern is the bawdyhouse law, which interestingly has been applied to both places of prostitution and gay bathhouses.

Gay bathhouses are safe, regulated places where gay men, and on separate occasions, gay women, come together to meet, socialize and share physical intimacy. Despite the important role those spaces have played in the development of our communities and the positive tool they have provided in our response to the AIDS crisis, police raids and prosecutions continue on the offensive allegation that the sexual acts that take place there are indecent. Bawdyhouse charges remain outstanding against a bathhouse in Hamilton, Ontario.

The harm caused by that app-lication of the bawdyhouse law is unacceptable in an advanced, free and democratic society. Not only do the individual persons charged as keepers and found-ins suffer psychologically, emotionally and financially from the criminal process, but the uneven application of that offensive law is experienced as a direct attack on gay sexuality. Unlike random acts of violence directed at gays or lesbians, this attack is sanctioned by the state.

Similarly, the bawdyhouse law prevents acts of prostitution from taking place in a safe place and instead has exposed prostitutes – male, female and transgendered – to the unacceptable level of harm that inherently exists on the streets. In a cruel twist of irony, the criminal prohibition on bawdyhouses may produce the very nuisances that the soliciting law tries to prevent.

The justice system has started to reexamine the application of the bawdyhouse laws to gay bathhouses. Crown prosecutors in Calgary recently stayed charges following a raid on a bathhouse there, on the grounds that there was no longer a substantial likelihood of proving that the community would not tolerate the acts that took place there. A police raid of a women-only bathhouse event in Toronto was later determined by a trial judge to be a breach of those women’s constitutional rights to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure.

It is also time Parliament reconsidered the laws related to prostitution to ensure that they do not cause harm to the men and women – gay, straight and transgendered – who work as sex trade workers in our society. We also call on Parliament to address the other provisions of the Criminal Code we have highlighted in our materials.