BRANDON -- Last month, I told the story of a Winnipeg teenager who was lured into prostitution and injected with meth by men much older than her so she could turn tricks for days on end without sleep. She was rescued when a wound caused by the injections became so infected she required medical treatment.
One of the men involved had recently pleaded guilty to living off the avails of prostitution and had been sentenced to two years in jail. I argued that wasn't sufficient; that provincial criminal property-forfeiture laws should be used to seize the property of johns and pimps, and the hotels where prostitution is tolerated.
Within hours of that column's publication, I began to receive emails from all over the country, arguing prostitution is the world's oldest profession, what happens between consenting adults is none of my business, and the government has no right to legislate morality. I responded to the first few emails, pointing out the girl referred to in the column was not an adult when the prostitution began and that no person injected with meth and acting under duress is capable of voluntarily consenting to anything.
As to the assertion no government has the right to legislate morality I pointed out governments have been doing so for millennia and cited the Criminal Code as an example.
Another example is the recently introduced Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (Bill C-36), the Harper government's response to the Supreme Court of Canada's unanimous decision last fall to strike down the existing prostitution laws.
Commentators and activists have denounced the legislation, claiming it will not survive a legal challenge. As with many of the readers who wrote to me, they assert (some implicitly, others explicitly) the government's only option is the full legalization of the sex trade.
They advocate a government-sanctioned approach that would shrug and turn a blind eye to the plight of the girl I wrote about.
In last fall's judgment, the Supreme Court confirmed Parliament has the right to impose limits on where and how prostitution is conducted. The judges acknowledged "the regulation of prostitution is a complex and delicate matter" and "how prostitution is regulated is a matter of great public concern, and few countries leave it entirely unregulated."
With that guidance in mind, Bill C-36 is a reasonable response by the federal government.
It aims to reduce demand for prostitution by making the pimping and purchase of sex illegal. It will prohibit the advertising of sexual services, except by prostitutes themselves, and will make it a crime to communicate or solicit for prostitution anywhere children could plausibly gather.
It is premised on the fact prostitutes are almost always victims of exploitation and worse. Indeed, no child aspires to sell sex as a career; that only happens after every hope and dream has been crushed by others.
With that grim fact in mind, the bill creates a $20-million fund for programs to help prostitutes leave the business.
Critics of C-36 argue the bill will never survive a charter challenge because of the prohibition against prostitutes marketing their services where children are found. They claim it will imperil the lives of prostitutes by forcing them to work in dangerous areas.
It is a perverse, myopic argument that seeks to make persons engaged in an inherently dangerous activity safer by making children less safe -- transforming kids into human shields and trampling their right to live, learn and play in areas free from the presence of pimps and their randy customers.
Given that studies have shown, on average, prostitutes enter the sex trade at just 14 years of age, any law intent on keeping promoters and purchasers of sexual services away from prime recruitment territory is defensible.
The regulation of prostitution may be a complex and delicate matter, but the complexity of the task cannot deter the government from seeking to craft legislation that balances the rights of citizens, protects children, punishes perpetrators and assists victims such as the teenager I referenced earlier.
Bill C-36 may not be perfect, but it comes as close to accomplishing those objectives as may be reasonably possible.
Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.