It was an unusual day. On the steps of the Supreme Court were two groups, mostly women with banners and placards. One group wore blue T-shirts, the
other wore red.
One group decried the victimization of
women and youth in prostitution. Canada
should prosecute the johns and the pimps
instead, they lamented.
The other group’s red T-shirts were em-
blazoned with the word “whore” (using a
familiar Coke-style font). Canada’s laws on
prostitution are outdated, they lamented
– it’s none of the government’s business if
someone wants to be a “whore.”
The Justices were very animated. Usu-
ally when lawyers present their argu-
ments, judges occasionally interrupt. This
day their questions came fast and often.
Presenters from all sides reminded
us prostitution isn’t illegal in Canada, although many activities associated with it
are. Clearly Parliament’s aim in the past
was to restrict prostitution. The questions
asked that day were:
Do current laws violate the Charter of
Rights and Freedoms?
Are they causing more
harm than good?
Some, like those in
the red shirts, see the
laws as constraints, as chains inhibiting
their freedom to make money by selling
Others, like those in blue (and the
EFC), say we need laws to protect the
vulnerable. Studies suggest 90 per cent of
prostitutes would prefer to do something
else but feel trapped. They would not be
better protected if Canada were to decrim-inalize prostitution-related activities.
Such a step would be regressive, not
progressive. In the trajectory of recent
history in the West – from the abolition
of slavery to the development of employ-
ment laws to universal condemnation of
human trafficking – each
stage involved rejecting
practices that subjugate
Selling sex should not
be an industry, sex should
not be commercialized
and people commodified,
and youth and women
should not be exploited.
The day before the
hearing, the Government
of Quebec announced it
plans to permit euthanasia
in limited circumstances.
It contends euthanasia is a
form of medical treatment
– hence a provincial and
not a federal matter – and the Criminal
Code sanctions on euthanasia should not
apply to medical treatment.
Historically Canadian laws have drawn
a bright line affirming it’s wrong to kill another person. This
is consistent with
the sixth commandment. Tracing back to
the Hippocratic oath,
medicine is committed to “do no harm,”
and our healthcare
system defaults to
the preservation of
life, not the hastening of death.
Groups representing people with disabilities are particularly wary of attempts
to amend the laws. They see legalization
as a direct threat.
In the early 1990s the EFC intervened
along with the Canadian Conference of
Catholic Bishops to argue our laws on
euthanasia affirm the sanctity of human
life. And the Supreme Court of Canada
Yet a growing number of people today
see laws against physician-assisted death
and euthanasia as chains that limit their
freedom to die as they wish.
Psalm 2 has a verse
that now leaps off
the page for me: “Let
us break their chains
and throw off their
shackles.” Usually such
language in Scripture refers to the liberation offered by the gospel. But
in Psalm 2 the “chains
and shackles” refer to
the decrees of God the
kings want to break.
They seek freedom in
rejecting God’s law.
Are our laws re-
stricting euthanasia and
prostitution shackles on
our freedom? Or are they good news to
the vulnerable who would otherwise be
Relief from bondage or oppression is
not found in the absence of law, but in
good laws. Years ago the Law Reform
Commission of Canada wrote, “In truth
the Criminal law is a moral system. It may
be crude, it may have its faults, it may be
rough and ready, but basically is it a system of applied morality and justice” (
Report No. 3, 1976, p. 16).
These issues are emotionally charged
because they drive to the foundational
principles that sustain our “system of applied morality and justice.” These issues
raise profound questions about how life is
to be valued and stewarded, what it means
to uphold or violate the dignity of others,
and when we agree to limit our freedom
for the well-being of others.
The debates ahead will be vigorous. We
should not shun them, but engage with
wisdom and respect so we all will come
to understand the comfort and security of
good laws. FT
BRUCe J. CLeMengeR is president of The
evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
Two Days in June
Are our laws on prostitution and euthanasia outdated?
By Bruce J. Clemenger. Originally published in Faith Today, Jul/Aug 2013.
Relief from bondage
or oppression is
not found in the
absence of law, but
in good laws.