George Graham

Prostitutes are People, too. In Canada, Anyway

Let me concede up front that the so-called sex trade is ugly and abhorrent, that it is riddled with such horrors as kidnapping, child abuse and outright slavery. I am sure you’ve seen the documentaries on TV.

But why punish the victims?

I have been wondering about that for 50 years, ever since I covered Magistrate’s Court in Toronto for the Star. The prostitutes would be paraded in and listen in humiliation as their sins were enumerated and their sentences pronounced. There was nobody to help them except the lady from the Salvation Army. She would offer to take them under her wing when the magistrate, as he sometimes did, would agree to free them temporarily if reliable supervision was available. I think it was called releasing the accused under the Sally Ann lady’s “recognizance.”

Some of the prostitutes probably got turned around but I imagine many of them were too hooked on dope to change their ways. Anyway, the Sally Ann lady smiled her gentle smile and persevered.

One day a young lawyer appointed by the court to defend a batch of prostitutes launched into a surprising tirade against ” people who should really be standing here, the ones living on Bayview and driving Cadillacs.”  The magistrate listened indulgently and the handful of people in attendance were politely silent until he was through. Then the court proceeded as usual. As far as I know, the young lawyer’s rant – which I faithfully reported –  changed nothing.

But today, reading the news, I see that something has changed. Justice Susan Himel has struck down Canada’s anti-prostitution laws on the grounds that they put sex trade workers in danger. The recent case of serial killer Robert Pickton, who preyed on prostitutes in Vancouver, is one example.

Now that they’re safe from prosecution, more “sex trade workers” will probably pick up the phone and report dangerous clients to police. And, with luck, the cops won’t ignore their calls as they did in the Pickton case.

I wonder why it’s taken half a century for Canada to recognize the dangers to which prostitutes are exposed, and how helpless they are. And I wonder whether it will take another half-century to get around to prosecuting those folks “in Bayview who drive Cadillacs,” the folks who really profit from the sex trade.

And while I’m wondering, when do you think sanity will also prevail in America? I must admit I’m pessimistic about that ever happening. Americans pretend that things are the way they would like them to be, not the way they are. They blithely ignore the overwhelming evidence that prostitution has always been with us and will never go away, and the law enforcement mechanism is clogged by endless and pointless “vice” cases.

Meanwhile, helpless “sex workers” are kidnapped, held hostage, abused and murdered.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for