Strictly speaking, the city has not legalized prostitution. But, in licensing escort agencies, it has entered a morally compromised area. And, it should leave it.
As testimony before a current court case shows, escort agencies are licensed to provide “companionship for discussion purposes.”
However, a quick review of escort agency advertising will uncover no earnest promotion of the girls’ cerebral accomplishments.
Instead, lonely intellectuals looking for an opera date must choose their companion from among the likes of “top heavy and slender,” “positively petite,” nd “no rules.”
Come, come. Certainly the Calgary Police Service has never been deceived. Ten years ago, the force asked council to do away with its escort bylaw, calling it “a thinly veiled attempt to control prostitution.”
But, the city continues to license agencies, and the girls who work for them, protesting as it does, that it isn’t really licensed sexual activity.
“We take every precaution to make sure this practice doesn’t occur,” chief licensing inspector Marc Halat testified in the trial of an escort-agency operator, who has been charged with living-on-the-avails of prostitution.
Well, some precautions. The city requires a police check on people applying to operate an escort agency, or work for one. This is minimal, however, establishing only no prior suspicious activity, legitimate ID, and six months’ residence in Calgary. A prospective cab driver would answer more questions. Second, the city may withdraw licences from agencies and people found to have offered sex for money. Last year, this happened three times. However, there’s no regular inspection.
Typically, action follows tipoffs from competing agencies, effectively making the city an instrument of the industry’s jostling for competitive advantage.
And this points back to the city’s moral ambiguity.
The city has two choices. Prostitution itself is not illegal, but soliciting is. So, the city can put resources into dealing with that.
Success will probably always be incomplete, but it’s an honest position to defend.
Or, it can recognize escort agencies for what they are, and regulate them – through proactive health and license checks of all parties involved, for instance.
Again there’s no way of knowing how well this would work in practice, but there’s nothing now, so anything would be an improvement and, again, it’s an honest position.
Citizens can readily understand how well-meant choices may deliver unintended consequences.
They do not, however, expect intentional duplicity.
Indeed, the law should not only forbid wrongdoing, but set the bare minimum standard of acceptable conduct. By denying reality the city’s escort bylaw does neither.
The city is thus left in the invidious position of collecting licence fees on an illegal activity – in effect, itself living on the avails of prostitution.
It is not good enough. Let the city end the semantics – and put resources into doing the right thing, whether that be to regulate or prosecute.