The Supreme Court of Canada gave the green light this week to commercially operated “swingers’ clubs” that provide facilities for members seeking group sex, one-on-one mate swapping and voyeurism.
In a seven-to-two decision that came just in time to clear the way for any Canadians planning festive orgies over the Christmas holidays, the ruling, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, declared that personal harm, rather than community standards, should be the operative criterion in defining indecency.
While it is still illegal in Canada to run a brothel or bawdy house where human beings can rent other human beings for sexual pleasure, clubs such as l’Orage and Auberge 102 in Montreal or the Wicked Club in Toronto have found a way to dodge that little obstacle. Patrons supposedly pay only for membership in such clubs and if two or several patrons spontaneously decide once they’re inside that they’d like to have their way with each other in one of these conveniently appointed chambers, they now are legally free to do so.
So—you either pay to belong to a club where consensual sex can take place if two or more people feel like it, and that’s OK; or you pay at the door to get into a place for consensual sex and that’s not OK. As sex seems to be the only reason you’d set foot in either joint, and as you won’t get past the door in either place without coughing up some money, the distinction borders on invisible.
Rev. Thomas Dowd, a Roman Catholic priest in Montreal, says the distinction is a sham. Posting on Mark Shea’s website, he wrote: “Really they are houses of prostitution. More men than women show up at these clubs (how surprising) so the club owners pay prostitutes to become part of the club clientele, to keep things, shall we say, entertaining.”
It is anticipated that this Supreme Court decision will have a liberalizing impact on what sorts of behaviour will now be allowed in bathhouses, massage parlours, strip clubs, escort services and other depressing outposts of what we are euphemistically encouraged nowadays to call the “sex industry.”
Asked what sort of behaviour he thought might spur a recovery of the concept of community standards and perhaps even a reversal of this decision by the court, Osgoode Hall Law School professor Alan Young opined to the Globe and Mail, “Something even more fringe, people defecating on one another.”
Granted, community standards of decency and indecency, and also of right and wrong, are trickier for many of us to discern in the sort of polyglot society Canadians know today. And I would also insist that no small part of the current confusion in some of these matters can be laid at the feet of recent Supreme Court rulings that have helped turn traditional understandings of some pretty fundamental matters upside down. But I really am . . . I was going to say “shocked,” but perhaps the truer word is “heartsick” . . . that the top court doesn’t recognize the kind of coarsening, soul-shrivelling harm that establishments of this kind pose to society at large.
No, I’m not trying to tell moral libertarians all jacked up on “free love” and “no inhibitions” how to conduct their creepy sex lives. I was thinking more of young people growing up in a society where places of this kind are allowed to operate freely. What does the Wicked Club tell a young person about love and honour and fidelity?
That they’re options. That you don’t even have to try to uphold them if you don’t feel like it. That sex is something you can buy like a takeout hamburger and eat at the side of the road. And we won’t judge you because this is Canada where tolerance at all costs, regardless of all harm, is the only value we cherish.