The conflict between a sex worker's natural right to dignity, and the scope of control she can exert over her own body - her rightful property - plays a central part in much of the research and debate surrounding the commercialization of sex, and there is little consensus as to which natural right is of greater fundamental importance. This conflict over the morality and legal rights of sex workers is plainly evident in Canada's own treatment of the issue; spanning a period of over twenty-five years, the research and reports on prostitution commissioned by the federal government constitute several thousand pages of empirical evidence documenting the harm caused by the criminalization of prostitution, yet no changes have been made to the country's Criminal Code provisions since 1986. Throughout these government reports and the testimony of dozens of participants in the 2005 hearings held by the country's Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws, the same conflict of language and ideology is repeated; regardless of the time and location, conversations about prostitution within Canada follow an almost predictable pattern of spinning wheels and little progress.
In light of the new opportunity to effect change in Canada's approach to prostitution law, this paper examines the signs and significations evinced in the language of Canada's present laws, and traces the legislative history of sex work in the country as well as the cyclical nature of the observations and conclusions drawn by the many federally-appointed committees charged with addressing the topic. Select witness testimony from hearings conducted by the most recent committee to address the state of prostitution, the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws, is also reproduced and analyzed. Using the opposing perspectives of victim and rights discourse as a loose framework, particular analytical focus is placed on the language used and ideological beliefs expressed within both the formal reports and testimony. Finally, the core conflicts revealed in Canada's hearings and formal reports on prostitution are placed within a larger body of theory on human agency and the physical body for the purpose of emphasizing the unequivocal necessity of respecting sex workers' autonomy, first and foremost, in any future determination of sex work's place within the social and legal fabric of the country.