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editorial

Prime Minister Stephen Harper answers a question in the House of Commons on Tuesday.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Canada's new anti-prostitution law came into effect this week, but it's doubtful anyone involved with the so-called "oldest profession" much noticed.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has said she has doubts about the constitutionality of the law, which among other things criminalizes advertising sexual services and soliciting near schools, parks and houses of worship.

"I am left with grave concern that the so-called Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act will protect neither 'exploited persons' nor 'communities'," said Premier Wynne.

In a similar vein, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark told the Globe's editorial board that she supports the Vancouver Police Department's decision not to make the law a priority.

Now come reports that the Montreal police service's vice unit is in no particular hurry to enforce the law either. Like police in Vancouver, they will focus their efforts on sex worker safety.

So after Ottawa disregarded initial objections from many experts over its proposed bill, then ignored the possibility the legislation would swiftly be struck down in court, it is now confronted by the reality the law is unlikely to be enforced in the places where the sex trade does its briskest business.

Quite the trifecta.

When the Supreme Court invalidated the core provisions of this country's out-dated prostitution law in late 2013, the government had an opportunity to address the human tragedies caused by prostitution.

Instead, we are left with a text devoid of authority.

This government has a history of selectively heeding advice on matters of criminal justice and policing, and the Globe's reporting has also uncovered a worrying pattern of it presenting sub-standard, error-ridden legislation to Parliament.

Evidence is mounting, then, of a surprisingly slipshod approach to what is claimed to be a core priority.

As a result, the government finds itself confronted by a vexing question that is entirely of its own making: When does a law cease being a law?

Maybe it's when nobody feels obligated to submit to it.

Note to readers This editorial has been updated. A previous version incorrectly stated the government of Ontario will not rigorously prosecute cases under the new federal prostitution law. In fact, the province has indicated it will enforce the law despite concerns over its constitutionality.