Monday, December 30, 2013

Doing right by sex trade workers

Due to multiple technical issues I haven't been able until now to comment on the Supreme Court's decision in Attorney General of Canada v. Bedford on December 20th but all I can say is it was absolutely the right decision.   What surprised me was that it lined up 9-0, I was expecting 5-4.   Given that five of the justices were appointed by PMS and one by Mulroney, one might expect conservative thought to win, but as we have come to expect, the Court thankfully looked at the big picture and agreed that the three provisions of the Criminal Code at dispute -- running a whorehouse, communication for the purposes of sex and living off the avails of prostitution -- were meant to go after pimps and johns but instead went after the very people the law was designed to protect, sex trade workers, and that was unconstitutional.   If you haven't read the decision, do so at the link, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin doesn't mince words about the dangers of the business or the real harm it causes the victims but that there has to be a better way.

By no means should this be seen as a total victory.   The rights of workers in the trade have been guaranteed but there is still exploitation, especially with teens and immigrants.

That said, I had to laugh when I heard the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada -- which with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and REAL Women (no surprise on the last one) filed a joint amicus curiae brief against the women who filed the original petition during the appeal -- said the best way forward in light of the judgment was to just ban prostitution altogether (it has been legal ante the ruling).    Don't go after prostitutes, just the pimps and johns.

Well, two points.   As I said above the law was meant to go after those two groups but the way the law was constructed made them go off relatively free.   Of course we should be going after the exploiters.

But making it illegal?    That would just force everything underground and make things even worse for the workers, especially the women.   It's those workers who are our front line.   They know what's going on with their fellow workers.   They know what's going on in the underground.   They're the ones the police should be going to first when there are missing women and missing teens.   They shouldn't be ostracized because of their chosen profession.

I am almost certain I would never hire an escort or another else woman in the trade for "services".   (Right now I can't afford it anyway!)    But I think both men and women who want to purchase such services should have a reasonable expectation his or her temporary partner isn't being exploited.

Don't forget, the Mafia got its start with Prohibition.   By the time alcohol was made legal again, they were firmly entrenched and now control at least 10% of our economy.    They definitely have their hands on prostitution.  Do you think it'll get better with making that illegal?   Really?   (Apologies to Seth Meyers and Amy Pohler.)

I say, totally legalize it, with appropriate safeguards.   If rape occurs during a paid for transaction, then it should become a hate crime with enhanced penalties just like any other crime motivated by hate.   Empower the workers to help the police go after the real scums -- those who do exploit people for the money or the hell of it.

Tax it.   This is a huge revenue stream waiting to be tapped into.   It may be a bridge too far for the incumbent government but with fiscal restraint it cannot be ignored.

This is an opportunity to fix the law.   But the PM may have other ideas, and not just because he's an evangelical (although many friends of mine at work who are support the decision).

I'm sure Harper is tempted to use the "notwithstanding clause" which would reinstate the ante quo and kick the issue down the road for another five years.    But there is a strong precedent his Attorney General, Peter MacKay, can use instead.

When the original rape shield law was "voided for vagueness" in 1992, women's groups were clamouring for the clause to be invoked.   But as the then AG Kim Campbell pointed out, the fact the law was vague did neither attackers nor victims any good.   Not the victims because it wasn't clear what evidence was excludable    Not the defendants because they didn't know on what basis they could defend themselves.

The statute that replaced it, which passed unanimously in both Houses (when has that happened under Harper?) was the "no means no" law.   Not only did it put in clearer guidelines for when a victim's past sex history could be used, the law also created a nine-point test to determine if there was consent to sexual activity.    It has survived court scrutiny, and more important there have been a higher number of convictions for sexual assault.

The point:    Rework the nullified provisions.    Make it clear who gets protection under the law and who doesn't.   If it means expanding and tightening "no means no" by all means do so.   But don't make the whole business illegal.    Then it's society as a whole that will be the victims, not just sex trade workers.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Is that all the post office could come up with?

Since the post office department (literally part of the government) became the Canada Post Corporation in 1982, its mandate has been to deliver the mail but to do so on a self-sustaining model; in other words, no bailout from Parliament.    That's been fine, because until a few years ago it was a very profitable venture paying dividends into general revenues.

Recently, though, despite having huge revenue streams from Purolator Courier and the Canadian arm of, it's been losing money.   Simply stated, with people getting their bills online, through ePost no less (!), and a switch to e-mail as the main form of communication -- not to mention pretty tight collective bargaining agreements and being on the losing end of a pay equity case -- the post office has been losing money.

There are ways to turn all of this around.   But I am worried about the choices the company has made.   And I'll go through their "five points".

First, jacking up the price of postage to a buck (yeah, yeah it's 85 cents if you buy a book of ten but who does that, really?).    This may indeed reflect the true cost of service, and it may be Canada Post's way of getting out of the bind it was in when Parliament said it could only raise postage prices to just ¾ of the rate of inflation for several years ... that restriction has now expired.   For those on fixed incomes, or those who can't afford Internet access (or believe it's the tool of the devil), it certainly puts a crimp on their lifestyle.   So what if costs less than a cup of coffee?

But it's interesting this is happening just as the federal and provincial governments are phasing out cheques as a method of paying entitlements and refunds.    Members of Parliament and Senators get double-ended franking (i.e. postage is free both ways), but the executive has to pay for mailings.    There may be volume discounts for them as well as large commercial enterprises but small businesses pay the going rate .   And as far as Business Reply Mail?   It's like a collect call, they pay more to receive it (there, one of "Their" dirty secrets is out in the open!)   Guess how many charities will stop accepting BRM, even if it means a drop in donations?    Do the math.  A ton.

I find it more than coincidental that the Post, knowing they would lose their biggest customer by far, would make up the difference and then some with postage.     If anything, this may actually get people who don't bank online or get direct deposit to do so.  No money, no money.

I'd say phase in the increase over four years.   Not in one fell swoop.

Second, ending door to door delivery for the third of the population that still has it.     Sure, it's easy to just walk to a mailbox.   When I was just five or six years old, my family and I were using a primitive version of the Superbox.   But when I moved to neighbourhoods that had them, I enjoyed the convenience of D2D.   Maybe that has gone the way of the dodo, but there are a lot of people, especially seniors and the infirm, who won't appreciate having to walk with difficulty to get their mail or worse paying someone else to do so.

I think everyone should get D2D -- every household -- but that's not really practical under the current framework.    But how about giving us the choice, on a user-pay basis?   If the difference between delivering to a doorstep and to a community mailbox is just $100 or so, as the Post claims, then why not let people decide?   Given the choice, I think most of us would gladly pay for the convenience.

Third, franchising post offices.   Most of them actually already are.   Contrary to popular belief, they are not allowed to charge more for parcel service than corporate owned stores --  that's against the law and it should continue to be so.  But getting out of the business altogether is another story.    There may be some cases, especially in rural areas, where a franchise simply isn't sustainable.    In this case, a higher hand is warranted.

There should be no sacred cows, but every corporate office should get the magnifying lens and the determination if local involvement is more appropriate or if the company should stay.    Whatever the case, corporates should have the same operating hours as franchises -- usually, the same hours as most malls.    And for God's sake, don't get rid of the historical offices, like the one on Adelaide Street in The Smoke.    I'd kind of like, just once, sending out mail the way they used to -- with a seal and wax!

Fourth, the old standby, streamlining.    This means fewer postal sorting plants.

There was a big uproar not that long ago in the Tri-Cities (Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo) when The Post wanted to close the plant there and move operations to the Millen Road plant here in Hamilton.    Delivery of sensitive mail is essential everywhere; but in an area much more prosperous than The Hammer, it is much more so especially with financial services and health and life insurance which they have a lot of.    There was some backing off although there were also layoffs, but no guarantee of the future.

What does this mean?    More centralization.

I'm sorry, but my answer is no.    There may be some plants which are truly redundant, but processing close to the point is what helps get the mail out in time.    I don't think the Millen plant is going away anytime soon, but I'm sure people in Stratford or Saint Thomas would be happy to learn their mail was going through Hamilton, if you know what I mean.     Better mail sorting machines, sure.    But this is nuts.

Fifth, attrition.   Ah yes, get rid of the deadwood, don't hire any new people -- or at least as few as is necessary to run the joint.

Two points there -- severance packages mean you get your company pension up front until you're 65 at which time it stops paying.    You have to rely on CPP / RRQ, OAS and your RRSP (if you have one).    People paid into these things counting on a pension for life, and while there is a big shortfall of $6.5 billion (which can be overcome), it's not fair to change the rules midstream.   For new people coming in, maybe.   Not for the veterans.  A deal is a deal.     And what if one takes a package while his or her union grievance is still in process?   Does that mean if he or she loses, the pension is gone too?    No one has answered that.

As for new people -- yes, there are intakes every so often, but it's not like it used to be.   The wages are lower and the benefits less.   And remember, these are not civil servants, they are employees of a Crown Corporation.    But as federally regulated employees, the labour and workers' compensation rules are different than for everyone else.    They may not get the same treatment they might get at a lower level of government.    The disenchantment and "revolving door" syndrome could be substantial unless newbies have the expectation of getting to a "regular" pay level rather quickly.

There are other ways of achieving the goal of getting back into the black.   Three day a week delivery; contracting delivery to the private sector; making some components of the "midstream" other than sorting competitive as well.

But this is a worst case, graveyard scenario.     And the problem is, it's harder to dig out of a grave than to dig it.    Ask any government who's run a deficit; going back to the black there is a Herculean task.