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.

1 comment:

BlastFurnace said...

Folks, if I've said it once I'll say it a thousand times -- no spamming! This is one of my most serious posts. I would like serious replies, especially from my fellow Progs. You may not agree with me, but PLEASE let me know what you think. That's what debate is all about.