Every month, Andrea Houston will be here talking about important issues that our queer community is, or should be, talking about. Part of new series of community voices we’re bringing into our blog to bring the conversation beyond the theatre and out into the city.
What cruel irony that Bill C-36 will officially become law on Dec. 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, commemorating the 14 women who were massacred in Montreal in 1989.
Bill C-36, the Harper government’s Orwellian-named The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, received royal assent on Nov. 6.
The law now makes communication for the purposes of prostitution a criminal offense by criminalizing clients and restricting the advertising of sex services. This will actually makes sex work more dangerous. Sex workers say the law will only drive the trade further underground, putting them at more risk of violence.
Of course, C-36 has everything to do with moralism and pearl-clutching white saviours in Ottawa forcing a socially conservative agenda through. Bill C-36 is a gift for the Conservative party’s evangelical voters. A federal election is just around the corner.
This is the same government trying to kill C-279, a bill that would ensure trans people are protected under the hate crimes provisions in the Criminal Code and provide equality rights under the Canadian Human Rights Act. It’s also the same government that is unwilling to investigate the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women, a population that’s especially vulnerable under C-36.
“We know from the Missing Women Inquiry report authored by Wally Oppal that the criminal regulation of prostitution contributes to the marginalization of women,” points out Naomi Sayers in an open letter to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.
Sex workers have started a letter-writing campaign to ask Wynne to refer the law to the Ontario Court of Appeal for a constitutional reference. They are also asking Wynne to instruct provincial Crown Attorneys not to enforce the new law until the Ontario court has ruled on its constitutionality.
Legal experts across Canada call the law blatantly unconstitutional and say it will result in more dead women. The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the previous laws last year as unconstitutional for that very reason.
One province actually plans to send sex workers to “camps” for “educational workshops” hosted by the evangelical Salvation Army. The creepy-sounding “Prostitution Diversion Program (PDP)” in Manitoba is offered to “women, men and transgender individuals.” They also have a camp for clients, the “Prostitution Offender Program (POP),” or “johns school” available to those “willing to accept responsibility for the offence.”
Handing over our most vulnerable citizens to questionable religious groups has not ended well historically in Canada. Think of residential schools.
Like Justice Minister Peter MacKay, evangelicals at the Salvation Army view sex work as exploitation; they’re completely unable to fathom that the adult sex trade could be consensual. To them, sex workers can only be “prostituted women.” And you’d be surprised by those who agree with them.
Feminists are divided on the issue. Some second-wavers continue to side with conservatives and openly argue with sex workers, pushing to “End Demand” by criminalizing clients, believing MacKay’s assurance that it will ultimately “abolish prostitution.”
“Sex work appears to be increasingly a central issue in a generational divide between feminists nation-wide, with older second-wavers often heading anti-sex-worker organizations and younger feminists generally supporting the autonomy of workers, made all the more disappointing in a time of decreasing access to abortion services in some provinces and increased criminalization of HIV non-disclosure,” Morgan Page writes in Feministing.
Gay men and women should be the most vocal allies of sex workers. There was a time when the same arguments were made to keep being gay a criminal offence. Justice for sex workers is an extension of sexual liberation. It’s a rejection of the union of church and state being used to shame people.
“People often ask me what I want. It’s simple. I want people to know that my work isn’t inherently dangerous. But that I should be able to take the same measures as any worker to protect myself, and those measures shouldn’t involve having to first and foremost protect myself from stigma, state abuse and faith-based laws,” writes sex worker Fleur De Lit in NOW Magazine.
Join sex workers by asking Wynne to intervene. Criminalization won’t do away with sex work in Canada. That hasn’t been successful anywhere throughout history. But criminalization may actually do away with many sex workers.
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Andrea’s column appears every month, right here on our blog.