Prostitution bill falls short

Peter MacKay has taken his government’s victims-first law-and-order policy to its logical, absurdist, conclusion.

Peter MacKay has taken his government’s victims-first law-and-order policy to its logical, absurdist, conclusion.

MacKay now aspires to eliminate the victim.

Laudatory as that aspiration may be, it only highlights the weaknesses in his prostitution bill which is under the microscope this week in Ottawa.

In MacKay’s world, prostitution in this country is a two-sided, black-and-white reality, predators and perverts versus victims.

All prostitutes, in this world, are vulnerable and victims and there is no such thing as a mature, fully functioning adult who has decided that she (or he) wants to earn money in this manner.

So the justice minister, with the backing of Calgary police Chief Rick Hanson and others, believes one day Canada can abolish prostitution, a quixotic quest that mixes legitimate concern for young victims on our streets today with the reality that this business will always be with us in one form or another.

While MacKay and the Conservative government is right to try to get the victims out of their plight — the minister wants to “off-ramp” them, the police chief wants to “extract” them — the rights of women to safely work in this profession seem to be getting short shrift during the first two days of hearings in Ottawa on the government’s Bill C-36.

It was also a midsummer forum for unsubstantiated statistics and absolute overstatements without support.

Certainly, there is no arguing sex workers — even that term has been shot down as misusing the term “work” — have not been victimized through intimidation, coercion and threats.

Time and again MPs were reminded that no little girl decides to grow up to be a prostitute.

They heard survivors of the sex trade speak of being raped, beaten, held against their will, burned with cigarettes, having guns pulled on them and missing friends who have been killed.

MacKay has anted up $20 million over five years for his off-ramp strategy, a figure even Hanson knows is miserly and would provide a city of Calgary’s size with about $125,000 annually.

“If there is a commitment to deal with this in an adequate way then we have to adequately fund it,” Hanson says. Adequate, says Hanson, is prohibition.

Until this utopian day arrives, women are still working our streets in an inherently dangerous profession who have a Charter right to their safety and security.

Emily Symons of POWER — Prostitutes of Ottawa, Work, Educate and Resist — neatly explained to MPs how C-36, which criminalizes the purchase, but largely not the sale of sex, endangers sex workers in the capital.

Clients fearful of arrest will no longer negotiate in well-lit, populated areas where prostitutes can properly screen them, she said.

Instead, negotiations will be rushed, in darker, empty spaces, will likely reduce the number of clients forcing women into longer hours with less bargaining power to turn down potentially dangerous clients, even push away “safe” known clients who may no longer be comfortable in an area in which they are known.

A smaller pool of clients just means harder, longer, more dangerous hours for women who need to pay the rent and buy groceries.

Under this bill, Symons says, those who want out of the trade have all the human rights, at the expense of those who wish to stay in the trade.

“Imposing morality at the cost of human lives is not acceptable,” said Robyn Maynard of the Montreal-based Stella, l’amie de Maimie.

But that argument is dismissed by Daphne Nissani of Toronto’s Free Them, who argues that johns were always ashamed to show their face and the only difference is that under this bill, they “might drive a little faster.”

The real victory, Nissani said in an interview, is that the Conservatives are changing views on underage, vulnerable girls who have been forced into the sex trade.

Canadians now begin to see them what for what they are — victims, not “whores” or criminals, she says.

Perhaps the greatest disconnect here is the pocket change MacKay is offering to help young victims escape an unchosen life.

One can’t help but wonder where we would be today if more funds had been made available by successive governments on aboriginal education, job training, affordable housing, domestic abuse prevention, drug and alcohol intervention or rape crisis centres.

What if social assistance really did pay the rent and feed the kids?

Would there be as many vulnerable girls and women needing this off-ramp today?

If proper money had been spent previously, $20 million today might have looked a lot better.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer.

Just Posted

Unemployment rate and EI beneficiaries down in Central Alberta

The unemployment rate for Red Deer region and the number of people… Continue reading

Insurers say Canadian weather getting hotter, wetter and weirder

Average number of days with heavy rain or snow across Canada has been outside norm since spring 2013

Women’s marches underway in Canadian cities, a year after Trump inauguration

Women are gathering in dozens of communities across the country today to… Continue reading

Red Deer councillor balks at city getting stuck with more funding responsibilities

Volunteer Central seeks municipal funding after being cut off by government

WATCH news on the go: Replay Red Deer Jan. 21

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

Two Canadians, two Americans abducted in Nigeria are freed

Kidnapping for ransom is common in Nigeria, especially on the Kaduna to Abuja highway

WATCH news on the go: Replay Red Deer Jan. 21

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

Liberals quietly tap experts to write new paternity leave rules

Ideas include creating an entirely new leave benefit similar to one that exists in Quebec

Insurers say Canadian weather getting hotter, wetter and weirder

Average number of days with heavy rain or snow across Canada has been outside norm since spring 2013

Are you ready for some wrestling? WWE’s ‘Raw’ marks 25 years

WWE flagship show is set to mark its 25th anniversary on Monday

VIDEO: Thousands join women’s march events across B.C.

Today marks one year since the first Women’s March on Washington

In photos: Get ready for Western Canadian Championships

Haywood NorAm Western Canadian Championships and Peavey Mart Alberta Cup 5/6 start… Continue reading

WATCH: Red Deer city council debates cost-savings versus quality of life

Majority of councillors decide certain services are worth preserving

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month