By Nicholas Hodge
In the same stubborn way they have refused to adopt sensible evidence-based policy regarding drug and environmental issues, the federal Conservatives have pushed through a bill that will put the lives of sex workers in danger.
Earlier this month Justice Minister Peter MacKay and the Tories passed Bill C-36, a restructuring of Canada’s prostitution laws. While the bill does not explicitly make sex work illegal, it puts harsh restrictions on how sex workers can operate and increases the penalties for propositioning. Much of the bill has weak wording and depends on the courts to decide what specific acts count as prostitution.
When the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s existing prostitution laws late last year, the government had an opportunity to create a new system that could protect thousands of vulnerable people. They didn’t bother doing this.
I believe that adults have the right to do whatever they want with their own bodies as long as it does not cause to harm others. While there is nothing wrong with choosing to be a sex worker, pimping and the abuse of sex workers should be illegal and severely punished.
Unfortunately, Bill C-36 will inevitably empower criminals of this sort. The bill targets web sites and publications that post sexual service ads, making it more difficult for sex workers to promote themselves. This creates a financial need that pimps will exploit.
Some clients of sex workers, known as johns, will go further underground now that criminal penalties against them have increased. There will be less concern for the rights and dignities of the sex workers and human trafficking will become more of a problem because of this.
The crackdown may also lead to serious public health issues. If sex work had sensible regulation in Canada, participants could be obligated to have regular screenings for HIV and other sexually transmitted illnesses. This could apply to both johns and sex workers. Without this kind of program, STIs will be passed on to other partners without warning and cost our health care system more money than preventative measures ever would have.
A specific group that Harper and the Conservatives have failed is transgender women, the most oppressed community of people in North America. Trans women will inevitably suffer a disproportionate amount because of Bill C-36 and the Tories’ opposition to transgender rights in Canada.
The stigmas against trans people that most Tories have decided to help perpetuate by opposing Bill C-279, the transgender rights bill currently being held up in the senate, contribute to high levels of unemployment in the trans community. Many trans women face financial challenges that lead to sex work and Bill C-36 will do nothing to help them.
Even the way the bill was prepared is a sad statement on the state of Canadian politics. Legitimate experts were ignored and Terri-Jean Bedford, a retired dominatrix that had the courage to challenge the government, was kicked out of a hearing while victims of the sex trade were used as political props.
The methods the Conservatives decided to use in pushing this legislation bears a striking resemblance to how they have handled other issues. Ignoring the overwhelming evidence and sincere warnings brought forth by the scientific community on the issue of climate change, Canada is now destined to miss its emission targets. Embarrassingly, we are one of the worst countries in the world for carbon emissions per capita but the environment ministry insists we are on the right track.
When it comes to marijuana legalization, all the other political parties in the House of Commons and a majority of Canadians support some form of decriminalization. However, the Conservative Party is not making serious attempts to accommodate the views of the Canadian people on this issue.
The Conservatives have proven themselves to be the least innovative major Canadian party and considering the fact that they hold all the cards in our parliamentary system, this is a problem.
I want to live in a country that protects personal freedom and provides opportunities for those that have been marginalized and oppressed. No moral person wants to see a single individual forced or manipulated into sex work but I see no reason why we should treat those who have made a conscious decision for themselves as anything but legitimate members of our communities.
The stigmas and contempt that our government has chosen to regard sex workers with can produce nothing of value. Because of this bill, Canada will see an increase in HIV infections, non-violent offenders will go to jail and the human trafficking market will boom. Bad politics do not only damage the reputation of our elected representatives, they create real world victims.