- Below are my responses to the Federal Department of Justice’s Public Consultation on Prostitution-Related Offences in Canada. This questionnaire was released on February 17, 2014 and will be open for comments until March 17, 2014. You can submit your own comments directly here. I have included my responses in this post so that others can reply in a timely manner and also encourage others to respond to this consultation. Please reply to the questionnaire with your responses (do not copy and paste my answers) to ensure your answers are distinct. If you have any questions, please comment below. If you require additional sources to support your answers (if you choose to respond), let me know and I can get those to you ASAP! Also, South Western Ontario Sex Workers (a volunteer run organization based in London) is encouraging others to copy your responses and send it to your Member of Parliament (to find your MP, please visit this link: http://goo.gl/xfTE5X). They also encourage you to share your responses with SWOSWers by filling out this form http://goo.gl/kS1YDJ or by emailing them directly at swoswers [at] gmail [dot] com, and to also share this call to action with supporters and allies.~In solidarity
1. Do you think that purchasing sexual services from an adult should be a criminal offence? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.
- The purchasing of sexual services from an adult should not be a criminal offence and there should be no exceptions. Evidence shows that when the criminalization of purchasing sexual services occurs that this increases the risks and harms to sex workers, especially those sex workers who are already marginalized (like Indigenous sex workers). These increased risks and harms will ultimately be in contradiction to the Bedford decision and in contradiction with the human rights and labour rights of sex workers to work safely and autonomously.
- 2. Do you think that selling sexual services by an adult should be a criminal offence? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.
- The selling of sexual services by an adult should not be a criminal offence and there should be no exceptions. Criminalizing the selling of sexual services would be in contradiction to the Bedford decision and in contradiction to sex workers’ right to work safely and autonomously. Criminalizing the selling of sexual services also prevents sex workers from accessing health services and social services without fear of judgment or fear of arrest. When sex workers live in constant fear of arrest, their standard of living of declines. Additionally, sex workers will be unable to claim taxes and access social benefits since their source of income is criminalized.
- 3. If you support allowing the sale or purchase of sexual services, what limitations should there be, if any, on where or how this can be conducted? Please explain.
- There should be no criminal laws that target prostitution. Non-criminal offences that target prostitution or attempt to regulate the trade should be developed in consultation with sex workers. Further, any non-criminal offences that target or attempt to regulate the trade should not obstruct the labour rights and human rights of sex workers themselves. Canada should employ already existing criminal offences to address cases of abuse, violence, or coercion and to be in line with the Bedford decision.
- 4. Do you think that it should be a criminal offence for a person to benefit economically from the prostitution of an adult? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.
- There should be no criminal offences for a person to benefit economically from the prostitution of an adult. Sex work is work and this is reaffirmed by the Bedford decision. When third parties are criminalized, this further isolate sex workers and criminalizes important working and personal relationships. When third parties are criminalized, this also limits sex workers from working together for safety. When the ability to work safely and autonomously is impeded, this is in complete contradiction to the Bedford decision. Also, by definition, a person under Canadian law includes corporations. Thus, sex workers’ incomes contribute to the economy in a myriad of ways.
- 5. Are there any other comments you wish to offer to inform the Government’s response to the Bedford decision?
- I wholly support the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the three laws as unconstitutional (and ultimately, harmful) and I support the decriminalization of the trade, or the New Zealand model, like mentioned in the discussion paper above. I would like to see a “made-in-Canada” New Zealand model. Evidence shows where sex work is decriminalized, sex workers receive accurate, up-to-date, and non-judgmental health and social services. The Government’s response should be in consultation with sex workers themselves and support the rights of sex workers to work with safety, security, and dignity with access to occupational, health, and safety standards.
- 6. Are you are writing on behalf of an organization? If so, please identify the organization and your title or role:
- I am individual who supports the rights of sex workers to work with safety, security, and dignity.
The Government of Canada is seeking input from the public regarding the SCC Bedford v. Canada decision (you can read about that here). This consultation process is open from February 17, 2014 until March 17, 2014.
The link includes a short discussion paper (albeit a biased position) along with several questions (HERE).
Chris Bruckert, of POWER, states, “This is a really skewed document…you read it and right away you see which way the government wants to go with the legislation.” (Source)
These questions include:
Awww isn’t this sweet, the cons want to help the hookers… no wait, they want to help women because hookers are a different class of people altogether in their eyes. But for real, this is how the Othering of sex workers that their bed buddy, Sun News, contributes to the violence and whorephobia that they experience. Is it really all that hard to refer to sex workers as sex workers and not prostitutes, prostituted women, or hookers? I get the right to self determination as some sex workers refer to themselves as hookers or prostitutes but only to reclaim the word and sometimes to refer to the history and legality of the word (Source). For real though, sex workers, is it all that hard?
Also, the cons attempts to address the SCC decision is a step in the wrong direction. If you weren’t angered after reading this article, entitled “Conservatives set to replace prostitution laws to help sex workers,” then you probably missed the gaps in their argument to criminalize the buyers or adopt the Nordic Model.
Let’s be honest, the cons aren’t helping sex workers by implementing the Nordic Model. In fact, much of the successes associated with this model have been refuted as myths. A talk that was given Mary Len-Skillbrei (Associate Professor at University of Olso) and Charlotta Holmstrom (Assistant professor at Malmo University) outlines the myths of the Nordic Model. Refuting this model as a myth is based on their research since the nineties and a large comparative study in 2007-2008 in which they “examined how Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden approach prostitution through criminal justice and welfare policies, and reviewed the evidence for how these policies impact Nordic prostitution markets and the people who work in them” (Source). They found that there were too many differences for there to be a “Shared Nordic Model” which suggests that referring to multiple countries to apply a model to one country is bound to be rife with difficulties. They also found that the success that is similarly praised by the Conservatives and the abolitionists (the antis) “is far more fraught than popular support would suggest” (Source). Even when the antis assume that this will help victims or prevent trafficking, this model actually “produce negative outcomes for people in prostitution” (Source). In fact, it has been cited that policies such as these produce an offshoot of bylaws, regulations, and other policies that negatively affect those involved in the trade. This article actually makes it very clear that when the antis say they only want to help and save women and young girls in the trade, the opposite happens. The authors state, that the other policies that arise because of this model “assume that the women who sell sex are to be punished and blamed for prostitution” (Source). As outlined by the authors, what is even more revealing of the model is how it treats migrant workers.
What is not commonly known when people cite the Nordic Model is the way it treats migrant women. Sweden even has an act that is entitled “Aliens Act” (oh how nice!) that prevents migrant women from selling sex. The authors state the problem with this concisely:
This reveals the limits of the rhetoric of female victimisation, with clients framed as perpetrators: if the seller is foreign, she is to blame, and can be punished with deportation. (Source)
Just exactly how is this model and its subsequent policies supposed to protect those that are “trafficked” if they are being deported? Helloooooo violence!
Then in Norway, the individuals *ahem* the victims that the model is meant to protect actually produce more negative and harmful effects on their lives. The whole basis of decriminalization is to highlight the contradictions with criminalization. The antis attempt to argue that the decriminalization will lead to more victimization and exploitation of those in trade, when in fact, the victimization and exploitation happens due to the Canada’s ambiguous nature of their quasi-criminal state of the trade. As such, the antis then support the criminalization of the buyers (which is essentially the Nordic Model in its simplest terms). However, what the antis fail to acknowledge is that the Nordic Model contributes to increased policing, neighbor and border controls which “stigmatize them and make them more vulnerable” (Source). This the same outcome of Canada’s ambiguous, quasi-criminal laws that police the trade which is supported by numerous reports/documents that are very recently published. For example, in this document entitled “10 reasons to fight decriminalization” outlines how criminalization “fosters violence” of not only women in the trade but also men and trans sex workers. What does that say about us as a society when we ignore a whole class of people and their lived experiences in the trade all in the sake of a moral crusade to police sex and sexual identities? Exactly. Exchanging one criminal law for another criminal law is exactly the same thing as what it was before: CRIMINALIZATION!
Finally, the authors of the article cited throughout this post actually highlight that the most often cited report by the antis describing its success only looks at women who are in contact with social workers and police. So this is not an accurate representation of the effects of the model and clearly suggests that the only way the effects are measured are due to contact with the police. Do you see the contradictions with that argument? No. Then let me spell it out for you: the only way one can receive help and the way in it is measured is the contact that one has with increased policing. Yeahno. Not ideal for migrant, racialized, or indigenized sex workers. In reality, the antis argument for the Nordic Model to protect victims and trafficking victims does the exact opposite.
So when Public Safety Minister Blaney says “the government will find another way to help women because prostitution turns people ‘into real modern slaves.’” What he really means is that the conservatives just wish to further subjugate women to people who are incapable of making the choices for themselves or having agency, similar to the abolitionists approach to the decriminalization/criminalization debate. Also, if all prostitution is slavery, then what does that mean? Conflating prostitution with slavery actually ignores the lived experiences of those who are in experience slavery and ignores the history of the slave trade. While yes some women were sexualized and raped during their lives as slaves, this does not mean that they were prostitutes, and saying that they were/are does an injustice to the key issues: the safety and security of individuals.
And no, Minister Blaney, this is not what many cases of prostitution is all about. What is harmful for women is subjugating them to beings that are incapable of making choices about their lives and their livelihood, and preventing them the safety and security affording to other citizens in Canada. Prostitution doesn’t turn women into human trafficking victims because prostitution isn’t trafficking. Even though prostitution isn’t actually defined in the Criminal Code, it has been defined by case law. This definition includes three main elements: the provision of sexual services, the essentially indiscriminate nature of the act, and the necessity for some form of payment (Source). Yup, the definition of prostitution does not include anything in relation to the definition of human trafficking. While the human trafficking definition refers to prostitution or sexual services, it fails to differentiate itself (human trafficking vs. prostitution) which is problematic in and of itself. These problems are demonstrated when one is actually charged with trafficking in Canada. As it goes, the fact is that human trafficking charges in Canada tend to be reduced to other charges because it doesn’t meet the threshold for trafficking elements. What does this exactly mean? Do we need more strict laws? No. What it means is that by conflating trafficking with prostitution just means that it does nothing for the safety and security of individuals that occupy either side of the argument. Also, by ignoring the voices of sex workers in the trade contributes to the problem that you, Mr. Blaney, are trying to prevent: removing their own identity. It says that sex workers don’t exist and don’t matter in this discussion. When, in reality, they matter because they are the real experts on the trade. Further using sensationalistic words and phrases, or the most extreme cases (like those who are addicted to drugs and also engage in sex work) is problematic, and also despicable.
Ugh. Despicable, Mr. Blaney.
So when the conservatives and the abolitionists argue that they are fighting for gender equality by criminalizing the trade or getting rid of prostitution, what they really mean is they are fighting for gender equality for a particular type of women, and that they are anti-human rights and anti-immigration.
Today was such an important day for the sex work community. If you didn’t know what happened today with respect to Canada’s anti-prostitution laws, then I feel really bad for you. You missed out on history making!
Earlier today (approximately 9:45am) the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) delivered their decision relating to what the media and others refer to as the “Bedford Case” or more correctly, Attorney General of Canada v. Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch, and Valerie Scott. You can read the entire decision or you can read this succinct piece by PIVOT. I recommend the PIVOT article if you only have a few moments but if you have some time, read or glance over the entire decision.
The specific sections in the Criminal Code of Canada that were challenged included Section 210, 212(1)(i), and 213(1)(c). Section 210 is commonly referred to as the bawdy-house law and it states that it is criminal for anyone to “own, operate, or even be in a bawdy house.” Section 212(1)(i) is sometime referred to as the living on the avails law and it states that it is criminal for someone to benefit from the sexual labour of another. Section 213(1)(c) is referred to as the communication law in layman terms and it stresses that communicating with anyone for the purposes of prostitution in a public place is criminal.
All three laws were struck down as unconstitutional. This is a big win for the sex work community because this isn’t the first time they fought against these laws. Many thought that the case would be decided the same way it had be in the 90s. While others thought that the SCC would reaffirm the Ontario Court of Appeal decision which stated that section 210 and 212 were unconstitutional but section 213 was attaining its legislative objective (albeit in a grossly disproportionate manner). This is a big win because it says that sex work and sex workers matter. It says that sex work and sex workers are persons in the community and their safety and security is just as important as non-sex workers. Because, surprise! Sex workers are people too! This decision also was unanimous meaning 9-0 (and there are 9 SCC Justices) agreed. Tres fuckin cool!
It was a whirlwind of feelings for me. Also, a lot of people have been sharing my blog post entitled “Exploration on Indigenous Lands and Exploitation of Indigenous Bodies.” Take some time to read that too! But I talk about it briefly below.
In this blog post, I talk about the history of the common bawdy house laws (and how our prostitution laws came to be). What is unfamiliar to people who know very little about sex work or Canada’s anti-prostitution laws is that the original laws were first enacted under the Indian Act. Does this mean that Indigenous women and girls were overly sexual beings? Not necessarily. I mean, we did have sex and we were sexual. However, the social construction of the prostitute can be traced back to colonialism. This is not to say that we should get rid of prostitution because this, for some people, this is their livelihood. But hellooooo, we should get rid of colonialism!
To expand on this a bit…certain relations were encouraged for economic, political, and social reasons, namely relations between settlers and Indigenous women (Mawani, 2001). However, as more white people, including white women, arrived in Canada, relations with Indigenous women were no longer seen as desirable. In fact, Indigenous women were seen as a threat to whiteness (or more correctly, a threat to Canada). Then with the Confederation of Canada, the Indian Act was enacted. Following the enactment of the Indian Act, there were several sections relating to prostitution that were included (Boyer, 2009). One of these sections include the bawdy house section. The original bawdy-house law only targeted Indigenous homes or wigwams, and by the very definition of wigwams, it assumed wigwams were disorderly (Boyer, 2009). These sections only targeted Indigenous people as a group. Further, by the very definition of prostitute in this legislation, it assumed all Indigenous women were prostitutes (Mawani, 2001). Then, by 1892, the Criminal Code of Canada was enacted, and all sections pertaining to prostitution were removed from the Indian Act and placed in the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC)(Boyer, 2009). By moving the prostitution sections from the Indian Act to the CCC, it facilitated the transition of prostitution as socially unacceptable to both criminally and socially wrong. The transition of prostitution to being criminal wrong also reduced the status of those who engaged in the trade even further.
When we begin to look into the history of these laws and how they came to be, we can begin to understand how they truly affect the social and the bodies within the social. We live in a colonial state, and the goal of the colonial state is to get rid of the Indian Problem. Indigenous bodies were only useful insofar they did not interfere with the colonial agenda: to dominate and control Indigenous lands. Once these bodies began to interfere with the colonial agenda, not only do Indigenous lands have to be dominated and controlled, but now the bodies must be dominated and controlled. What is the way to dominate and control Indigenous bodies? Just take a look at the stats for missing and murdered Indigenous women or the increasing numbers of Indigenous peoples in prison. And let me be clear here, constructing Indigenous people as a threat to Canada has not changed. Just take a look at the aggressive policing tactics when it comes to economic exploitation of their lands. Elsipogtog anyone?
So what do I think of Bedford? I am ecstatic! It is a fight against the colonial state and they lost. Some people are crying out against this decision because they assume it will lead to more exploitation, like human trafficking. Human trafficking isn’t sex work and sex work isn’t human trafficking. Also, some argue that prostitution is inherently violent because all prostitution is rape. No. All prostitution is not rape because all rapes are not prostitution. Besides, that trivializes actual real rapes. Yes, victimization happens but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t help for those who need it. There are tons of organizations dedicated to helping victims–let their work continue but let’s not place others in more risk to experience violence because others believe that sex work is inherently violent (because it’s not) or degrading (also…because it’s not). Much of the exploitation or violence that occurs is because of the social construction of the prostitute as a social problem, a social evil. So, let’s a have a discussion about whorephobia while we are it! We need to make sure that we don’t take steps backwards by silencing those that will be affected most by these laws if and when the government steps in to write new laws that will affect the trade, the sex workers and the sex work community. Nothing without the sex work community!
References (not included in post links)
Mawani, R. (2001). “The ‘Savage Indian’ and the ‘Foreign Plague’: Mapping Racial Categories and Legal Geographies of Race in British Columbia, 1871-1925.” (PhD thesis). Retrieved from http://www.collectionscanada.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk3/ftp04/NQ58938.pdf.
Boyer, Y. (2009). “First Nations Women’s Contributions to Culture and Community through Canadian Law.” In G. G. Valaskakis, M. Dion Stout & E. Guimond (Eds.), Restoring the Balance: First Nations Women, Community, and Culture (69-96). Winnipeg, MB: University of Manitoba Press.