Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Federal hearings finally put a spotlight on empowered sex workers

  While I'm offended as a Canadian that the future of my country is in the hands of people as uninformed, close-minded and unworldly as Justice Minister Peter MacKay, it's a wonderful thing to see Canada's sex workers stepping up to speak their own truths to combat all the lies that are being told about them right now.
     I saw footage from the justice committee meetings in Ottawa this week as the debate around Bill C-36 gets underway. I totally love seeing empowered and passionate sex workers putting it all on the line to challenge the Conservatives' proposed new anti-prostitution law, which would take the ineffective and damaging laws that we've had for the last 147 years and make them considerably worse.
    Based on the untruth that all sex work is violent, coercive and sick and that all sex workers are victims, Bill C-36 is so far from so many sex workers' realities that the generally low-profile community just can't take it anymore. For those of us cheering them on from the sidelines, it's a beautiful thing to see them fighting back with such passion.
     I couldn't have imagined that there would be an upside to Bill C-36, but maybe this is it: That sex workers who have mostly just gritted their teeth and coped with Canada's flawed laws up to this point are now so incensed by MacKay and his team of yes-ministers that they are organizing, speaking up, and refusing to be shut out of other people's discussions about them.
    Two representatives of PEERS Victoria will be presenting to the justice committee on Thursday. They are the kind of people whose knowledge is deep and wise, and I can only hope the committee has its ears on when the PEERS team talks about all the things that are wrong with laws that criminalize everything about sex work.
    This issue is about workers' rights, and in many ways women's rights as well given that the majority of sex workers and brothel managers are women. On that point, MacKay should have been ruled out right off the hop as the man for the job. A man who places all women in the kitchen packing the children's lunches (and all men moulding and shaping the minds of the next generation) simply shouldn't be involved in making life-endangering changes to a woman-dominated industry he knows so little about.
    MacKay was on the news this week saying the goal of the bill is to eradicate sex work. What it will actually do is drive the industry further underground, where the "victims" that MacKay seems so worried about can continue to go unsupported, unseen and vilified in even more potentially dangerous situations.
     More and more, sex workers are speaking out to say, hey, buddy, you don't know anything about our lives. Like all leaders in the early days of a social revolution, they risk so much personally to be "out" as sex workers, which adds even more to the significance of seeing them in the justice committee hearings, bravely and calmly telling it like it is.
      There are always going to be people who don't want to hear anything that challenges their conviction that sex workers are helpless victims and their clients, perverted pigs. But for those who suspect there's more to the story, this week's hearings just might be a powerful public-relations tool for real change and respect for sex workers. 
      Finally, Canadian sex workers have a national platform. So far, they're looking great. Hope you know what you've started, Mr. MacKay.

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