Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Revised post: First day of Senate invitation list shuts out sex workers, but things improve on Days 2 and 3

 And yet another revision as of Sept. 10: Yes, the speaker lineup had more balance than I initially thought, but sex-worker organizations note that even so, the ratio was 2:1 in favour of further criminalization of the industry. A wise media scribe also noted that media tend to cover the first day and the last of a meeting, and that it had to be more than coincidence that the first day was almost exclusively anti-decriminalization. 

Mea culpa: Turns out I was looking at only the first day of the Senate meetings when I wrote this, in which the lineup is very much abolitionist. But here's the full list for the 3 days of meetings, and I see many more sex-work groups have been invited to speak. Sorry, Senators! Carry on.

Looks like the Conservative-controlled Canadian Senate is taking extreme measures to avoid hearing anything that might shake up their conviction that all sex workers are exploited victims when the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee considers Bill C-36 next week.
     The bill will add even more criminality to sex work if it becomes law, making the purchasing of sex a crime for the first time in Canadian history. It's a controversial bill, coming on the heels of a Supreme Court of Canada decision in December that threw out as unconstitutional three of the country's major laws against sex work.
     A wise government would have taken a step back to really consider the implications of the highest court in the land ruling that Canada's anti-sex-work laws hurt more people than they ever helped. It would have taken a long look at the significant research in Canada and all around the world that has found that the best way to improve the safety, equality and lives of sex workers is to decriminalize the work.
     But the Conservatives had their minds made up long before that Supreme Court decision was handed down. They opted for a different tack, choosing to just shut out the voices of anyone who doesn't think like they do on this issue. The invitation list of those requested to present to the Senate committee on Bill C-36 next Tuesday is blatant confirmation of that.
     Only two of the 11 organizations and individuals invited to present hold a view different than the Conservatives. These two groups will be alone in the crowd in their support of decriminalization, and their view of sex workers as capable people able to make their own choices and deserving of equality, safe workplaces and respect.
     Three presenters are traumatized parents of missing or murdered daughters. I'm sure their tragic and emotional stories will play well on the news that night, even though it's hard to see that C-36 would have changed anything about the circumstances of their children's deaths had it been in force back then. None of the presenters are sex worker organizations, even though Canada has quite an abundance of well-informed groups armed with convincing research in support of decriminalization.
    Instead, the Senate committee will be hearing mostly from groups that support  Bill C-36. They are passionately against prostitution. They're all supporters of the muddled version of the so-called Nordic model that the government is proposing, in which the buyers of sex are especially targeted for criminal charges, but the sellers nonetheless remain at risk for a variety of charges as well (not to mention are forced to retreat even deeper into the shadows to try to protect their customers).
     The Senate presenter list was clearly carefully crafted to ensure that most of the day will be devoted to groups saying exactly what the Conservatives want to hear. You wouldn't want to be the two groups in the room with something different to say facing a lineup like this one:
  • Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. Member of the Women's Coalition For The Abolition of Prostitution, which believes no one makes a truly free choice to work as a sex worker.
  • Native Women's Association of Canada. Also a member of the Women's Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution. 
  • Walk With Me Canada. An anti-trafficking organization that opposes decriminalization and supports C-36.
  • Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution. The name of this group pretty much speaks for itself. The group sees all sex work as male violence against women and wants prostitution abolished.  
  • K. Brian McConaghy, Director of Ratanak International, which describes itself as "a Christ-centered organization committed to serving the people of Cambodia by being an agent of change in Cambodia’s social, economic, and spiritual landscape." What that's got to do with sex work in Canada, I don't know.
  • The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. A coalition of 160-plus church denominations that have strong opinions against gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia and sex work.
  • Ed and Linda Smith, a Regina couple whose teenage daughter left home, got into drugs and ended up murdered in 1990 while working the streets in Victoria. Fighting against prostitution has been a cornerstone of the Smiths' lives ever since. 
  • Mothers Against Trafficking Humans. Anti-prostitution group founded by the mother of a young woman who went missing in 2006. 
    The two presenters who will speak that day in support of equal rights and equality for adult, consenting sex workers are Pivot Legal Society and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. Both are fine organizations with thoughtful, well-considered positions, but I fear their voices will be lost. I note that both have also been placed in speaking positions that are just before a break, which makes me wonder if they will also end up rushed through their presentations after the more Conservative-friendly groups have had their say. 
    Like all the other Canadian sex-work organizations, PEERS Victoria didn't get an invitation to present. But they sent in a presentation anyway. Read it here if you're still not sure what's so bad about Bill C-36.
     Let's hope at least a few senators will have the decency to seek out the points of view of the other side, that at least some will feel foolish supporting a law opposed by the very people who it aims to "save." You'd think that before you rode off on your white horse  in the certainty that there was a nation of exploited, helpless victims needing rescued from prostitution, you might want to hear from a few of them first. 

1 comment:

Antonia Z said...

The thing is, media have a tendency to show up on the first day of hearings and such. And they also tend to go earlier in the day because of deadlines.