Saturday, December 06, 2014

Bad sex work law takes effect on the day of a massacre - "How horribly, enragingly appropriate"

 On this day of mourning marking the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, another reason to mourn: Bill C36, Canada's flawed and tragic anti-sex work law, takes effect on this very day.
    It will be struck down eventually. It's so clearly unconstitutional, not to mention poorly informed and misguided, and in direct contravention of the research around what actually makes life better and safer for those in the sex industry.
    But in the meantime, people will suffer. Women will suffer. The Harper government took bad law and made it worse, criminalizing the purchase of sex for the first time in Canadian history and virtually guaranteeing that vulnerable sex workers will now be that much more vulnerable, and never mind the platitudes about how this law decriminalizes workers while criminalizing purchasers and thus makes everything better.
       What it actually does is push sex work even deeper into the shadows. And we all know that bad things happen where the light can't get in.
      Thank you to writer Edward Keenan for this piece in the Toronto Star today.

Today, of all days, the government of Canada brings a new law into effect that will put some Canadian women in danger and likely lead to some of their deaths.
Today, Dec. 6, the anniversary of the slaughter of 14 women by a gunman in Montreal, the day marked as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
It seems grimly appropriate, in a “sick and twisted” way, as activist Valerie Scott told Canadian Press this week, that this should be the day the Conservative government chooses to change Canada’s prostitution laws to make it harder for the women (and men) who work in that business to keep themselves safe. Sadly, it symbolically reflects the approach to “action on violence against women” we, as a country, have taken all too often, all these years after the Montreal Massacre made us swear that things needed to change.
The aftermath and reflection after those killings produced a document called “The War Against Women,” containing recommendations about the changes that needed to be made to reduce the level of violence against women. A quarter-century later, my colleague Catherine Porter’s reflection published in these pages today finds that woefully little has been done to give force to those suggestions.
A year ago this month, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down our laws governing prostitution on the basis that they deprived sex workers of the ability to work safely by screening clients and employing security. It seemed like progress for those who sell sex for money — by choice or circumstance — and who have long had to live in fear, in the shadows of the economy, denied the protections against violence we extend to workers in every other field. Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay responded with a new law, one that doesn’t address the safety issues the court clearly said needed addressing. It’s a new law that sex workers — including Scott, who brought the original Supreme Court case, and some I spoke to immediately after MacKay brought the bill forward — say will leave them even more endangered than before.
This is not some moral parlour game, where we lean back in our chairs and express our disgust at the very concept of putting a price on physical intimacy. This is a very real matter of life and death.
I used to work at Eye Weekly, an alternative paper that made much of its revenue from classified ads placed by sexual service providers. I remember in 2003, when I was still relatively new there, two of our clients, women who’d come into our office to pay for their ads every week, were murdered while working.
Cassandra Do was 32, a former nurse’s aide saving money to pay for sex-reassignment surgery, whose friends said she was notoriously careful about screening clients. She was strangled to death.
Lien Pham was a 39-year-old widow, a mother of two. She was strangled in an escort agency apartment while working alone two months later.
Immediately afterwards, and in the years following, I spoke to many sex workers about the safety issues they faced in their jobs, and how they dealt with them. And almost every one I spoke to talked about the laws criminalizing the operation of sex work businesses as the biggest obstacle to protecting themselves.
That’s why, a decade after those deaths, Scott and her co-applicants brought their court case to the Supreme Court, and finally they seemed to be heard. The highest panel of justices in the country said what those workers had been telling us all along: that to protect sex workers, their business needed to be legalized.
The new law may eventually also get struck down after it winds its way back through the courts. In the meantime, in the years before that likely court decision, it will put prostitutes in even more danger than before.
When I spoke to her about the law this spring, Jean MacDonald of sex worker advocacy organization Maggie’s predicted, “What you’re going to see with this law is a continuation of the epidemic of violence against sex workers in Canada.”
Today, in addition to reflecting on the deaths of the 14 women murdered in Montreal, I’ll think of Cassandra Do and Lien Pham, and the dozens of prostitutes murdered by Robert Pickton, and all the other women who’ve been beaten, raped and killed because of our inaction to protect them, or to allow them to protect themselves — or because, in the case of this new law, of our direct action to endanger them.
Today, of all days. How horribly, enragingly appropriate.

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