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.