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Gender Block: Our federal government is rewriting prostitution laws

Hillary Di Menna

The federal government has opened an online public consultation regarding adult prostitution laws in Canada. It will remain open for the next month, closing March 17. The six-question survey asks Canadians if it should be legal for people to purchase sex, legal for people to solicit sex and what, if any, limitations should be put in place.

Parliament has until this December to rewrite the laws surrounding prostitution, following the December 2013 Canada V. Bedford decision, which decided Canada’s prostitution laws violate the security of a sex worker’s right to security of person, and forces them to rush negotiations and skip thorough security screenings.

As part of that December 20, 2013 decision, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote:

It is not a crime in Canada to sell sex for money. However, it is a crime to keep a bawdy-house, to live on the avails of prostitution or to communicate in public with respect to a proposed act of prostitution. It is argued that these restrictions on prostitution put the safety and lives of prostitutes at risk, and are therefore unconstitutional.

Writing the new laws, however, won’t be easy—and feminists are keenly aware of this.  “This is three women [Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott who brought this case to court] who have said, ‘We want to work as sex workers, and we want to do that safely,'”  professor Viviane Namaste told a Concordia University paper in early January. “That sends a huge challenge to feminists but also to society as a whole.”

The subject of prostitution has always divided feminists: is it a patriarchal institution that exploits women? Is it a woman’s choice to make a living out of something they already do regularly? The Edmonton Police Services site touches on the truth:

Unfortunately, from the beginning of time there have always been certain men who exploit the economic and personal vulnerability of women, children, and other men for sexual purposes. Impoverished neighbourhoods often become a gathering place for people struggling with disabilities, mental illness, and addictions. These communities also become the targets of those who further exploit the vulnerable, i.e. pimps and johns and drug dealers.

As bystanders discuss the ethics surrounding prostitution, the Canadian government should be thinking of one thing: the safety of these women. Robert Pickton is still fresh in Canadian minds, and he is only the most famous example of violence against women in sex work. According to Justice Minister Peter MacKay the new legislation is already being drafted and will be introduced before its December deadline. He says it will protect women from violence and sexual abuse.

Scott told CBC News earlier this month she isn’t buying it, “MacKay is only interested in consulting with those whom seek to prohibit sex work, under the guise of ‘saving us.’ It makes it crystal clear that this federal government is solely interested in its own political safety and could [not] care less about our lives.”

The lives of Canadians are exactly what the Canadian government is supposed to think about. Regardless of questioning women’s morals and the reasons for why these women are doing what they are doing—these are not the only important factors. Yes, it is necessary for us to examine how we can prevent getting to this point where some of us need to choose survival crimes, but that must come after. Right now, we must protect women’s safety, and that is what should be considered before drafting anything ahead of schedule.




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