Justin Trudeau is the only hope for sex workers
Listening to the NDP justice critic's response to Bill C-36, I realized that the Official Opposition can't be relied on to stand up for some of the most marginalized people in Canada.
Françoise Boivin, the NDP MP for Gatineau, initially said she wanted to study the new prostitution bill before commenting in detail.
Today, the NDP justice critic called upon the government to refer it to the Supreme Court of Canada to see if it will withstand a challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It sounds good on paper, but for years the NDP—with the exception of Vancouver East MP Libby Davies—has shied away from taking a strongly libertarian stance on sex workers' right to a safe workplace.
Instead, groups like Pivot Legal Society, the Triple-X Workers' Solidarity Association of B.C., the B.C. Coalition of Experiential Communities, and advocates like Jamie Lee Hamilton have had to do the hard work of convincing the public that sex workers deserve the same legal rights as everyone else.
After the Conservatives unveiled Bill C-36, Hamilton issued a statement declaring that it would "effectively place sex workers in grave danger just as they were with the previous now struck-down laws".
"These prior laws contributed to the mass killings (murders) of countless sex workers and which the Supreme Court of Canada agreed," Hamilton added. "Everyone agrees that most prostitution occurring indoors is much safer and does not harm broader communities but the new introduced law states that you cannot advertise sexual or adult services in print, online or via other communication means. This will surely have a disastrous impact for the 80-85% of sex workers who work indoors."
In 2010, Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel originally struck down three laws: communicating in public, keeping a common bawdy house, and living off the avails. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld her conclusions, noting that two of the laws violated sex workers' constitutional right to life, liberty, and security of the person. A third, communicating in public, infringed on sex workers' charter right to freedom of expression.
In her decision, Himel cited evidence by SFU researchers that indoor sex work is far safer than outdoor sex work.
A thesis by Tamara Doherty indicated that while violence and exploitation occur in the off-street industry, the majority of women she interviewed "had not experienced any violence while working in the sex industry". Independent workers reported the lowest victimization rates.
Hamilton's statement also noted that the new legislation makes communicating in public view a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.
"This means if a sick drug addicted survival sex worker (as most Pickton victims were) is standing on a street corner the police will have the power to arrest this individual and they will be sent to prison for five years," Hamilton wrote. "Treating health issues with criminal sanctions is irresponsible and immoral."
So where's the outrage on the NDP side of Parliament?
Just like with legalizing marijuana, the Official Opposition is routinely too timid to promote evidence-based policies for fear of alienating blue-collar voters in rural Canada.
That's why the only real hope for sex workers is the Liberal Party of Canada.
Leader Justin Trudeau has stated the obvious on pot: legalize it and tax it.
He's taken a bold stance on women's right to an abortion.
And if the Liberals are truly a party that develops policies based on the best evidence, they will put an end to the moralizing over prostitution and support measures that enhance sex workers' safety.
If Justice Minister Peter MacKay's outrageous prostitution bill becomes law, it would result in more sex workers being killed.
But that doesn't appear to matter to him when there are political benefits to be had.
Bill C-36 will make him more appealing to the sexually repressed religious fanatics in Conservative Party of Canada. And this enhances his chance of eventually succeeding Stephen Harper as leader.
In effect, with Bill C-36 MacKay has proudly declared that he can be just as socially conservative as Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney, who will likely be his major rival in the next Conservative leadership race.
Trudeau should shame MacKay publicly and show solidarity with the same type of people his father tried to protect with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
After all, it was Trudeau Senior who got the state out of the bedrooms of the nation, winning the Liberals massive support from the LGBT community.
If Trudeau doesn't publicly defend sex workers, there's not much hope that any other federalist party leader will.
The NDP under Thomas Mulcair has already proven itself too conservative to take a really brave stand.
Green Leader Elizabeth May has largely been a washout on this issue until her recent comments critizing Bill C-36.
And don't even get me started on Harper...