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 criticizing Bill C-36.

And don't even get me started on Harper...



Chris Gilmore

Jun 5, 2014 at 2:54pm

First of all the NDP has not said that it is opposed to legalizing and regulating prostitution (implementing the New Zealand model) it is just being cautious in taking a stand. Secondly you are being a little bit too generous to the leader of Canada’s third party seeing as how he has yet to take a stand on this issue either. Both opposition parties are probably engaged in internal discussions on the matter before fleshing out a stance which is sensible, making rash policy announcements on the fly (which Justin is becoming infamous for) is not necessarily sensible.

I consider Justin Trudeau’s stance on pot legalization to be more of a PR stunt than an actual policy, he has yet to explain how this legal marijuana market would operate, how the government would combat the black market (make no mistake, a black market will emerge) and how we will respond to the inevitable emergence of “big marijuana” as an industry. For the moment I am in favour of decriminalization which happens to be the policy of the NDP, not because I am some conservative, blue collar rural redneck but because I am not convinced by the ambitious claims of legalization advocates. I am not sure that ordinary Canadians are totally convinced either, so far Colorado and Washington State are the only two jurisdictions in the world to sign up for this radical experiment. It is still too early to gauge the results.

I personally support the legalization and strict regulation of prostitution because sex workers are dying and the Nordic model while well intentioned has been detrimental to harm reduction. This idea that “only” Justin Trudeau and the Liberals will come to the rescue of sex workers is a bit of an early prediction and based on some flimsy reasoning. I would not be surprised if both parties kept their mouths shut on the matter until after the next election.

Blake Desaulniers

Jun 5, 2014 at 3:03pm

All quite true, Charlie. Well put. Hopefully the LPC can get the vote out in 2015 and put an end to the disgraceful government of Stephen Harper.

Catherine Gordon

Jun 5, 2014 at 3:50pm

And again , the poor and weak become the pawns of politics. Having worked with sex trade workers, all I can say is...wow. Punishing johns will not clean up the street or make the trade any safer, or make the sex trade go away. Legalizing and regulating the trade will. If you REALLY want to protect sex trade workers, beef up social safety nets, provide access to heroin and marijuana, make more social housing, and get over the Victorian attitudes toward the sex trade. Most of these women do not want to be on the streets. They do want safe homes, access to medical help, and a choice of whether they want to work in sex trade, or not. They want the round ups to stop. They want their kids back. They want to betaken seriously when they complain to the police. Obvious Mr. McKay has never been in these circumstances, or he would not be behind such stupid, uninformed legislation. Did he even ask sex trade workers about what they wanted and needed? I doubt it.


Jun 5, 2014 at 5:12pm

The NDP is hopeless, they are at least 20 years behind from mainstream society.
It is an opportunity for Trudeau to prove he is not the airhead many think he is and actually do something that will mean a lot.
There is two reasons Harper keeps on winning and the 2 opposition parties are it.
We'll you know like somebody said : "If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything."

Miss Jessica Lee SP

Jun 6, 2014 at 6:01am

Ms. Gordon: As an active sex worker in Canada, I disagree with you. How on earth does supplying heroin and marijuana to sex workers helping them? I quote you:

"you REALLY want to protect sex trade workers, beef up social safety nets, provide access to heroin and marijuana, make more social housing, and get over the Victorian attitudes toward the sex trade" ...

how about access to drug counselling and rehab instead? just a thought ....

Miss B.

Jun 6, 2014 at 2:47pm

Miss Jessica Lee: Not all addicts want to or are ready to stop. Yes, drug counselling should absolutely be available for the ones who are ready to stop however what is suggested for those who is do not want to stop at this time is harm reduction. By removing the need for them to somehow find the money required to purchase drugs they need (otherwise they get very sick), which is what can lead to riskier behavior and decisions out of desperation, studies have shown that the benefits, both to the individuals and to society, are well worth putting aside our initial feelings about such policies. It is cheaper and safer to do this then it is to let people fend for themselves.

Addiction is an illness and harm reduction is in some ways prevention for all kinds of other, worse consequences. Insite has shown how harm reduction programs benefit everyone. Of course, we're not likely to see our backwards Conservative government take this approach, they tried hard enough to close down Insite by dragging the case as far as they could in front of judges. The only reason Insite still exists is that thankfully the courts ruled against the government to the end because unlike our pathetic government, they had to agree that the science clearly demonstrated harm reduction was successful and the best option for everyone.

'' There is also significant evidence to support giving heroin to heroin addicts who have repeatedly been failed by other treatments... data from countries that have trialed or currently provide heroin... and comes down in its favor.... heroin provision “may help [addicted people] to remain in treatment, limit the use of street drugs, reduce illegal activities and possibly reduce mortality.” ''

'' Providing free heroin leads to abstinence more often than one might expect. One Swiss study found that 40% of participants sought abstinence treatment as a way of completing the program, despite the fact that it wasn’t required. This may be because heroin addicts’ lives tend to be occupied and defined by the difficult quest for drugs and the hustling needed to get money for them.''



Jun 6, 2014 at 6:54pm

Seriously? You believe the available votes for a sensible prostitution policy are worth the potential votes post? I doubt that more than 10,000 people would vote based upon this issue nationwide, and few of those would already be supporting Harpo so this is about leeching NDP votes. This isn't an issue that will attract alienated western votes in numbers that would make any difference, but even more importantly: why a puff piece on how daring Justin the Vapid is as Liberal Leader? From the cheap seats he looks more and more desperate to show what an "alternative" he is and make promises designed to attract the young & gullible left first or second time voter. It is true that elements of the NDP are cautious about social policy but that is because they remain aware of the roots of the party as well as where the money comes from.

Ryan Spinney

Jun 7, 2014 at 3:48am

Justin Trudeau ia the guy who said prostitution is violence against woman, he's not going to be on the said kf prostitutes, I bet the Liberals will be voting in favour of the bill and saying they try and amend it at Committee.

No its not timidity that has made the NDP's causious on this issue, it deep seated divisions within cacus on this issue.

Never the less Mulcair and the NDP is the only hope Prostitutes have, they will have to make a choice soon. Justin Trudeau supports pot because he uses it, not because he's a champion of freedom.

Emay opposes this bill, but she's 1 MP with little clout and can be ignored by the powers that be.

The NDP knew the Supreme Court would kill the bill, doing the work for the NDP with party divisions, but now the NDP will have to deal with the problem directly. Read Boivin's tweets, I don't see the NDP supporting this bill ultimately.


Jun 7, 2014 at 10:59am

why is he not talking about the removal of 35 billion from the health transfer accord with the provinces except alberta which got an extra 1 billion in the 2014 omnibus budget bill, or the protection of only 97 lakes and 62 rivers of which 90% are in conservative ridings? Is your favourite fishing or camping spot protected from the oil patch?


Jun 11, 2014 at 8:04pm

Mr Trudeau knows that he polls very high among progressive women. Many women do consider prostitution violence against women and do consider sex work to be paid rape. I wouldn't count on his support; look what happened when the Liberal Youth of BC tried to pass sex work liberalization at the last policy convention. Mr Trudeau wants to form the next government; I believe that he will vote in favour of the bill with amendments or not. He may allow a free vote though.