WOMEN MAY DIE while politi­cians pos­ture

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - THE WEST - By Dan Gardner

OT­TAWA — At a re­cent town hall, Lib­eral leader Michael Ig­nati­eff took a ques­tion from the au­di­ence about the pros­ti­tu­tion laws. Al­most two months ago, an On­tario judge ruled that Canada’s pros­ti­tu­tion laws put pros­ti­tutes at greater risk of vi­o­lence and there­fore vi­o­late Sec­tion 7 of the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms. The govern­ment im­me­di­ately an­nounced it would ap­peal. If the rul­ing stands, it will strike down laws against “liv­ing off the avails” of pros­ti­tu­tion, keep­ing a “com­mon bawdy house,” and com­mu­ni­cat­ing in pub­lic for the pur­poses of pros­ti­tu­tion. So what does Ig­nati­eff feel about this?

“It’s be­ing ap­pealed, and all I feel about it is there is a bal­ance, which I see in my own con­stituency,” Ig­nati­eff replied, as re­ported by Dale Smith of Xtra. “Fam­i­lies in fam­ily ar­eas are very concerned about the pub­lic nui­sance and pub­lic dis­or­der that hap­pens with pros­ti­tu­tion...On the other hand, the same fam­i­lies are concerned about the safety, the phys­i­cal safety, of sex work­ers. That’s the bal­ance we have to find. I’m not go­ing to say whether that court got it right. That’s not my job. My job is then, if the govern­ment ap­peals, and there’s a de­ci­sion and has to be new leg­is­la­tion, we’ll look at the new leg­is­la­tion with that bal­ance in mind, be­cause that’s the bal­ance that Cana­di­ans want us to keep.” As po­lit­i­cal evasion goes, this was poor stuff. Good evasion doesn’t look eva­sive. The politician talks and talks, he looks earnest, he sounds ju­di­cious, and he moves smoothly to the next ques­tion with­out hav­ing said any­thing even slightly in­ter­est­ing or sub­stan­tive. Ig­nati­eff’s per­for­mance was closer to Jon Lovitz coo­ing “yeahhh, that’s the ticket.”

It’s “not my job”? What an amaz­ing state­ment. Whose bloody job is it? And that line about the ap­peal and new leg­is­la­tion is noth­ing less than as­ton­ish­ing.

Re­mem­ber, Madam Jus­tice Su­san Himel de­cided — af­ter an ex­haus­tive trial fea­tur­ing count­less wit­nesses and heaps of doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence — that the ex­ist­ing laws were lit­er­ally aid­ing and abet­ting the rob­bery, rape, and murder of some of the most pow­er­less peo­ple in so­ci­ety.

To this, Ig­nati­eff re­sponds by low­er­ing his ful­some eye­brows, not­ing that the de­ci­sion is be­ing ap­pealed, and promis­ing that, if the rul­ing stands, he’ll have a look at what­ever new leg­is­la­tion the govern­ment may see fit to put for­ward at some un­spec­i­fied date. To en­sure it’s bal­anced. Be­cause Cana­di­ans want bal­ance.

Mean­while, if Himel is right, and her de­ci­sion is stayed while the ap­peal pro­ceeds, years will crawl by — and the pros­ti­tu­tion laws will con­tinue to aid and abet crimes against vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple. Not that Ig­nati­eff has an opin­ion about that. It’s not his job.

Now, as we have es­tab­lished, Cana­di­ans want bal­ance, and so I must not be one-sided in my crit­i­cism.

For all his eva­sive­ness, Ig­nati­eff at least ac­knowl­edged the ele­men­tary fact that pros­ti­tutes are vic­tims of hor­rific lev­els of vi­o­lence and he would pre­fer, on bal­ance, that this were not so. Which is nice. As far as I am aware, Stephen Harper has made no state­ment on the sub­ject, eva­sive or oth­er­wise, in re­sponse to a ques­tion from the pub­lic.

That may be be­cause he doesn’t take ques­tions from the pub­lic. Or it may be be­cause he re­ally isn’t all that concerned about the safety of pros­ti­tutes. Re­call that when Himel made her rul­ing, the govern­ment did not say, “the very pos­si­bil­ity that the law is en­dan­ger­ing women is alarm­ing and so we will ur­gently in­ves­ti­gate.” It expressed alarm that the rul­ing en­dan­gers the law. And it said it would ap­peal.

As far as I can find, Ig­nati­eff and Harper haven’t ut­tered a sin­gle se­ri­ous state­ment on the sub­ject be­tween the two of them. And that, un­for­tu­nately, is typ­i­cal of how the po­lit­i­cal class has dealt with pros­ti­tu­tion for decades.

In 1983, the Fraser Com­mit­tee, a spe­cial com­mit­tee of Par­lia­ment, launched a two-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pros­ti­tu­tion and re­lated is­sues. It gath­ered all avail­able ev­i­dence. It com­mis­sioned new re­search. And in 1985, it re­ported that the pros­ti­tu­tion laws were a hap­haz­ard mess that failed to re­duce lev­els of pros­ti­tu­tion and put pros­ti­tutes in greater dan­ger. It rec­om­mended a mod­est and tightly reg­u­lated form of le­gal­iza­tion.

The govern­ment ig­nored the Fraser Com­mit­tee. In­stead, it passed a new law that strength­ened the crime of com­mu­ni­cat­ing in pub­lic. As Himel noted, some MPs crit­i­cized the govern­ment for mak­ing “a hasty re­sponse to a com­pli­cated prob­lem” and so the govern­ment promised it would ex­am­ine the other rec­om­men­da­tions of the Fraser Com­mit­tee. It never did. Three years af­ter the new law was en­acted, a leg­is­lated re­view was con­ducted. It found that the new law had only pushed street pros­ti­tu­tion from block to block, driv­ing pros­ti­tutes into more iso­lated en­vi­ron­ments where they were at greater risk. The govern­ment ig­nored the re­view. I could go on — and on and on — but the point is clear. Se­ri­ous ex­am­i­na­tions of the pros­ti­tu­tion laws al­ways con­clude they are a patch­work desperately in need of fun­da­men­tal re­form. And the po­lit­i­cal class al­ways re­fuses to talk se­ri­ously about it.

The govern­ment’s lawyers have ar­gued that al­low­ing Himel’s rul­ing to come into force be­fore the ap­peal is de­cided will re­sult in “chaos” on the streets. I doubt it. But if it does, don’t blame judges. Blame politi­cians too cow­ardly to do their jobs.

Alone and vul­ner­a­ble : Laws against pros­ti­tu­tion make women and young girls tar­gets.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.