Sex workers appeal to Wynne

The ball is now in Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s court – or, more to the point, courts.

Wynne has the power to slam down the Harper government’s draconian Bill C-36, the Protection Of Communities And Exploited Persons Act, which doesn’t protect the people it purports to protect and will only result in their further exploitation, assuming they were exploited to begin with.

C-36, which received royal assent last month, will be proclaimed on December 6, the 25th anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre. Given the Harper government’s record on women’s rights – not to mention its continued efforts to loosen gun laws – there could be no more cynical choice of day.

This should alarm the “radical feminists” who sickeningly made common cause with the Christian fundamentalist groups that, along with “rescuers” and anti-trafficking organizations, dominated last summer’s Parliamentary hearings on C-36 while sex workers were all but silenced. (Note that these same radical feminists hypocritically completely ignore December 17, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.)

December 6 is the holiest day in Canada’s feminist calendar, marked by vigils not only for the 14 young women cut down at the Montreal engineering school but for all women killed in the name of misogyny.

Now it will become the day that sex workers have to move into the dangerous shadows, alone and vulnerable. That’s where Robert Pickton found them – and that’s where other predators will soon be picking them off.

It was here in Ontario in 2010 that Justice Susan Himel of the Superior Court rendered her 130-page decision that struck down as unconstitutional just three provisions of the Criminal Code Of Canada pertaining to prostitution, while leaving all those related to sexual exploitation, assault, procurement and trafficking solidly in place.

It was also here in 2012 that Ontario’s Court of Appeal upheld most of Himel’s judgment after the Harper government challenged it. Ottawa took that decision all the way to the Supreme Court, only to lose once again in December 2013.

“Parliament,” said the Court, “has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes.”

And yet Bill C-36 will do just that.

A coalition of sex workers and their allies, including members of the academic, political and legal communities, are appealing to Wynne to refer the bill back to the Court of Appeal and to instruct Crown prosecutors not to enforce it until its constitutionality can be determined again. Ontario’s Courts Of Justice Act allows Premier Wynne to refer Bill C-36 directly to the Ontario Court of Appeal, says lawyer Kyle Kirkup, currently a Trudeau scholar in the University of Toronto’s law faculty. The act does not impose a time limit on the province.

I am part of that coalition, as a staunch feminist who believes that neither the state nor Harper’s fundamentalist Christian base has a place in the bedrooms of consenting adults of the nation. They should not get a say on how women choose to govern their bodies, whether sexually or with respect to their reproductive rights.

Oh, but they try, don’t they?

These are also the very same people who would deny lesbians and gay men their same-sex rights, and they are actively fighting against giving transgender Canadians their constitutional rights.

Understand that I have no dog in this fight. True, I am writing this column for NOW, which carries escort ads and is also part of the coalition. But I have never bought or sold sexual services, nor do I foresee ever doing so.

Still, I have been denounced by the bill’s supporters as belonging to “the pimp lobby” just because I maintain that those Canadians doing legal work deserve the same rights as you and I do.

I simply can’t stand back while sex workers face, if not physical violence, then economic harm and other injustices.

Laughably, C-36, Canada’s nod to the “Nordic model” of criminalizing the purchase of sex, offers a paltry $20 million over five years to be divided between “rescue groups” and police forces in all the provinces and territories. The government won’t be coming up with the Sweden-style pay equity legislation, subsidized housing or even childcare that women require to “exit” sex work should they choose to.

What’s more, Justice Minister Peter MacKay ignored the entreaties of all of the experts who pointed out that Sweden’s sex trade has moved underground and that sex workers there face stigma, eviction and the loss of their children. Evidence-based legislation? Who needs that?

In the words of Conservative Senator Donald Plett, who proclaimed that women should give it away if they wanted to be considered ladies, “Of course we don’t want to make life safer for prostitutes. We want to do away with prostitution.”

Is the only good prostitute a dead one?

Wynne better not drop the ball on this one. | @nowtoronto

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