Category Archives: Canadian Politics

A Solution Without a Problem, or More Reframing the Political Discourse?

The federal Conservatives will be holding a party convention between now and Sunday to discuss direction for the majority government.  While things talked about at conventions aren’t necessarily going to become policy, it does give a good indication of what the aims and priorities are likely to be.  One of those, of course, is to discuss prostitution, following the ruling in Ontario that had overturned 3 laws used to criminalize sex workers.  The Harper Conservatives still fail to understand the difference between willing sex work and human trafficking, and seem to want to do everything except take a harm-reduction approach.

Another curious position to be discussed is the proposed strengthening of Canada’s laws prohibiting high treason (that is, actively engaging in an act of war against the country or its armed forces).  As James Morton notes, the laws as they stand are pretty clear and pretty strong already: Continue reading A Solution Without a Problem, or More Reframing the Political Discourse?

Is This The Face of Christian Governance?

When he’s not working as a Legislative Assistant for Conservative Member of Parliament Maurice Vellacott, Timothy Bloedow is the driving force behind Canada’s Christian Nationalist weblog No Apologies and Christian Governance, where he advocates for ideologically-run government:

There is no such thing as neutrality. Superficial thinking has confused peace, tolerance, pluralism, multiculturalism and similar ideas with neutrality. But there is no such thing as neutrality.

… The mission of ChristianGovernance is to teach and train Christians to understand the Biblical worldview as well as competing worldviews, and to help Christians translate this understanding into a faithful lifestyle and a compelling witness in this world.

In Should Harold Camping be executed as a false prophet? Bloedow (or Rod Taylor, or David Krayden, or Larry Bray, or Tom Bartlett, or the Freedom 55 Financial / London Life salesman, but usually if there’s no attribution, then it’s posted by Bloedow or his son) writes: Continue reading Is This The Face of Christian Governance?

What to Expect from a Harper Government (In The Bedrooms of the Nation III)

Previously:

I: A Brief Canadian History of Political Forces

II: The Opponents of Social Progress: Roadmap to the Far Right

As Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party seek a majority mandate, there is no shortage of speculation on either side of the map as to what a non-progressive Conservative majority would look like in Canada.  By some accounts, we’d see a new capitalist utopia of crime fighting and McJob creation.  By others, we’d see a social agenda unleashed which, now completely unbridled, would rewrite Canada into a Christian Nationalist dictatorship.

But we’ve seen already how Harper is completely cognizant of Canada’s inclination for social progress, and having to tightrope in order to maintain the far-right extreme and the centrist support he needs to maintain power.  Stephen Harper is gaming, and he is not going to seek only a 4-year majority.  He is in it for the long haul, and that means tightroping for as long as he can. Continue reading What to Expect from a Harper Government (In The Bedrooms of the Nation III)

Opponents of Social Progress – In The Bedrooms of the Nation II (Revised)

Update: This article has been revised and reposted.  This was originally done in response to a concern raised that even though I discourage retaliation, naming names might inspire someone to do so.  Which is not my intent.  But in removing those sections, the narrative changed, and had to be rewritten for the sake of flow.  Comments on the original post also displayed a huge amount of Islamophobia, so it became necessary to address that as well.  So the post has changed, but the premise remains the same.

Replies to this post will be moderated, due to the escalating level of bigotry displayed in response to the original post (most of which have been left in the moderation queue).  I’m not big on censorship and believe in free speech in Canada, but this is my place, and I won’t have it turned into a platform for bigotry aimed at minorities.  That’s my prerogative.  (And Jadis, I’m a little confused as to whether your threat was meant for me or for a commenter, but neither scenario is appropriate).  I also reiterate that I am not likewise aiming bias at Christians: my issue is with efforts from a small group which is not representative of all people of faith to assert any one specific faith system as law and dictate to everyone else how they should live their lives or whether they even should have a place in our society.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper keeps trying to assure voters that he won’t reopen social debates like abortion and same-sex marriage, since he knows that won’t earn him mainstream votes.  Instead, he tries to run on a platform of crime punishment and McJob creation.  And yet if one looks further, one overturns a rock which reveals a political base that is a coalition of usually-divided groups working together to oppose social progress.  In part one, we saw what led to the rise of the new Conservatives.  Here, we’re mapping out the network that makes up his base. Continue reading Opponents of Social Progress – In The Bedrooms of the Nation II (Revised)

In The Bedrooms of the Nation I: A Brief Canadian History and Political Forces

Social consciousness was in a state of flux.  Oral contraceptives had been available in the U.S. for several years but were banned in Canada.  Sodomy had been decriminalized in the U.K. in 1967.  Medical professionals and activists called for the legalization of abortion in circumstances where the pregnancy caused immediate danger to the mother.  And George Klippert was convicted of “gross indecency” for having consensual gay sex — and because he was determined to be “incurably homosexual,” he was sentenced to indefinite “preventive” detention (essentially a life sentence, which the Supreme Court of Canada later upheld).

On Dec. 21, 1967, Justice Minister and future Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau responded by introducing Omnibus Bill C-150, which amended the Criminal Code of Canada.  It decriminalized homosexuality, made abortion possible, legalized contraception, tweaked gambling and gun laws, and more.  It passed on May 14, 1969, coming into force on the eve of the Stonewall riots in New York City.  When introducing the bill, he famously told CBC,

there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.

42 years later, it keeps trying.

Continue reading In The Bedrooms of the Nation I: A Brief Canadian History and Political Forces

Sex Work and “Human Trafficking” in Canada IV: Going Forward

(I had to break this one into four parts, although it is essentially one article.  This part is directly preceded by Part One: The Ruling, Part Two: Poverty and Opportunity and Part Three: Trans and Sex Work.)

The War on Craigslist

The Ontario ruling occurs just as the human trafficking angle has gained enough traction to have escort listings removed from Craigslist.  The newspapers were more than happy to fuel that fire, too.  Papers receive the lion’s share of their revenue from classifieds, and are hurting significantly because of services like Craigslist, Kijiji, eBay et al.  Some of those publications (like the Sun papers in Alberta) used to make a pretty penny from escorts’ ads, themselves.

Change.org has spearheaded much of the “end trafficking” vocalization which entirely confuses sex work with trafficking interchangeably — enough so that I’ve almost written them off as a not-enough-of-the-facts site that willingly exploits herd-mentality thinking and unfilled blanks in order to advance its causes.  Nevertheless, a petition has been filed which supports sex worker rights and opposes the scapegoating of avenues of trade like Craigslist.  I urge my US-based readers (we Canucks can’t participate) to read and if so inclined, to sign.

Where To Go From Here?

For the time being, not much has changed.  A stay was issued on the ruling pending an appeal, and law enforcement in many cities have stated the intent to continue to enforce the laws in question.

But the chances of an appeal yielding a different result is fairly spurious, and ultimately, the Canadian government will need to reassess sex work as a whole.  New Zealand (where sex work was completely decriminalized) and Sweden have been held up as two divergent possible models.  The New Zealand model does have some regulation, sort of like saying “you have to allow this, but you get to choose how and where it can happen,” and this has allowed them to still tackle real human trafficking and exploitation, while giving the women and men who engage in sex work autonomy.  But our Conservative government has not been as fond of decriminalization, which is simply not sex-negative enough for their liking.

Even before the ruling, the backlash was mounting.  The Conservative government started writing legislation to use backdoor clauses in laws to combat organized crime and legislation pretending to combat human trafficking to generate new approaches to fight all manner of sex work, and even facilities like bathhouses.

Human trafficking does exist.  I’m not claiming that it doesn’t or that it isn’t serious.  However, further criminalizing sex work by taking away any and all means to do it safely and in a self-determined way is a horribly misguided means of combating it, and that is what this discussion has disintegrated into.

I’m also not going to labour on the point that trafficking isn’t as widespread as it’s claimed, except to point out that the statistics generated to raise concerns are inflated, and in fact provide some cover for some forms of trafficking.  The premise that “crossing borders” + “engaging in sex work” always = “human trafficking” means that if you help someone you met online come to your country and then she starts working as a stripper, then that gets added to human trafficking statistics.  Hell, some of the loosely-defined studies would group Jesus himself in as a sex trafficker, if he accompanied Mary Magdalene across a border.  However, it’s true that even if it’s a small number of people affected, outrage is still justified and something needs to be done.

What I don’t agree with is the idea that the disempowerment of women in the sex industry will help in any way to end it.  You can try to end ponzi schemes by banning all financial investing, and it may in fact address some ponzi schemes… a little bit… for awhile… until those behind them find a loophole.  In the process, you’ve destroyed an industry for little benefit, and even driven underground the people who might be best positioned to help fight the actual problem.

Any way forward MUST empower the women and men who work in the sex trade, and give them the freedom to be self-determining. Failure to do so will only perpetuate the underground nature of sex work and create opportunities for exploitative individuals and organizations.

Human trafficking is an issue that has been hijacked by a far-right agenda that wishes to dictate what women (and some men) do with their bodies.  It is the same lobby that opposes abortion, gender reassignment, contraception, porn and even at times masturbation.  It is a lobby that has decided that its warped interpretation of morality should be the overriding law of the land, and that somehow by achieving this, the economy and everything else will fall into line (and sometimes also believes that global catastrophe is preordained, and that the rapture is a reasonable exit strategy).  It is a lobby that demonizes free will and choice, because villainizing choice is an effective means to seduce the masses into supporting prejudices (by seducing people into believing that what they’re reacting to is not really a trait itself, when they’re acting on the unspoken and often inaccurate smorgasbord of inventions that go with it).  It is a lobby that twists language and exploits women and children in peril to redirect funding and social consciousness to fuel a social agenda that.

Human Trafficking Solutions

Of course, there still remains what to do about actual human trafficking, which is a serious problem, as it has been for decades.  Laws that actually target coercion, control and exploitation would be a start.  Enforcing them would require opportunities for authorities to be able to monitor the sex trade, without criminalizing the trade itself.  The whole logic behind anti-prostitution law being used to fight human trafficking resides in the fact that it gives opportunity for investigation.  If sex work is decriminalized, there needs to be some other means of initiating an investigation that ideally won’t be abused by those same authorities to harass.  Licensing might be one way of creating a regulation structure, although Canadian cities have long licensed escorts and grossly abused that process (earning Edmonton a reputation for being “worst pimp in Canada” first by ridiculously high license fees and when the cry of extortion went up , by using the law to harass and levy ridiculous fines).  Not to mention that it will take a generation for sex workers to be comfortable with regulation and intrusion of any sort, even if the authorities in question work in earnest to do so ethically.  Another possibility is to look at immigration by screening the jobs that applicants are coming to Canada to fill, and emigration by launching an information campaign on how to scrutinize job offers out-of-country — both targeted toward males under 18 and females under 28.

But empowerment is key.  Empowering sex workers to work more in the open, to have resources to turn to when there is distress, to have freedom to communicate… I’d call that a good start.

There are also still online services like Craigslist to consider.  Rather than shutting them down outright, one idea being advanced is establishing a verified adult industry provider section in such places.  I have mixed feelings on this, especially about how identification records could be abused (as law enforcement again historically has had a habit of doing), but it’s worth thinking further about.

And finally, I owe a thank-you to Laura Agustin for pointing to a Time Magazine article that seems fairly balanced and not so filtered through the biases of the agencies that typically provide info to reporters on how to navigate the issue. It states it better than I was going to when I first started this piece.  The article is specifically about women in Ukraine who become trafficked, and situations in other nations can, of course, vary.  But it is clear from this that the fight against human trafficking absolutely has to include work to address global poverty and corruption:

“Don’t be confused,” she says. “Nobody takes us by the hair and drags us onto the ships.” She gestures toward the mouth of the port. “Those are like the gates to freedom for a lot of us,” she says. “Yeah, like the Statue of Liberty,” adds another girl, and the group of them erupts into laughter.

In the article, Simon Shuster points out how the story we’ve come to expect of girls seduced by false promises of work in wealthier nations has actually changed, and the pimps we imagine have been replaced by former sex workers who simply explain how much money there is to be made in prostitution elsewhere, while kidnapping is now replaced by “voluntary, if desperate, participation:”

The poverty and general hopelessness in many villages of eastern Ukraine, Moldova and Romania now run so deep — especially in the wake of the financial crisis — that the promise of a job as a prostitute abroad is enough to get the vast majority of trafficked women to sign up voluntarily. They follow the mamachki to foreign resorts or big cities in Western Europe, where the prevalence of sex workers from the ex–Soviet Union has earned them a nickname: Natashas. The girls work the streets and hotel lobbies until they get deported or homesick. After a few weeks off in Odessa or wherever they call home, they’re shipped out again. The cycle ends when they earn enough to retire or, as more often happens, when they get too old for the job — which in this business can be as young as 26.

If we as a nation fail to see through the rhetoric, we will ultimately fail to deal with the real problem, and instead hamstring it.

Links

While I don’t encourage people to go into sex work, I do believe that anyone who does should have the info and resources they need to do so safely, and awareness of the risks and state of criminalization.

Advocacy Organizations:

Issues Discussion:

Safety Considerations:


Sex Work and “Human Trafficking” in Canada III: Trans and Sex Work

(I had to break this one into four parts, although it is essentially one article.  This part is directly preceded by Part One: The Ruling and Part Two: Poverty and Opportunity.  Conclusion will follow tomorrow.  This part may seem like a detour, but I wanted to focus on the sex work side of the equation for a moment.)

Straight(ish) Talk About Sex Work

First off, I’m not going to encourage anyone to undertake sex work, nor do I think any less of anyone who does.  Since Alberta delisted health care funding for GRS last year, I’ve been seeing a noticeable shift in the numbers of people looking into this as a career option — most notably younger trans people who might otherwise be looking at finishing school or mapping out a different career path.  Face it: when the choice is $1000 on a good night or $1000 a month at McStarbuMart, sex work can appear to be a far more reasonable map toward surgery.

I was outted as having done sex work on this blog and elsewhere by someone I knew locally a year or two ago, but haven’t really talked much about those experiences, other than to say that it takes a certain kind of strength and resilience to do sex work – I didn’t have it, but I respect those who do.  What follows is mostly basics, and limited by my experiences; YMMV.

I first did street-level work for several months, at around the age of twenty, first in Vancouver, then Edmonton. I wasn’t equipped at that time with the experience or sense of self that I needed to face an underbelly of human nature that I didn’t really want to know.  I’ve never been an outgoing personality.  And sex work is often a case of giving of your own energy so that your clients can recharge, but I’ve never been very good at holding back enough energy for myself (one of the reasons, I think, that drug use becomes so necessary for some, and what should be one of the biggest considerations for anyone considering sex work).  Overall, the experience was not great, and ended up with my looking in the mirror and seeing a dead person staring back at me.

I spent several years coming back from a black, bitter, angry headspace, partly from that (and also from a childhood and youth spent as little preacher in a good Christian upbringing that taught me 24/7 that everything I was at the core of my being was an abomination to God).  It was at the same time that I was straightening out my life that I first looked into gender transition, and when the information on employment prospects that I found indicated likely having to remain in the sex trade if I transitioned, that contributed to a decision to spend another 15 or so years failing at and constantly near suicide over trying to be the man everyone else expected me to be.

Nearly two decades later, most of it spent working at one company, I found myself having to go on stress leave when my arrangements to transition on the job kept getting pushed back repeatedly and almost indefinitely.  After three months, I tried to find out when I could go back to work (as female, since I was well into full-time by then)… after six months, I still couldn’t get an answer, and the stress leave ran out.  I had to scramble and did some escorting to make ends meet in the months before I left Edmonton.  The experience that time was better, although energy was still an issue.  But by then, I was more experienced, better balanced, knew who I was and was comfortable with that, and I’d had more than enough time to process things.  Probably if not for that experience, my attitude toward sex work might have been a lot more negative.

The two experiences were very different.  The first experience was working as male for male clients; the second as transsexual for trans admirers.  The dynamic between gay male dates and straight-ish ones is very different, and a person can tell from the way they’re being treated if someone accepts them as a woman or thinks of them as “really a man.”  This may be due to socialization, but even so, living and loving as female fit, while everything before did not.  Either way, while both types of work are potentially dangerous, the street-level work of before was very vulnerable and grueling.  Meanwhile, escorting afforded a bit more control of my surroundings, ability to screen people, and the opportunity to negotiate what I would and wouldn’t do.

This actually speaks to the law recently struck down in Canada about “communicating for the purposes of prostitution.”  Trans women engaging in street-level work can’t really specialize in clients who are looking for such and have to try to hide the fact that they’re trans as much as possible.  (I know there are trans men who’ve engaged in sex work — I really can’t speak to that experience and am sticking to what I know)  They might gamble that if that becomes an issue, her date will choose to overlook it or pretend they don’t know — for their benefit as much as anyone else’s.  I’ve heard that some women can be open about themselves, mentioning that they’re a “girl with something extra” or something along that line, but the problem with “communicating for the purpose of…” is that often any prearrangement has to be done quickly (because that’s the moment one is particularly vulnerable to arrest), and in a kind of code, which means that things can get easily miscommunicated.  The potential for someone to discover ones trans status and become violent is much higher as a result.  Of the women we remember at the Transgender Day of Remembrance, there is a particularly high number of women at the intersections of trans, poverty, visible minority and sex work, and laws that criminalize communication for sex work undoubtedly add to the tragedies we commemorate annually.  When I did escorting, though, I was able to advertise myself as trans and find people who wanted someone who was trans — this didn’t eliminate the potential for violence, since it wasn’t unusual for a date to be overwhelmed with guilt afterward and sometimes blame me for that, for example, but certainly the danger of trouble was a lot lower.

Working as trans (as in, being out as trans) has its own frustrations.  There will inevitably be some men who refer to you as “really a man” no matter how well you explain it, and likewise with “shemale…” which is sometimes unchangeably part of the fantasy for some clients.  It’s not right, it’s indicative of the mentality of objectification and commodification that you’re facing, but sometimes you end up having to hold your tongue on in order to make that dollar, especially when they’re clearly never going to get it.  The more survival is a part of the equation, the more self-respect becomes negotiable.  Don’t get me wrong — some do get it, or at least try to be respectful… others are clusterfails waiting to happen.

Trans admirers are just as diverse as any other segment of the population, so I want to be clear that I can only generalize about some of them.  Men might be attracted to trans women because they are:

  • gay curious / bi- curious,
  • questioning their own gender identity and looking to you for a clue,
  • bisexual and don’t have a mental block about which parts are attached to which bodies,
  • are “collectors” (i.e. want at least one of every kind of sexual experience),
  • are attracted by taboo / social transgression / “avant garde”,
  • are generally straight but willing to explore bisexuality,
  • are attracted to traits they expect to find (often mistakenly) in trans women but not cis women (sometimes misogynistic ideas about the way we’re socialized), or
  • none of the above.

Most admirers are still going to be worried about how they’re perceived, worried that she might get “read” and therefore reflect on him, etc. in public situations, or those where he feels he might get caught.  Anything that could threaten to out them can result in unpredictable responses, and it will tend to be only those who are most driven or less socially balanced who will venture out of the safety of obscurity. Trans admirers’ fear and guilt responses over their attraction are homophobia, of course, but they’re going to have to work that out when they’re ready.  But as pointed out earlier, controlling your environment and creating a situation that is more private and less threatening can help minimize negative responses, and bring back regulars.

And then there is that “something extra” to consider.  If you’re like I was, you may not be comfortable having anything to do with that something extra, and it may feel like some creepy unearthly appendage that doesn’t belong, not to mention an eternal distraction.  If you advertise for men looking for trans women, rather than tucking and hoping not to have an issue, then you’re going to be expected to use that something extra.  And if you’re on HRT, this will be further complicated by the fact that Spironolactone or (worse) Androcur will reduce or even end all ability to do so.  Not good.  Some girls will use Viagra — I found that to be only marginally helpful, and certainly didn’t help with the mental squick.  Some will also turn to other alternatives — I’m aware of one that’s an imported compound sometimes used by bodybuilders which is androgenizing and does nasty stuff to your system, elevated anxiety, trouble sleeping, irritability etc. You can do some very bad things to your body if you don’t know what you’re playing with.

Anyway, sex work isn’t an easy out, and there are a number of points along the road where one can become vulnerable, especially when you know you can’t turn to the authorities without negative consequences.  It’s emotionally demanding and draining, and having to play to someone else’s expectations all the time can sometimes leave you feeling inconsequential, worthless or even void of identity (although that’s not altogether unlike our experiences prior to transition, but picture that in concentrated form, while having to switch roles almost as fast as you can change your clothes).  There are always risks, in terms of predators, sexual health, and emotional attachments — and if you’re depending on your clients and income for the development of your sense of worth, the latter can be catastrophic.  In terms of violence, it is more than a risk, and can almost be looked at as an inevitability that one will experience violence if working long term (careful screening and experience will reduce the risk, not eliminate it) — although that should by no means be interpreted as saying that anyone willingly choosing to work in the sex trade deserves it if it happens.

And yet, it has its moments.  And I won’t deny that if you can get through the faults and pitfalls and keep everything together, it can be enjoyable work.  Or at least no less so than any other line of work — and moreso than front-line minimum-wage drudgery.  But those are big IFs to consider.

(To be continued tomorrow)

Sex Work and “Human Trafficking” in Canada II: Poverty and Opportunity

(I had to break this one into four parts, although it is essentially one article.  This part is directly preceded by Part One: The Ruling.  Part three will follow tomorrow.)

The Rescue Industry

Entering into this fray is what Laura Agustin aptly names “the Rescue Industry.”  Over the years, a network of NGOs, government agencies, law enforcement, public services, anti-porn crusaders, corporations, churches, journalists and even hospitals has developed in an informal capacity to propagate the rhetoric of the supposed sex work menace, often conflating prostitution, rape, human trafficking and slavery to the point where the terminology is used interchangeably.

Agustin regularly dissects the euphemisms and tactics of the rescue industry in her book, Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry, and her blog, including this observation:

The old-fashioned term still being used around the world is rehabilitation. – surprising, really, since the moralism behind it is so overt. That is, to talk about rehabilitation is to say that one’s present self is a mess, one is living some wrong way, one is self-harming and so on. Within that frame, rehabilitation means We will help you get clean and healthy. That’s good if you feel unhappy about your present lifestyle yourself – morally, I mean. The usage meant to replace rehabilitation talks about Exit Strategies, but media reporters repeat the old clichés with gusto. In a report from Korea, purveyors of rehabilitation admitted no one wants what’s on offer….

Working closely with this rescue industry, you’ll also find a group of anti-porn activists united by a belief that anything sexual exploits and therefore harms women, even if women are engaging in it voluntarily, enjoy what they do and remain fully autonomous.  Melissa Farley and Janice Raymond are two such names you’ll find recurring in anti sex work campaigns, and both were also called in as “expert testimony” in the Ontario court case by intervenors Catholic Civil Rights League, Christian Legal Fellowship and REAL Women of Canada.  Farley is an American anti-porn and anti-prostitution activist, director of Prostitution Research and Education and an advocate of the “Swedish Model” of laws which criminalizes the buyer (discussed shortly). 

Janice Raymond is a name many of my readers will remember from her book, The Transsexual Empire: the making of the she-male, which claims that transsexuals are really predatory men infiltrating the womens’ rights movement (and did decades of damage to trans people and created barriers to obtaining sometimes the most basic of human rights), and a paper for the US Government which led to the specific defunding or elimination of trans-related health care in public sectors, including during incarceration for transsexuals — sometimes even in cases of contrived connections like breast cancer.  She has since become a major proponent of sex work criminalization, and remains a representative for a number of rescue industry NGOs.  In “SEX TRAFFICKING OF WOMEN IN THE UNITED STATES, “ Raymond and D. Hughes assume that sex work is always exploitative anyway, so conflating the two is perfectly okay:

“… trafficking should not be separated from prostitution.  Anti-trafficking policies and programs must address organized prostitution and domestic trafficking. Most trafficking is for prostitution, and operates within the context of domestic sex industries.”

Of the intervenors who invited these two to testify, REAL Women of Canada has acted as intervenor (with mixed results) in most major social issues that come before a major court, including R. v. Morgentaler (which decriminalized abortion), M. v. H. (on the rights and benefits of same-sex couples), R. v. Sullivan (arguing for the personhood of the fetus), and the upcoming BC hearings regarding the legality of statutes in the Criminal Code which criminalize both polygamy and polyamory. They have also lobbied on nearly every piece of social-related legislation considered at the federal level in Canada, including Bill C-389.  The Catholic Civil Rights League and REAL Women of Canada were members of the Defend Marriage Canada coalition that fought same-sex marriage in Canada at every opportunity as well.  Although the organization and founder Gwen Landolt don’t enjoy the same kind of unquestioning loyalty from the Harper government that evangelicals like Charles McVety does, but the organization has made it one of their core positions to advocate for further criminalization of all forms of sex work, and “rehabilitation” of all sex workers, regardless of whether they want it.

Poverty and Opportunity, Border Migration and Human Trafficking

The reasons that women and men turn to sex work will often vary, but there is often some mix of poverty and opportunity in the equation.  Of the kinds of sex work I mentioned — street work, escorting, stripping, lap dancing, pro-dom(me)ing, massage, survival sex and porn — the balance between poverty and opportunity varies, but it tends to be paralleled by a balance between helplessness and control of one’s surroundings.  There are some who will always find a certain kinship on the street and gravitate there, and that’s cool if it works well for them (personally, I don’t know if such a sentiment can be sustained indefinitely), but overall, the situations where one is in less control of one’s environment tend to coincide with those where there is more desperation.  The end result of criminalization, however, is to take those opportunities out of the hands of the women and men who engage in sex work — opportunities which are happily snapped up by people who have no qualms of using others and are versed in subverting law and ethics.  And the poverty… the poverty always remains.

As mentioned, there is some belief that any portrayal of women for sexual purposes — whether the participant is motivated by poverty or opportunity — is violence.  Certainly, the sexualization of women in any context — whether in porn or conventional media — has potential to be (and most often is) objectifying to some degree.  Everyone’s opinion on this subject will vary, and it’s probably another article altogether, but given the intangible nature of human attraction, I don’t think it’s a realistic expectation to eliminate objectification entirely.  But it can be empowering to step into that role and take it and define it to be more consistent with our own understanding of ourselves.

With all this talk of human trafficking, it helps to understand what it is and isn’t.  The UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (or Trafficking Protocol) defines it as:

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs….”

Human trafficking doesn’t always include border migration, and the exploitation isn’t always about the selling and buying of sex, but the consistent elements are that one person ends up controlling another, via unethically-obtained consent or no consent at all, for the purposes of exploitation.

The distinction that the exploitation isn’t always about the selling and buying of sex is important.  There is a lot of talk about the Swedish Model, which criminalizes those who buy, but purports to emancipate those who sell.  This sounds great and noble on the surface, but in practical application still drives the trading of sex into underground cultures.  Even if sex workers can live without fear, the fact that their clients can’t still means rushed negotiations and communicating in risky areas.  In Sweden and the nations that followed it (Norway, Iceland), sex work hasn’t particularly decreased so much as migrated to Internet-based ventures, and if it hasn’t decreased, then it’s difficult to determine if any human trafficking has actually stopped.  More than that, in practical application, client-focused laws still provide authorities the means of harassing sex workers, in the guise of protecting them or else driving them out of the neighbourhood.  There have even been reports of increased violence, something that is certainly possible with a customer base that is in fear and on constant edge (Polismyndigheten i Skåne, Rapport – Lag (1998:408) om förbud mot köp av sexuella tjänster, Malmö-rapporten, s.27. (Skåne Police, Report – Law (1998:408) prohibiting the purchase of sexual services, Malmo report, s.27) ALM 429-14044/99, 2001).  There are some positives in the Swedish Model where that system empowers women; where it criminalizes the buyer, not so much.

In the western world, human trafficking is usually fought by combating sex work and any cross-border migration that can be tied to sex work. The latter assumes that everyone coming into Canada, the US, the UK, etc. and engages in sex work must be exploited.  Consequently, the failure to recognize that some might come here of their own volition and find opportunity has led to many of the statistical studies in human trafficking to be badly flawed, and focusing on solely these approaches has caused many real victims of human trafficking to fall through the cracks.  Using the term “human trafficking” for everything from escorting to refugees (or going one better like change.org is starting to do by constantly conflating that with “child human trafficking”) actually confuses the issue, deflecting resources to fighting legitimate sex work along with exploitation, making it impossible to get clear and realistically comparative data, and setting up the fight against real trafficking to be controlled and exploited by far right moralists who are more interested in controlling what happens in peoples’ bedrooms than actually saving people in dire straits.

The irony is kind of sick, when you think about it.

(To be continued tomorrow)

Sex Work and “Human Trafficking” in Canada I: The Ruling

(I had to break this one into four parts, although it is essentially one article.  Part two will follow tomorrow.)

On September 28th, Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice struck down three key laws that are used to criminalize sex work (“prostitution” is not illegal in Canada, but “communicating for the purpose of,” “living off the avails of” and bawdy house laws were).  But although the three women at Sex Professionals of Canada won their case, a 30-day stay was put in place to allow the various parties to take this to the next step, inevitably heading toward the Supreme Court of Canada.  Xtra is reporting that Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has announced his intention to appeal.

SPOC has issued a press release on their website:

“The invalidation of Section 210 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits bawdy houses, will mean that we can ensure our safety by working together indoors. We can now report abuses of anyone in our occupation to the appropriate authorities, without fear of arrest. Ontario sex workers will no longer be vulnerable to eviction or arrest on our business premises.

The invalidation of Section 212 (1j) of the Criminal Code, that prohibits living wholly or in part on the avails of prostitution was developed to protect us from ‘pimps’. In practice, it makes us and our live-in partners, and even elderly parents we support, susceptible to being charged, and serving up to ten years in jail. The invalidation of Section 212 (1j), will allow our families to finally stop fearing arrest. Our employees, such as receptionists, drivers, etc. will no longer fear criminal prosecution. Section 212 (1j) has stigmatized and punished us and denied that our work is a form of gainful employment for too long.

The invalidation of Section 213 (1c) of the Criminal Code prohibited “communication for the purposes of prostitution”, that means soliciting clients in any public place, including the use of cell phones, the Internet, hotel lobbies, bars, and even rooms with an open door or window. We are liable to being arrested for stopping or even attempting in any manner to stop a person or motor vehicle. Subject to the communication law, we are forced to limit our negotiating time with clients, preventing us from having enough time to determine if the client is trustworthy or potentially dangerous.”

[One of the applicants, Terri-Jean Bedford, was previously convicted under bawdy house laws for operating a dungeon, even though no actual sex took place, showing how that statute was stretched by authorities]

Essentially, the court has ruled that by removing the ability to screen clients and negotiate limits, meet them in safe and trusted locations and control their own earnings, these laws made it completely impossible to live and work safely, and in fact fostered an environment and circumstances in which exploitation by many parties — from criminals and dangerous clients to some less ethical law enforcement elements — would be more likely to take place.  This doesn’t solve everything, as lawyer Alan Young points out:

“So what’s happened is that there’s still going to be many people on the streets and many survival sex workers who are motivated by drugs and sometimes exploited by very bad men. That’s not going to change,” Young added. “Here’s what changed. Women who have the ability, the wherewithal and the resources and the good judgment to know that moving indoors will protect them now have that legal option. They do not have to weigh their safety versus compliance with the law.”

Except that depending on where we go from here, I do believe that some of that can change for the positive.

I wasn’t able to address this ruling at the time, but want to give 1) a reasonable overview of the state of sex work and the people who oppose or engage in it, 2) straight(ish) talk about sex work and trans people, and 3) how Canada needs to move forward from this point… and how our Conservative government is instead already moving backward to criminalize sex work in other ways, including twisting the issue of human trafficking in order to target non-trafficked independent sex workers.

Jarrah provides an overview of the situation at Gender Focus, pointing out that there is a diversity of people who engage in sex work that needs to be considered:

“While there clearly are people who choose to be sex workers… there are clearly those who are trafficked into prostitution or forced into it by economic circumstances, sometimes compounded by drug addiction, mental health issues, and/or racism. Poverty can be a form of coercion….”

Which is true, but it should also be kept in mind that the three laws that were struck down weren’t much assistance in addressing actual exploitation, while they negatively affected autonomous people (often severely), and in some ways even made it harder for exploited women to escape the situations they found themselves in.

Until this ruling, the status quo had been to essentially drive some forms of sex work underground.  In practice, driving something underground forces it into the margins where only the most vulnerable / desperate and the most unscrupulous dared to tread.  It also drives away the support resources that a person would really need to escape the worst of it, either by intimidation, defunding and/or isolation of those who dare to support, or by creating an environment where the people one should be able to turn to for protection, information and assistance can no longer be trusted.

But I said some forms.  Sex work not only includes street-level work, but also escorting, stripping and/or lap dancing, professional domination (and submission), some massage enterprises, transient survival sex, the adult entertainment industry and more.  Some of these haven’t been targeted (or much less so, and sometimes they even can’t be targeted) by these laws.

Canada has the legacy of the women of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to consider, as well.  Here, criminalization clearly drove sex work underground, broke down any and all communication that could have existed between authorities and sex workers, any and all refuge that women could have found from the dangers, and perpetuated an environment in which girls remained easy prey.  It’s believed that 49 women were murdered over several years.  The authorities repeatedly missed clues, ignored leads and treated sex workers as incapable of providing any useful information:

“… in 1997 Pickton had been charged with attempted murder in connection with the stabbing of a sex worker. The woman survived and testified… that after driving her to the Port Coquitlam farm and having sex with her, Pickton slapped a handcuff on her left hand, and stabbed her in the abdomen. She also had stabbed Pickton. Later both she and Pickton were treated at the same hospital, where staff used a key they found in Pickton’s pocket to remove the handcuffs from the woman’s wrist. The attempted-murder charge against Pickton was stayed on January 27, 1998, because the woman had drug addiction issues and prosecutors believed her too unstable to testify. The clothes and rubber boots Pickton had been wearing that evening were seized by police and left in an RCMP storage locker for more than seven years. Not until 2004 did lab testing show that the DNA of two missing women were on the items seized from Pickton in 1997.”

(To be continued tomorrow)