Editorial – The Politics of Sex Work

So it seems our articles a few weeks ago on how some students are using sex work to fund their education were a bit prescient, as over the last week, Justice Minister Peter MacKay announced and tabled a new set of legislation to govern sex workers.

This new legislation comes in response to the Supreme Court shooting down the old legislation on the grounds that it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees to security of the person. The gist was that while selling sex for money was not illegal, living off of the avails of prostitution was, which forced sex workers into the streets and put them in at risk situations.

You might ask why the sale of sex wasn’t just made illegal in the first place, but when sex itself is legal, and the exchange of other goods is also legal, that makes it very difficult to define what exactly constitutes a sale. Is it a sale when a gift of flowers, chocolate, or jewellery is exchanged? What makes those different from a “gift” of money? There is also the difficulty that if selling sex is simply outlawed, then those selling it have no ability to go to the police without incriminating themselves, and this, with the recent experience of the Pickton murders, is part of what made the Supreme Court frown on the previous legislation. The rules against bawdy houses were so broad as to cause the exact same difficulties and risks.

However, the CPC has chosen to ignore these difficulties, and has created a law that, while it still allows the sale of sex, it is no longer legal for a person to purchase sex. Of course again the question comes up as what counts as a purchase? The legislation is silent on that, which provides no help for law enforcement agencies in determining what is or isn’t prostitution.

Another thing this new law does is makes it illegal for sex-trade workers to advertise their services in any place that might be populated by people under the age of 18, including the internet. Also, it maintains that anybody knowingly living off the avails of someone who does this is also guilty of an offense.

Now, if you’re following along, you may be asking, how is this different from what the Supreme Court has already struck down? The answer is, not very much. Of course, Justice Minister Peter Mackay has refused to say that he’ll take this legislation before the Supreme Court directly in order to make sure that it is legal, which means we can expect it to be challenged by someone and have our tax dollars spend defending it through years of litigation until it finally does reach the Supreme Court and, in all likelihood, struck down for the exact same reasons as the previous law. Whether the Supreme Court will be kind enough to provide another extension of the bad law as they did previously is unknown.

Some have argued that if we must take a moral stand somewhere, or how can we truly call ourselves civilized, and while there is some merit to that argument, I think the response can simply be summed up as, “The moral stance must first be to ensure we are not endangering people doing something which is legal.” When we force sex trade workers into the shadows and to be hidden when negotiating what is, for them, a perfectly legal activity, we are forcing them into danger and that isn’t right.

The question left is how much are we, the taxpayers, going to have to pay to sort this out for the CPC?

In other news, you’ll note that this is a shortened issue of The Voice Magazine. The Writer’s Toolbox is on a small hiatus as Christina Frey has simply gotten so busy with her editing company that something had to give, and The Writer’s Toolbox was part of that. So while we congratulate her on her business expanding, I have to hope, selfishly, it won’t get too successful and that she’ll have time to come back to us in the near future. Also missing are our Meeting the Minds and Samantha Stevens’ music reviews, but neither are expected to be permanent absences, just a bit of a break for each now that I’ve managed to go through the initial rush of content.

However, we still have most of our regular columnists, and I’ve had some nibbles from prospective writers as well, so while this week might be a bit of a lull, I’m hoping it’s because we’re just gearing up for even more and better.

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