Once there was a silly old ram
Thought he’d punch a hole in a dam
No one could make that ram scram
He kept buttin’ that dam. – Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen, “High Hopes”
In my column of September 29th I reported that the Supreme Court of Ontario had at least temporarily struck down the asinine laws which make it impossible for prostitutes, whose profession is legal in Canada, to perform almost any professional activity without crossing into illegality. That decision will not take effect until two weeks from today, and even longer if the judge grants the Canadian federal government’s request to suspend her decision while the years-long appeal process grinds on and on, meaning current working prostitutes would probably be retired and past menopause before the decision actually takes effect if the government has its way. Which is, of course, what the politicians want; they keep hoping we’ll forget all this and go away, and failing that they hope to deter our progress until they retire from politics and leave the next generation to deal with us.
The Ontario decision represents only one tiny crack in a very large and solid dam, but many such tiny cracks can weaken even the toughest structure so that one day it may yield to other pressures upon it. And today I’m happy to report another such crack in the structure; just as the judge in Ontario “saw through the lies and the propaganda and the hysteria and actually listened to what three members of one of the last remaining oppressed groups on the face of the Earth had to say,” (if I may be allowed to quote myself), so two judges in British Columbia Tuesday overturned a sleazy colleague’s attempt to prevent a group of prostitutes from having their day in court there. This report is paraphrased from an article in the Vancouver Sun:
A group of sex workers in British Columbia has won the right to challenge Canada’s prostitution laws after another judge had dismissed their case on a technicality. In a 2-1 ruling Tuesday (October 12th), the British Columbia Court of Appeal found that former Vancouver sex worker Sheryl Kiselbach and an association of Downtown Eastside sex workers have “standing” to challenge the constitutionality of Canada’s prostitution laws. The appellate court’s decision overturns a December, 2008 ruling from British Columbia Supreme Court Justice William Ehrcke that the case couldn’t proceed because none of the plaintiffs were currently charged with any prostitution-related offences. Kiselbach’s lawyers appealed that decision, arguing it was unreasonable to expect active sex workers to come forward by name to challenge the law because they could face everything from public stigma to investigation by child-protection authorities. Because the Court of Appeal’s decision was split, the Canadian federal government has an automatic right of appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, but messages left by the Vancouver Sun for the Department of Justice in Ottawa inquiring about that possible appeal were not immediately returned.
At a news conference Tuesday, Kiselbach said she was “pleased and relieved” with the Court of Appeal’s ruling; she said laws restricting prostitution make sex workers reluctant to report violence to police and make it harder to work indoors, where they would be safer. “I would like them to have options, to be able to work safely without fear of the law,” said Kiselbach, who left the sex trade in 2001.
Writing for the majority, Justice Mary Saunders noted that one of the reasons Kiselbach brought forward her case was the “notorious missing women investigation in Vancouver” and that challenging the law should not be overly difficult for vulnerable groups. Katrina Pacey, a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society who is representing Kiselbach, said the court’s ruling should make it easier for other marginalized groups to bring court challenges in the future. “It’s absolutely paramount to have access to our court system,” said Pacey. “This is a case we think will have a broad impact.”
Last month Ontario’s Superior Court struck down the laws against running a bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living off the avails of prostitution, but that decision only applies in Ontario and the federal government has asked the judge to suspend her decision while it appeals. Nonetheless, Pacey said the Ontario ruling is “very encouraging” and noted many of the experts relied on in that case will be called on in British Columbia as well.
Following the Ontario ruling, prohibitionists and alarmists claimed that decriminalizing the sex industry could make Canada a haven for sex tourists and “traffickers,” but Pacey noted that decriminalization in other places such as New Zealand has made prostitutes’ lives safer while not leading to any great expansion of the industry. “It’s not like mega-mall brothels are opening on every street,” she said. Pacey said the goal of Kiselbach’s challenge is to improve the safety of sex workers, and noted that if decriminalized, prostitutes would be subject to the same workplace safety and employment laws of any other legal business.
Now, it’s possible and even likely that the case may go against the prostitutes, but at least they’ll have a chance to make their case rather than being gagged by a judge who intended to silence them. I suspect this case is going to be tougher than the one in Ontario; if three or four provinces all overturn the anti-prostitution laws the Canadian Supreme Court may be tempted to let the decisions stand, so the prohibitionists will be pulling out their big guns to shoot us down in British Columbia. Canadian politicians are just as sleazy, Canadian citizens just as ignorant and accepting of stereotypes and Canadian neofeminists just as rabid and dishonest as their American cousins, so striking down whore suppression legislation in Canada will still be an uphill battle despite the Ontario precedent. Consider, for instance, this collection of caustic lies written last week by Daphne Bramham, a neofeminist editorialist for the Vancouver Sun; you can practically see the foam on her lips as you read it. First she trots out the usual collection of made-up statistics I’ve already discussed (including the newest one, the outrageous lie that the average prostitute starts working at 14). Next she makes the bizarre statement “Selling sex is dehumanizing and soul-destroying to most of the people who do it. That’s not a moral judgment. It’s fact,” which any high-school student who has taken a class in critical thinking could deconstruct. She then proceeds to quote the anti-prostitution opinions of two neofeminist lawyers, one of whom helped draft a petition the anti-sex “Canadian Federation of University Women” sent to the Ottawa government a few months ago to demand that Canada adopt the “Nordic Model”, which pretends to “help” prostitutes by viciously persecuting their clients; Bramham refers to this brutal repression of human rights with the Orwellian phrase, “educating citizens that buying sex is violence and a violation of fundamental human rights.” The word you’re looking for is “re-educating”, Miss Bramham, as in “re-education camp”.
But fortunately, indoctrinated anti-sex crusaders like Bramham are no longer the majority. As I discussed in my column of September 28th, many of the more intelligent members of society now recognize the absurdity and tyranny of prostitution laws, and articles like this one by Monica Shores from the October 9th Huffington Post (which could barely have been published twenty years ago) have become much more numerous. Read Bramham’s vulgar, head-spinning rant with its appeals to emotion and demands that the reader unequivocally accept the unqualified truth of its neofeminist dogma, and then read Shores’ calmly damning indictment of the neofeminist propagandists Bramham worships, and I think you’ll see why so many intelligent people have begun to turn against the witch-burners. Intellectually and morally speaking, the prohibitionists haven’t got a leg to stand on in a free society, so they are forced to resort to lies, fake statistics and “Think of the children!” alarmism in order to distract their audience from the little man behind the curtain, while all those promoting freedom of choice have to do is present the facts and encourage their readers to think for themselves.
Once those who recognize prostitution law for what it is, a brutal and tyrannical suppression of a woman’s right to have sex on her own terms, become the majority, politicians will be forced to relent as they have in so many other countries if they wish to remain in office. It isn’t going to happen soon; the Unholy Trinity of Big Brother, Fundamentalism and Neofeminism is powerful and entrenched and has public apathy and ignorance on its side. But slowly, over time, cracks will accumulate in that dam until the day when the ram succeeds in punching a hole in it and the whole oppressive structure comes down on the prohibitionists’ heads.