Question: What does it take for ultra-conservative National Post columnists Michael Den Tandt and John Ivison to turn against Stephen Harper?
Answer: A prostitution law that is so ill-advised, badly drafted and ass-backward that it could only be seen as a yet another slap in the face to our country’s highest court and a half-baked effort to appease social conservatives among this government’s core constituency.
Since I just returned from a major law conference at the University of Manitoba last weekend, I can say with some confidence, that there was not a single participant (student or professor) with anything kind to say about the Harper government’s current legislative agenda. Little wonder when they continually ignore all expert legal advice, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, criminologists, sociologists, their own Department of Justice and even common sense, in order to put forward laws that are almost purely ideological, like their proposed reform of criminal code provisions dealing with prostitution.
Exhibit A: Back in January as part of their annual polling of the general public, the government commissioned an Ipsos Reid poll (at a hefty $175,000 price tag) that apparently revealed, among other things, that Canadians are at odds with the Harperistas stance on the sex-trade, which is exactly what a DOJ internal memo accompanying the report warned the Minister. This is precisely the opposite conclusion that Peter “G.I. Joe” MacKay wanted and so the government, is delaying the release of the comprehensive poll in favour of the slapdash “online consultation” hastily put together by Ministry flacks that is more supportive of its attempts to eliminate the so called oldest profession in the world. While the new law targets their customers, it also manages to make life much harder for sex-workers, by banning their ability to advertise, banning them from working anywhere where they might come into contact with minors ( in other words, EVERYWHERE) and making it illegal for them to employ others.
But the immunity to science and reason doesn’t stop there. There is also the ignored Vancouver study published by researchers from the University of British Columbia in the British Medical Journal, that involved interviews with prostitutes and documented the Vancouver police department’s fruitless scheme to punish johns in that city. The so called “Nordic” or “Swedish model”, transparently being rebranded by MacKay as the “Canadian model”, according to the findings of the UBC study, has made life impossible for sex-workers who complain about strained relations with law enforcement and lack of access to vital services that could be a matter of life or death for many of them.
Instead, they appear to be relying an old (1997) discredited policy from the Vancouver police department that aimed to eradicate the scourge of prostitutes by threatening them with arrest if they ply their trade near residences, community centres, parks or schools.
The irony being that the bill will neither appease the social conservatives, for whom only fully outlawing the sex-trade is the only solution, that it’s aimed at, nor satisfy its many critics whether it be judges, legal experts, politicians, sociologists or the sex-trade workers themselves, for whom the new restrictions represent a massive blow. Harper apparently sold the bill to his religious right caucus members, by claiming that this compromise was the only way of keeping the sex-trade from being normalized legally. And in another attempt to sell the bill to caucus, Harper has also included 20 million in funding to save the wayward souls that work in the industry that the bill naturally assumes are miserable and need help from big brother to change their wicked ways and get back on the straight and narrow.
The sad thing is that Harper had just recently gotten some positive law related press with his nomination of a universally admired new Quebec Justice , Clément Gascon, to replace Morris Fish on the bench of the Supreme Court.
Welcome news, in the wake of the Nadon disaster. But it seems that our Prime Minister simply can’t make his peace with the Red Robes of the Court, and is once again on a collision course with them over the issue of sex-workers’ rights.
With such glaring constitutional flaws, no wonder my colleagues in the academic community are all talking about a sequel to the Bedford case. As Francois Boivin, Justice Critic for the NDP said, everyone expects there to be a second Bedford type challenge on the grounds of a Charter rights violation. May I suggest the following as a title, Bedford 2: This time it’s personal!
Other articles by David DesBaillets
Supreme Court Chief latest victim of the Harper shoot-the-messenger policy
Chickens coming home to roost on “open nominations” promise
What’s really behind the silence of Harper on the trial of Fahmy in Egypt
Harper has a bad day in court
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