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Tuesday
Dec092014

New Prostitution Laws: Celebrating a Milestone in the Fight Against Exploitation

By Julia Beazley, policy analyst

Saturday, December 6 was an historic day for Canada, and a day of deep personal reflection and gratitude for me. Canada’s new prostitution laws came into force, and for the first time in Canadian history, buying or attempting to buy sex is illegal. 

These new laws represent a paradigm shift in law and policy, and eventually, we hope, in public attitude about prostitution. This shift is critical to achieving real success in reducing – and ultimately eliminating sexual exploitation.

By criminalizing the purchase of sex, the new laws directly challenge the long-held assumption that men are entitled to paid sexual access to primarily women and children’s bodies. It all also boldly refutes the notion that buying sex is an inevitable in our society, simply because it’s a practice that has ‘always been.’ By challenging the unchecked demand for paid sex, the new laws send the message that women and children are not, and should not be for sale. This approach effectively turns the historic treatment of prostitution on its head.

Legal and political treatment of prostitution – as well as public discourse on the subject – have long focused almost exclusively on those who are prostituted and how we should deal with them: as a public nuisance, as a threat to public health, and a source of community disruption. But sex buyers, who drive the demand that funnels women into prostitution and holds them there, have been largely invisible. These laws correctly identify demand as the driving force behind prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation. And they focus their attention on the purchasers and purveyors of prostitution – the buyers, pimps and traffickers. 

The preamble to Bill C-36 states that prostitution is inherently exploitive and dangerous, that objectification of the human body and commodification of sexual activity causes social harm, and that prostitution violates both human dignity and equality between the sexes. These laws are a victory for women’s equality, because all women and girls are safer in a society where it is understood that they are not for sale. 

The other important thing the new laws do is initiate a critical shift in how prostituted persons are viewed in law. Historically, those who are prostituted have been treated as a public nuisance. The new laws reframe this understanding, recognizing that the vast majority of individuals in prostitution are not there by choice. The Government has made it clear that in the spirit and intent of the law, those who are prostituted are to be seen as victims of exploitation, and are therefore afforded immunity from criminal charges, except under certain specific circumstances. It is not illegal to sell one’s own sexual services under the new laws, unless the selling takes place in a public location that is near a school, daycare or community centre. 

The EFC remains concerned about the continued potential for criminalization of prostituted individuals, because criminalizing vulnerable individuals creates barriers to their exit from prostitution and further entrenches the inequality and marginalization that got them there.

This potential means the question of enforcement is an especially important one. How can we be sure that the spirit and intent of the new laws will be upheld when it comes to enforcement? We have asked that the Government develop standardized training for law enforcement, provincial Attorneys General and Crown Attorneys about the new treatment of prostitution under the laws, to support enforcement that is consistent with the intent of the legislation. Effective implementation will take time, co-operation and communication.

Along with the change in laws, the Government has made a commitment of $20-million to support programs assisting individuals exiting prostitution. While this funding will be paired with investments from the provinces, the amount will not be sufficient to meet the need across the country. It will be important that the Government engage with the provincial, territorial and municipal governments, along with a wide range of stakeholders – including faith communities – in the development of a comprehensive national plan to ensure the social policies and programs are in place to both prevent vulnerable individuals from entering prostitution and to support those who are in as they exit. 

December 6, 2014 marks a significant milestone in our journey toward ending sexual exploitation, but it is certainly not the end. There is much work yet to do. The new laws will have a normative effect on society, but it will take time, and the laws can’t do it on their own. Already, the media are giving a great deal of attention to those who oppose them, so a meaningful cultural shift has yet to come. We need to continue to work together to change the way our society views prostitution, and actively challenge the attitudes and mindsets that creature the culture where prostitution is accepted and the demand for it flourishes. 

And finding meaningful ways for the Church to engage in the lives of those who are exploited is now perhaps more important than ever. There will be more to do on the political front in terms of improving laws and government policies, but the Church has a role to play and, together with our partners at Defend Dignity, we are committed to helping equip her to do it well. 

But today, we take time to celebrate what is a major turning point in the fight against exploitation, to celebrate with our allies and with our survivor teachers and friends.  And certainly to thank all of you who prayed with us and for us, whose hearts were moved, and who were moved to take action. It is remarkable what can be accomplished when we work and pray together.

On a personal note, I am deeply grateful for all of the allies, co-labourers and co-belligerents along this journey – frontline agencies and service providers, women’s organizations, faith-based organizations, advocacy groups, law enforcement and determined leaders in government – some who share our faith, and many who don’t. We found common ground and purpose, and committed to learning from and working together, and it was a very rich experience. And I am especially thankful for the many survivors and survivor organizations who allowed us to stand and fight alongside them. Each has taught me, challenged me, inspired me, equipped me and changed me in ways I will forever be grateful for.

Our work is not done. So we will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with survivors, allies and the church community, and fight for freedom and justice for those who are oppressed, vulnerable and marginalized. 

 

Monday
Jul282014

Evangelicals are a convenient target in the prostitution debate

Julia Beazley is a policy analyst with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

 Much attention is being paid to the role of Evangelical Christian voices — or those deemed Evangelical by association — in the debate over Bill C-36, the new proposed prostitution law. For some time now, those in favour of decriminalizing prostitution have been trying to frame the debate in us-and-them terms, “them” being evangelical groups with abolitionist views on prostitution.

After the Supreme Court heard the Bedford case, I remember listening to interviews with co-applicant Valerie Scott and lawyer Alan Young, and being surprised to hear them singling out “the Evangelicals” and seeking to discredit our arguments as moralistic. Although one of the main parties opposing the court challenge was an impressive coalition of national women’s organizations and survivor groups, they chose to use valuable airtime to talk about what the Evangelicals had to say — or rather, what they assumed the Evangelicals had to say , which wasn’t what we’d said at all.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has a reputation for mounting well-researched, well-informed and well-reasoned arguments. On this issue in particular, we are well-connected with women’s groups and frontline organizations, and most importantly with survivors of prostitution and the groups representing them. Their stories, their voices and their experiences have very much shaped and informed our position on the issue.

It’s particularly disheartening, then, to see some survivor voices discredited as either Evangelical or connected to Evangelicals. It is true that some have found faith — Evangelical or not — in their journey out of prostitution. But that does not, and should not in any way, negate their lived experiences or the strength of their voices in this debate.

Why the consistent focus on the Evangelical angle? It seems fairly transparent, actually. It is far easier to seek to discredit our voice — and those aligned with us by association — than it is to contend with the multitude of voices of survivors and women’s groups who take the same abolitionist position.

It would be ridiculous to suggest that the many survivors advocating for laws that target the demand for paid sex don’t know what they’re talking about. Or that the many women’s organizations and frontline service providers don’t understand the realities of prostitution. Or that the police, the Manitoba Attorney-General, prominent lawyers and researchers are simply being moralistic in their positioning.

We are motivated by the belief that all people have inherent dignity and worth, and should not be treated as objects for another’s gratification or profit

But, oh, the Evangelicals. Far simpler to discredit us, and the whole abolitionist perspective along with us, as though we were its only or main proponent.

The EFC is guided by biblical principles that compel care for the vulnerable and inform the duty of care we owe one another as human beings. We are motivated by the belief that all people have inherent dignity and worth, and should not be treated as objects for another’s gratification or profit.

We share the widely held position that prostitution is rooted in the historical subordination of women and is, at its core, a form of violence, inequality and exploitation. We are passionate about working towards a society where all people — and in this case particularly women and children — can live free from exploitation, in all its forms.

Many organizations serving our nation’s most vulnerable and victimized are run and staffed by people of faith. This is a public good. A faith that gets to work and gets its hands dirty is faith at its best.

And so the EFC has been engaged in the debate about our prostitution laws, intervening before the Supreme Court, advocating for the abolition of prostitution before our parliamentarians, and testifying before the Justice Committee about the strengths and weaknesses of Bill C-36. We do this because we care deeply about the issue and the people affected, as do the many evangelicals across the country we have the privilege of representing.

We’re flattered by the attention, but not at the expense of the voices of survivors. What they have to say in this debate cannot — must not — be ignored. To obscure their voices beneath a manufactured controversy about why Evangelicals are at the table is disingenuous. Let’s refocus the debate on what matters most.

National Post

 

Tuesday
Jun032014

Every Woman, Every Child: Working Together to Reduce Deaths From Pregnancy to Age Five

EFC President Bruce J. Clemenger participated in the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Summit held by Federal Government last week in Toronto. He reflects on how the issues relate to all Canadians.

The numbers are staggering: 6.6 million children under 5 dying each year around the world due to malnutrition and disease; 289,000 women dying during pregnancy or childbirth. That translates into 18,000 children dying each day by preventable causes, with 40% dying in the first month, and 15% in the first 24 hours. 

The majority of the mothers are between 15 and 19 years old. The death of mothers often leaves surviving children as parentless – orphans – in desperate and volatile situations.  

Such huge numbers can numb us and make us feel helpless. But the situation isn’t hopeless. Since 1990 the number if deaths of children has been almost halved from 12.6 million. And maternal mortality has dramatically declined from 523,000 in 1990.

Most of the deaths are preventable. What is needed is the will, resources and effective strategies. And underlying these, compassion and generosity. 

For its part, the Canadian government has made maternal health and newborn and child mortality the primary focus of its international policy and aid. 

In 1990, countries around the world committed themselves to the Millennium Development Goals, eight priorities that included child mortality and maternal health. The specific aim is to reduce child mortality by two thirds and maternal mortality by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015.

The Prime Minister has made these two goals a Canadian priority and a personal focus. Canada has become a world leader in the pursuit of these goals and recently committed more funds for the years 2015 to 2020, promising more funding than the experts were asking for. 

Of course, government focus and funding are necessary but not sufficient to accomplish this task. The key for success is collaboration among a plurality of stakeholders on the points of consensus. Governments have the financial resources necessary to make a significant difference, and they can work collaboratively on a government-to-government basis with countries where maternal and child mortality are acute. (Only 11 countries account for 60% of the mortality.) 

But governments cannot do it alone. In Canada the government has partnered with a broad range of Canadian agencies that have proven track records and on-the-ground expertise in caring for women and children overseas. As we would expect, some of these are Christian agencies that work collaboratively with local indigenous agencies, including churches, in caring for the world’s most vulnerable. They have been doing this long before governments became involved. They are the hands and feet of compassion and mercy, providing services to women and their children.

The only controversy is the government’s refusal to fund abortion services. In its decision the government is respecting the diversity of views of Canadians and is focusing on strategies that do not pit the life of the mother against the life of her child, but on those that seek the well-being of both. All involved agree the projects the government is funding (combatting disease, improving nutrition and health systems) are necessary and will make a difference to issues related to poverty and homelessness, education and healthcare. 

This is a good news story about governments and non-governmental agencies coming together.

The inestimable worth of children, the importance and value of mothers and motherhood, and caring for vulnerable persons have been distinguishing characteristics of Christianity. Christianity has nourished a worldview that fosters a radically different view of disease and disability. As a result, medical care and caring for the most vulnerable have been integral to Christian mission since the church was birthed. 

Our faith also teaches us to be compassionate, to love our neighbours and to be generous with our time, resources and abilities.

The church, both in Canada and overseas, has an important part to play in this initiative, by encouraging governments to do good, by demonstrating and encouraging compassion and generosity among our neighbours, and partnering through Canadian churches and agencies with organizations and churches overseas who are not only the immediate neighbours of those who need our help, but among them.  

The need and the numbers are immense, but the call to compassion and generosity is not contingent on what we think is possible. It is an expression of our love for God and our neighbours. 

Tuesday
Apr012014

Increasing Abortion Access in Canada? Approving RU-486, Part 2

Health Canada is currently considering an application for RU-486, a prescription medication that would provide Canadian women with greater access to a non-surgical method of abortion.  What is this drug and how might it impact Canadian women? This post is the second in a series of three which will examine the drug, its effects, and the medical and political implications should Health Canada approve its use.

How Does the Health Canada Approval Process Work?

The Health Canada approval process begins after a drug has been tested in preclinical and clinical trials. Through a variety of laboratory and animal testing, pre-clinical trials are designed to determine if the drug will produce the intended result. The preclinical data must support the notion that the drug is non-toxic and safe. Then, an application is submitted to the Therapeutic Products Directorate (TPD) of Health Canada. Once this application is approved, the drug is then clinically tested on humans.  

After preclinical testing, clinical testing and with supporting data collection, the sponsor may file a “New Drug Submission” with the TPD. Information and data on the drug are attached to the submission. The information and data outline the safety, effectiveness and quality of the drug as well as the production details, packaging and labeling details, information regarding therapeutic claims, its side effects and results of both the preclinical and clinical testing. The TPD’s review is an assessment to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks. If the conclusion is “yes” then the drug is issued a Notice of Compliance and a Drug Identification Number which allows the sponsor to market the drug in Canada.

Where is RU-486 at in the Approval Process?

RU-486 has been in the approval process since 2001. Clinical studies were conducted, halted and then re-started. In December 2012, Health Canada received an application to consider RU-486 for marketing.

 It is unclear where the application now sits in the process. Up until January of this year Health Canada refused to acknowledge the existence of an application to approve RU-486.

On the government level, it still remains that no Canadian law has been passed to regulate abortions since the law was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1988 R. v. Morgentaler decision. In that case, the Supreme Court of Canada noted that the existing law put women at risk because of the law’s uneven application based on geographic location; and, that Parliament had the jurisdiction to enact legislation to limit or prohibit abortion. Prime Minister Harper has stated that abortion is not on the agenda for discussion.

The Health Canada process stands officially independent from the government that funds it.

Is RU-486 a Pro-Woman Drug?

RU-486 is not a pro-woman drug.

Considering this drug from several perspectives yields the same result.  While RU-486 would provide greater access to abortion for women in Canada, that access would come with a cost.

The cost of RU-486 is measured by Health Canada in terms of gains vs. losses. If the gains or “benefits” of RU-486 outweigh the losses or “risks” then it is deemed as a “success” in the drug approval process. Consequently the same method is being used to measure the value of the life of a woman or a child in the womb.  Measuring the well-being of a woman or child on such a scale does not advocate on their behalf or bring justice.

Information on RU-486 and its long term effects is scarce and much may be unreported. However, RU-486 and induced abortion can have long term effects such as: maternal or fetal death; uterine hyperstimulation; risk of hysterectomy; uterine rupture or perforation; later risk of premature births; risk of preterm delivery; chronic pelvic pain as a result of a pelvic infection, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and possible deformation of the child in the womb are all possible side effects.

RU-486 doesn’t just impact women medically. It takes a toll psychologically and emotionally. Any woman choosing to take RU-486 experiences a painful process that takes at least two weeks. This painful process is accompanied by the “passing” of the aborted baby. When the first pill is taken the baby is starved of the nutrients needed to sustain life, which means a deceased child may be carried in the womb for up to a week before being able to take the second pill to expel the baby. Because RU-486 can be taken up to about two months into the pregnancy, the baby may already have formed a discernable head and limbs. Women have found this both psychologically and emotionally taxing.

There is much more to consider than temporary side effects, choice or giving a woman a sense of control over her abortion.

A woman must live with this choice forever. What happens when the relief of her choice wears off, or “control” over the abortion leaves her feeling the opposite? For some women, once the finality of the personal choice sets in, there is an overwhelming sense of responsibility for the death of a child. In one report, a U.S. woman was hospitalized after trying to commit suicide subsequent to just such a chemical abortion.  A New Zealand study noted that young women who undergo abortions are more likely to display suicidal behaviour, depression, substance abuse, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental disorders.  Other studies conducted by Dr. David Reardon describe a correlation between abortion and mental health issues such as sleep disorders and child abuse. The psychological and emotional scars from RU-486 are real and permanent. It is much more than just taking a few pills and waiting.

Thursday
Mar062014

Increasing Abortion Access in Canada? Approving RU-486, Part 1

Health Canada is currently considering an application for RU-486, a prescription medication that would provide Canadian women with greater access to a non-surgical method of abortion.  What is this drug and how might it impact Canadian women? This post is the first in a series of three which will examine the drug, its effects, and the medical and political implications should Health Canada approve its use.

What is RU-486?
RU-486 is an abortion pill. RU-486 has been legalized, not without controversy, in 57 countries worldwide. In January 2014, Health Canada Deputy Minister George Da Pont confirmed that a pharmaceutical company has sought the drug’s approval for use in Canada. Practically speaking, this means that Canadian women would have yet another form of access to abortion. RU-486 would be an alternative to the standard surgical processes.  Canada has yet to legalize this method of abortion.

This abortion method is referred to as a chemical or medical abortion. The abortion is caused by a combination of two separate medications: Mifeprex and Misoprostol.

Has it Been Used in Canada?
Yes, in 2001 there was a drug trial of RU-486 in Canada. The drug trial was halted that same year after use of RU-486 resulted in the death of a woman. She suffered Toxic Shock Syndrome brought on by a bacterial infection related to her chemical (RU-486) abortion.

How Does RU-486 Work?
RU-486 works chemically to counteract the hormone crucial for sustaining pregnancy, progesterone. Mifeprex (mifepristone) binds to the progesterone receptor site in place of the progesterone hormone. It does this with twice the strength of progesterone, which enables the Mifeprex to ‘beat’ the progesterone hormone to its receptor site. The resulting failure of the progesterone to bind to the receptor sites causes placental failure. The failure of the placenta causes the developing embryonic child to lose the necessary nutrition and oxygen needed for development and survival, resulting in death.

Use of RU-486 is a multi-day process. On the first day, a woman takes three 200mg tablets of Mifeprex. On the third day, she takes two 200mg tablets of Misoprostol. Misoprostol is taken in conjunction with Mifeprex because it induces contractions. As a result, the woman experiences a forced miscarriage, a chemically induced abortion.

On the 14th day, it is recommended that the woman return to her doctor for a post-treatment appointment—to confirm that a “complete termination” has occurred. If the chemical abortion has failed, the patient would undergo a surgical termination to complete the abortion process.

What Are the Side Effects?
There are many side effects associated with RU-486. The most common of the 2,207 adverse side effects are

  • bleeding
  • nausea
  • abdominal pain
  • uterine hemorrhaging, and
  • vomiting

As the drug’s 2001 Canadian trial was short-lived, it is worthwhile to examine the experience of the American women who have used the drug.

According to a recent report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, between September 2000 and the end of April 2011, 612 American women needed to be hospitalized due to their use of RU-486. 339 women received a blood transfusion due to blood loss and 256 woman developed infections. Out of those 256 women, 48 of them developed “severe infections” (which often included death or hospitalization) due to RU-486.  150,000 American women experienced serious bleeding after taking RU-486. Tragically, 14 women have died in the U.S. as a result of using RU-486.

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