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Bill C-268, why wasn't the vote unanimous?

Of course, we would have liked to have seen a unanimous vote in favour of private member's Bill C-268, minimum sentences for trafficking of children. So, why wasn't the vote unanimous?

On reading some recent media reports, it seems that there is a mistaken impression - one I think shared by some MPs - that Bill C-268 was government legislation. Bill C-268 is a private member's bill introduced by Joy Smith (Kildonan-St. Paul) which ended up receiving support of the governing Conservative Party. Mrs. Smith is a member of the Conservative Party and her crusade against human trafficking is broader than this single piece of legislation, but private member's bills are just that, a single piece of legislation.

Bill C-268 is a beneficial amendment to the human trafficking sections of the Criminal Code which were established under a Liberal Party government in 2004. Bill C-268 is a good piece of legislation to draw attention to a horrible situation that exists in our Canada at a time that highlights the now well established historic connection between an increase in trafficking of mostly women and young girls for the purpose of prostitution that occurs in venues hosting major world events, in our case the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

Bill C-268 is not a government bill or the answer to Canada's child or adult trafficking problems. There is more to be done, and that more would be best facilitated by government action on this issue (Please note that when I suggest more government action, I do not minimize the important role that an engaged Christian community has to play in identifying possible trafficking situations and caring for victims. Witness the excellent work of The Salvation Army in this area.).

In light of the more that can be done, let's consider some of those who voted against Bill C-268 on third reading in the House of Commons whose names have featured prominently in some national media stories. Both individuals stood out partly because of their vote, but also because they are women in a national party.

Megan Leslie (Halifax) spoke during debate on C-268. Her reasons are best expressed in her words as recorded in Hansard, the official record of Parliament. A lot of what Ms. Leslie says in this presentation is good advice for government action to combat human trafficking. I disagree with her conclusion, voting against the Bill. I agree that this measure could have been presented as part of a better developed government strategy, but will honour the efforts of Joy Smith and others, accept the step taken in C-268 (hoping for speedy passage in the Senate), applaud the public support generated for the initiative and join Ms. Leslie and other Canadians asking for that government strategy to comprise the next steps in dealing with this modern day slavery.

In my grade 12 calculus class, this would have been worth about 75 to 85% for following the right process, having the formula thrown off by one mistake and thus arriving at the wrong conclusion.

Libby Davies (Vancouver East) has been pilloried for voting against C-268 on third reading when she represents a riding that is prime territory for the abuses of human trafficking for the sex trade. Ms. Davies has represented the riding through 5 elections beginning in 1997. For this reason, some have accused her of favouring prostitution because it has existed in increasing numbers in her riding during her tenure. Again, in her own words, Ms. Davies has denied this allegation and identified similar concerns to those of Ms. Leslie as her reason for voting against the bill.

There seems to be agreement that more action needs to be taken. The Conservatives have joined Mrs. Smith's initiative, the Liberals are historically in favour of taking the necessary steps for legal assault against traffickers and two NDP MPs have offered up some sound overall strategy. Perhaps, rather than asking why the vote wasn't unanimous we should begin to wonder how long it will be before the next steps are taken. February 12, 2010 draws nearer every day.




Quebec MDs and euthanasia

Yesterday, the Federation des Medecins Specialistes du Quebec (FMSQ) released results of a survey of their membership in which 3/4 of respondents indicate support for the concept of euthanasia. The FMSQ is a collective of 35 different specialists organizations, interestingly none of them being palliative care specialists.

A story in today's National Post accurately quotes me as comparing euthanasia with capital punishment, however the analogy is not completed in the text.

"The laws in our country don't forbid suicide but they do forbid helping someone to take someone's life and there's good reason for that," he said. "An individual may have a moment of expression about dying without a genuine desire to really do so. Look at the number of people who have been let out of prison because we found out they didn't commit a crime. If we had the death penalty, we wouldn't be able to do that."

The completed analogy is that just as a momentary decision on capital punishment can have irrevocable consequences, so too would such a decision in regard to euthanasia or assisted suicide.

The story also quotes Dr. Jose Pereira, director of palliative care at the Bruyere Continuing Care Centre in Ottawa. I have had the privilege of listening to Dr. Pereira speak about his experiences with palliative care in Canada and in jurisdictions where euthanasia is legal. This is a man who has experienced the deep frustrations of seeing inadequately trained doctors choose euthanasia when palliative care would have relieved pain and extended life. He has also experienced the joys of seeing doctors whose eyes are opened to an understanding of contemporary palliative care treatments reverse any thoughts they might have had about the benefits of legal euthanasia.

Dr. Pereira is not the only palliative care specialist in the country. However, even the FMSC report notes strong support for the use of palliative sedation. The report also notes the division in understanding in regard to palliative sedation among specialists not trained in palliative care.

What we need is not authorization for doctors to end patient's lives, but better training for doctors to end patient's pain.

I stand by the other quote attributed to me in the National Post:

"I'm more likely to trust a doctor more interested in relieving my pain than a doctor who may have a willingness to take my life."




Can Prostitution be a Safe, Legal Career Option?

National media have been buzzing with word of three sex-trade workers pursuing a challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms against Canada’s prostitution laws in an Ontario court. They are asking a judge to invalidate three Criminal Code provisions that make it illegal to run a bawdy house, to communicate for the purposes of prostitution, and to live off the avails of prostitution. Their message?  We can’t possibly do worse at protecting vulnerable women than we are now.

Even if this is true, would changing Canadian law so that it becomes legal – and socially acceptable – for men to purchase women for sexual services really be a step forward in protecting vulnerable, victimized women?

In an editorial October 7, the National Post called for the legalization of the sex trade. The Post argued it is unreasonable to disagree that current laws fail to protect women. That may be the case. But it is unrealistic, dishonest and simplistic to suggest that the answer is to do away with laws in regard to prostitution altogether.

Some suggest laws to fully legalize and move the sex trade indoors would better protect women. Could this be true? Robert Pickton preyed on women who existed on the very margins of society. His victims were struggling to exist on the bottom rung of the sex trade ladder. They weren’t working in what is known as “high track” prostitution – and it is doubtful that the most desperate and addicted would be found working indoors in the bawdy houses, massage parlours and escort services that would surely proliferate if the Charter challenge is successful. 

The Post editorial says, “… every Canadian metropolis, at any moment, has a large collection of 'missing’ women who live in a precarious demimonde of disconnectedness and invisibility. They make easy prey for sociopaths, since the furtive, illegal nature of their work requires that they jump into the cars of strangers after a few seconds of commercial negotiation. If they don’t show up at ‘work’ the next morning, they aren’t missed – except perhaps by their pimps (who must surely rank among the biggest supporters of the current legal regime). In regards to the larger society, they get noticed only when their remains pile up high enough to attract statistical attention.”

There is nothing in this clever bit of prose that compels me to believe we should legalize and normalize prostitution. Rather, it confirms that as a society we should be doing our best to ensure these women don’t go missing; that no one feels selling their body is essential for survival.

Prostituting one’s self is seldom a question of “lifestyle choice”. The women murdered by Pickton were not engaged in the sex trade because it seemed like the best of a range of possible life-giving and self-fulfilling options they had before them. They were representative of those trapped in the sex trade – either trafficked in against their will or forced to sell their bodies for a cruel survival.

Eliminating these prostitution laws will do nothing to protect the most vulnerable women. In fact, it might well have the opposite effect, pushing the most desperate and least desirable further to the margins of life and uncertainty.

And for those who ‘passed muster’ and found work in a bawdy house or the like - would they really be any safer indoors? Or, would it not just afford would-be abusers greater privacy?

A few days ago on facebook, my friend Natasha Falle, a former sex trade worker, a much sought after speaker and teacher on the subject, and a strong advocate for and resource to women in the sex trade (especially those seeking a way out) said this in her status update:

 “Pro-prostitution groups don’t represent all people involved in the sex trade. They claim indoor prostitution would be safe if it weren’t for laws, and only street prostitutes are at risk of violence, drug addiction and pimp abuse. This is a lie, and it is a betrayal to street peers.

My experience has taught me that there is violence wherever there are closed doors. Whether this happens behind home doors, hotel doors or car doors; there's violence. “

Natasha is right, of course. Nicole Parisien, a 33 year old Aboriginal woman, was working “inside” when she was beaten and strangled to death in 2007. Ms. Parisien advertised her services online, and prostituted herself in an apartment building under the watch of a security camera. This did not protect her life.

The men who abuse and kill vulnerable women have no regard for laws governing assault, murder and manslaughter. Why should we think they would respect legalized indoor prostitution?

It is not the law that puts these women in danger. It is poverty of relationships and resources, exploitation and deception, homelessness and addiction that drive women to desperation. It is also the notion that somehow it’s okay to buy another person for use as a sex object. And it is the “johns” and the pimps, interested solely in their own gratification, who exploit and use some of the most vulnerable women (and boys, and men) in our society.

Perhaps our laws do need to be changed, but not in the fashion proposed by the three or the Post.  Perhaps, Canadian laws governing prostitution should instead focus on those who exploit – the johns and the pimps. There is no justice in laws that serve to further victimize the victims, the women, girls and boys ensnared in the sex trade. There is also no justice in seeking to normalize what is – with only rare exceptions – a tragic consequence of poverty, desperation and a myriad of unhealthy societal realities.

Over a decade ago, Canadians were encouraged to compare our health to those of sixty year old Swedes. Perhaps, it’s now time to compare our prostitution laws against Sweden’s decade old change to its prostitution laws. The Swedish government took the view that prostitution is a form of violence against and exploitation of women. They changed Swedish laws to criminalize not the women trapped in the sex trade but the men who buy and pimp them. Sweden now has one of the lowest prostitution rates in the world.

Prostitution is not a safe, legal career option. Let’s not pretend it can be. This is not a time for either the courts or the media to determine – or eliminate – Canada’s laws on prostitution. It is a time to encourage Parliamentarians to take decisive action to strike at the root causes that place vulnerable women in the hands of violent men.



Porn – The Empire of Illusion 

For some time now, the media has been noting an increased societal concern about the overwhelming amount of porn available and being distributed in Canada.

At one point, while working as a law student, I had to do research on sentencing in Canada for child pornography. It was both an eye-opener and horrifying. Just reading several judgments that summarized the facts of the abuse or the pornographic materials seized was disturbing. It took some time to get the descriptions out of my mind. 

Yesterday, the National Post published an excellent excerpt from Chris Hedge’s new book, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. This book is now on my "must read" list. Here are a few sections of the excerpt that caught my attention:  

The Pink Cross booth has a table of anti-porn tracts and is set up in the far corner of the Sands Expo convention centre in Las Vegas. It is an unlikely participant at the annual Adult Video News (AVN) expo. Pink Cross is a Christian outreach program for women in the porn industry, run by ex-porn star Shelley Lubben. 


"I was addicted to porn for two years," says Scott Smith, 29, from Cleveland, Tenn., who is at the Pink Cross booth. He first watched Internet porn as a college student.

"I started out once a day, usually at night, when my roommate wasn't there," Smith says. "You try and hide it. Then I started watching it several times a day. I would only watch it long enough to masturbate. I never got why they make these long features since I would always turn it off when I was done."

Smith says the images crippled his ability to be intimate. He could not distinguish between the fantasy of porn and the reality of relationships. "Porn messes with the way you think of women," he says. "You want the women you are with to be like the women in porn. I was scared to get involved in a relationship. I did not know how extensive the damage was. I did not want to hurt anyone. I kept away from women."


As she talks of her career in porn, her eyes take on a dead, faraway look. Her breathing becomes more rapid. She slips into a flat, numbing monotone. The symptoms are ones I know well from interviewing victims of atrocities in war who battle posttraumatic stress disorder.

"What you are describing is trauma," I say.

"Yes," she answers quietly.

 Want to know more?



Charles Lewis on the link between child and adult (over 18) porn:

The pornography industry is a vacuum that sucks up the youngest looking models, who meet the minimum legal requirement of being 18 years old. There is also the constant demand in pornography for a new crop of young actresses. Think about what that means: The industry wants recruits who are at least 18 but can give off the impression of being a sophisticated 15-year-old or 14-year-old.




But perhaps it is time to think about why so many people are willing to watch a young adult burn up her youth for the sexual pleasure of others. Maybe tucked inside that adult film are more than a few 16-year-old models, children according to the law, who faked their way in with phony IDs.


Evangelical Canadians are non-partisan, so is the EFC

It has been a rush since the Centre for Research on Canadian Evangelicalism published Canadian Evangelical Voting Trends by Region, 1996-2008, a paper I co-authored with Rick Hiemstra.

Since the release of the paper we have seen interest expressed in the media, the blogosphere, the Evangelical community and, perhaps most significantly, the three national political parties with seats in the House of Commons. Meetings with influential representatives from all three parties has helped confirm that Evangelicals and the EFC are issues oriented, i.e. non-partisan in our approach to public policy. If this wasn't witnessed by our support for legislation currently before Parliament that has sponsorship from Conservative, Liberal and NDP MPs, it is evident in the report. The report shows Evangelicals have and continue to vote across the political spectrum with issues being important to the decisions made about who gets the "x" on election day.

Why blog about a month old (month young?) report today? Well, we hosted a briefing breakfast on the Hill yesterday to share some additional info and discuss the report with representatives from all three of the above parties at once. (We did invite the Bloc but no one showed.) Rick Hiemstra joined us and he was great, showing some PowerPoint charts that presented the information in stark simplicity.

Attendance at the breakfast, and related meetings with party reps, indicated that all three parties are aware of the benefits of past participation by Evangelicals. They're also interested in current engagement in the political process by Evangelicals, some are just currently better at inviting that participation than others. This bodes well for the future of pluralist participation in the public square.

Why didn't this info get out yesterday? Well, like I said, it's been a rush and last night was a bit of crash time!

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