Laws supposedly meant to protect sex workers by penalizing only so-called pimps and clients, and not sex workers, will replicate the harms and illegalities of the laws just struck down and may not survive the courts. The other countries did not have our recent court ruling on what makes laws themselves right or wrong. That ruling makes the Nordic Model wrong. There are several things wrong with the Nordic Model. Here are a few of them. (1) Anti-pimping laws criminalize anyone who shares in a sex worker’s earnings, including her husband, other family members and friends. Police can harass or threaten people around her who they may wish to suspect as an associate. (2) The laws even form a barrier to sex workers who wish to marry and or leave the business for other reasons. A husband becomes legally vulnerable, even if he shares the household expenses. Women who support their husbands in whole or in part in other occupations, and, yet, no one passes laws against living off the proceeds of their work. Why are sex workers singled out from women in other occupations? That singling out is not legal after the recent court decision. (3) The Nordic approach also makes sex workers less safe. Pimps often provide services for and protection to sex workers. For example, they drive women to appointments, wait in the car, and know when to worry if the woman does not return. They copy down the license plates of cars into which street walkers climb, which provides some safeguard against the women simply disappearing. (4) Laws against clients endanger sex workers on the street. These women are the most vulnerable of sex workers because they lack the safety of working indoors and non-violent men are far more likely to be afraid of and discouraged by the prospect of being arrested than are psychopaths. This is especially true of family men or those who have a respected position in their communities. A minister, a lawyer, a teacher, a psychologist or a doctor have a great deal to lose by being arrested and having the arrest publicized, so are reluctant to take the risk. (5) There will not necessarily be fewer women selling sex, however, especially on the street level where driving forces like drug-use keep the numbers high. With a smaller pool of customers for whom to compete, these women may act with less caution; for example, they may be more willing to get into cars they might otherwise not get into. On the other hand, there will be as many physically abusive men and criminals in the client pool because a person who is willing to beat or to kill a sex worker is unlikely to be discouraged by the possibility of a minor charge of buying sex. The preferred clients have moved to the Internet, but the dangerous ones stayed on the streets. (6) Those on the streets work in risky conditions because they go further into remote areas. Under the Nordic Model they have to do the negotiation very quickly. It doesn’t give them any time to assess risk. The quick negotiation will also result from a client’s unwillingness to linger a moment longer than necessary. (7) It is currently common practice for sex workers to screen their clients in advance to seeing them. They know the client’s name and phone number. Under the Nordic Model, however, clients have more incentive to remain anonymous rather than risk arrest. Sex workers will have to accept calls from blocked numbers and won’t know who they are seeing. So much for the Nordic Model. (8) There is no indication that the Nordic Model, as being considered for Canada at present, would adequately define what are not permissible acts between consenting adults in private for money or not, and so the law will fail for that alone. (9) I could go on and on, but enough for now.
The federal government is now seeking input from Canadians about how to
regulate sex acts between consenting adults in private. Problem is, they
don’t say which acts are sex acts. I asked this in a paper I circulated last
month called “Prime Minister Harper’s Sexual Orientation”.
I asked straight questions. The answer to each question was a yes or no. I
also asked for a why to each yes or no. I said that Mr. Harper’s sexuality
would guide his answers, and it was his answers that were going to guide new laws. So I think before Canadians give their input they should be clear
about exactly what it is the government wants direction on. Is it going to
be illegal to run or go to a fetish house where no sexual intercourse
occurs? Are couples who play bondage games at home for free to be arrested if some sort of payment is deemed to have occurred? The Supreme Court said any new laws cannot be over-broad or arbitrary. They also said that new laws must be clear with precise definitions. Is the prime minister going to take the unbelievably stupid option of the Nordic Model and top it off without giving precise definitions – just so he can buy some more time while the courts again repudiate him – and so keep the sex trade underground, which puts women in unnecessary danger, and is what organized crime wants? How long is he going to put limited law enforcement resources under further strain while not even speaking out about sexual harassment of women at work, in the RCMP, in the armed forces – or domestic abuse? Does he want the forces of the state controlling men who might be clients of sex workers? A man might be afraid to pay for dinner on a date. A women could blackmail a man by reporting to the police that he tried to “buy sex”. I look forward to hearing from him. I’m sure you do too.
There have been meetings across the country about what new legislation should replace the struck down prostitution laws. Here are some of my observations from the information that has reached me. There is a general understanding of how the so-called Nordic Model (which criminalizes the purchase of sex but not the sale) is flawed in the same ways the old laws were. There is also understanding about the horror of imposing someone else’s morality on consenting adults in private. Also, there has been no comment from the so-called abolitionist side in response to my letter saying the government must specify what behaviours among private consenting adults are prohibited. There has been much discussion about the decision of police forces and provinces to stop enforcing the existing laws which were left in place for a year. Some nasty surprises await the government if they try to bring in new laws that are not clear and not up to constitutional standards. Might we have a Canadian spring? Or are we going to just let the prime minister continue to do what organized crime wants him to do?
One by one the provinces are announcing that they are not using the struck down prostitution laws, meaning they are not laying new charges and are often dropping charges where cases were pending. We should note that the number of such charges have been falling steadily over the last few years, despite a growing population and growth of the sex trade. The reason for this last development has been that the authorities do not want to proceed using laws that are unconstitutional. For years Justice Minister Nicholson said the government viewed the laws as constitutional. Now his replacement, Mr. Mackay, says not enforcing them is not an option. Yet he is no longer being listened to. Prime Minister Harper hired these guys and keeps paying them. Do we want anyone, let alone these guys to tell us what consenting adults may do in private? For now we are free and we activists must ensure that any new laws (and there should be none) are fair and don’t do the same damage as the old ones.