It’s good to be back in Ottawa again, and I’m pleased to be part of this important conference. The students and staff from The Carleton Human Rights Society and The Womyn’s Centre, and others, organized it. Those others include The Pauline Jewett Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies. They include the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, and the Department of Law and Legal Studies. And also the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies. Please join me in thanking them for all they have done.
Then there are the sponsors of the conference. Thanks to Ottawa Public Interest Research Group Carleton, The Rideau River Residence Association, The Graduate Students’ Association, The Carleton Disability Awareness Centre, and the other clubs and departments who helped out.
Wow. Carleton certainly has much to boast about. And, I’m told their dominatrix courses are first rate. Here’s a riddle for you. What do a dominatrix and a woman professor at Carleton have in common? Answer. They both give you marks.
I have been to Ottawa before. I have been to Ottawa several times to fight the laws against the sex trade. In 1994 I was charged with running a bawdy house, The Bondage Bungalow. The charges were thrown out of court in 1995. The Crown won their 1996 appeal and in 1997 I was at the Supreme Court, which threw out my appeal. We went to trial in 1998. I was convicted, but to this day cannot tell you why. I lost my appeal in Ontario in 1999. That decision was legendary for how bad it was. In 2000 the Supreme Court in Ottawa refused to grant leave to appeal. Of course during and before all that I was in court many other times, and in jail, all under the old laws, which were finally struck down as unconstitutional. And remember, most of what happens is not publicized. I wrote a book about that called Dominatrix on Trial.
After the hearings and decisions in Toronto on the constitutional case from 2007 to 2012, I was back in Ottawa again in June 2013 for the hearing day for the final appeals in Bedford Versus Canada, the case that struck down the old laws against prostitution once and for all. You probably remember the pictures of demonstrations by sex workers and those against sex work in front of the court. Reporters told me they had never seen anything like it at the Supreme Court. I came to Ottawa again in December 2013, when the decision was released. It was a day that made headlines around the world – just like in 2010. I came to Ottawa yet again, in September 2014, to testify about the proposed new law, Bill C-36, at the Senate. I got thrown out for not shutting up. In November 2014 I came to to Ottawa again, to the University of Ottawa campus to speak to the Ontario Civil Liberties Association, who made me the recipient of their award for 2014. They didn’t throw me out.
And now I’m here again, this time at Carleton, but what a difference. Instead of me getting thrown out the government got thrown out; just under 2 years after their prostitution laws were thrown out. The new law, Bill C-36 is doomed one way or the other. And, at long last, we may finally have a fair and open discussion in this country about the sex trade, and about who decides what, before any policies are adopted.
But before I tell you what I think should be allowed and not allowed, I want to speak to you about why there is a sex trade and what it means in the real world.
I’d like to begin by talking about the motivations of sex trade participants and activists, for and against. Why motivation? Well, it explains so much.
Let’s start with the clients, and here I will focus on heterosexual men paying women. There are of course several reasons why men pay women for sex acts, whatever that means. Let’s take married men. After a while most of them crave some variety. They see women on television and the Internet, at work and on the street or when they socialize with friends. They are attracted to some of these. They remember what it was like at the beginning of their relationships, and miss that excitement. They miss being physical with a woman without knowing her baggage. The then and there. And if the woman is discreet, like a sex worker, he can confide in her the way he can’t confide in his wife or girlfriend. He can tell her the kinky things he wants to do but is afraid, often with good reasons, to tell his partner. It’s a lot of pressure to keep deeply felt desires secret, let alone have them fulfilled. It may be something as simple as having sex without worrying about satisfying his partner or being pressured about commitment.
Then there are clients who have no partners. They may be handicapped. They may be shy. They may be too poor to marry. They may be separated or divorced. Or, they may simply not want to live with a woman or have a steady girlfriend. A man who has sex with a sex worker once a month is as sexually active as many couples married for several years, at least those couples that even stay together for several years.
So, our clients have a piece in the puzzle of their lives available to them. Many have told me that knowing they were going to have a session with me once a month or whatever seemed to make the rest of their lives much better. It was a wonderful secret to have. And keeping it secret protected them from ridicule or damage to their relationships with their partners, if they had one, or their families. It is unfortunate that we have to live secretly so often in what we say and do, but that is reality.
Now, on to the motivations of the sex trade worker. Well, why does anyone do anything? Usually it’s because they need an income, or more income. How many women want to clean toilets for low pay or want to work in a factory for low pay? How many want to serve in the armed forces and get sexually harassed, and persecuted if they complain about it? The point is that few people would do their jobs for free, even if they had big savings. And they often choose to follow the money.
Sex workers can make good money. You may only need a few hours a month for the administrative parts of the job and seeing a client once a week might provide enough income to get by. It may not be the only thing you do for money, or the only thing you do. Some students work their way through university, and some of them see only one client or a few. Some have sugar daddies. They can work around their class schedules and so forth. Other sex workers work for agencies. Others are in business for themselves.
Women want to be desired and pursued. Being paid for their time and attention is very flattering to some. Some women enjoy sex with multiple partners. I could go on with examples of why women may be attracted to sex work. But at the bottom of it is money. If the government wanted to reduce sex work among those less inclined to it the best way is to invest in higher welfare for single mothers and in daycare centres, and in collecting court ordered payments from dead-beat dads.
Now, how does one go about being a sex worker in a safe setting? Well, for one, have a steady location, with others on the premises who can act as security. When I had my houses I had a baby monitor hidden in the room with my security employee in another room who was on the alert when I had clients. The clients never knew, although they were told security was on the premises. You can hire expertise about advertising for such clientele as you wish on the Internet and elsewhere. You can also join an agency where these services are shared. And of course you can meet men in bars and hotels, among other places, aside from the streets. I won’t go into any more details now, but I think you get the idea.
Now get this. From time to time the law may, repeat may, be a minor factor, repeat minor factor, in what you choose to do. The old laws were rarely enforced, the new law almost never has been and is going the way of the dodo one way or the other. The authorities only have the resources to concentrate on clear cases of human trafficking and underage sex workers and clear violence against women that comes to their attention. Even if the new law was upheld and vigorously enforced, the trade would just go further underground, and its worst aspects would proliferate.
Prior to 2010 the prostitution laws were a mess. The sale of sex was legal, as was its purchase. But if it was done from the same location repeatedly, or if someone earned an income helping a sex worker, or if people communicated for the purpose of paid sex, they were breaking the law. Not only that, but sex acts were not listed. For example, if I tied up and whipped a client, and I have done plenty of that, especially to professors, under what circumstances is it a sex act? I think you get the idea. Not only that, but the laws themselves endangered people engaged in a legal activity – paid sex. Professor Alan Young organized and led a constitutional challenge to the prostitution laws. I was one of the 3 plaintiffs. Val Scott and Amy Lebovitch were the others.
In 2010, after almost 2 years of hearings and one year of deliberation, Judge Susan Himel, issued a 131 page decision. I quote from my book what she said. “She found that our application was right. The laws against communicating for the purposes of prostitution, living off the avails of prostitution, and keeping a common bawdy house were unconstitutional for a number of reasons. For one thing, they did not achieve their objectives but in fact worked in the opposite direction. She agreed that the laws prevented prostitutes from protecting themselves, and that the laws protected the perpetrators of violence against women more than they inhibited such violence. She agreed that indoor prostitution was safer than street prostitution. She agreed that the current prostitution laws were only minimally enforced. She agreed that the laws were too broad, leading to unelected officials distinguishing right from wrong. She agreed that striking down the laws would not lead to a dramatic increase in prostitution. She pointed out that numerous other laws are already on the books to combat the worst aspects of the sex trade.” So, the judge was saying the laws themselves were illegal.
The government fought our application. They spared no expense. They appealed when there were no grounds to appeal. They offered crap as evidence and arguments. Above all they wanted the issue to go away as long as possible. They did not want to be in the position of having to tell women when and under what conditions they could engage in sex acts. They did not want to define what are and what are not sex acts. They knew that women were being abused and killed because of the laws. They knew from the evidence in our case. But they also knew from the Pickton Inquiry, where the judge said the laws were much of the cause. They knew because of the epidemic of missing and murdered Aboriginal women into which they refused to call an inquiry. They knew but they put themselves first and kicked the can down the road. They lost right down the line and the Supreme Court laid down guidelines for any new laws that might come along.
The government, as we predicted, brought in a variant of the so-called Nordic model, which penalizes purchasers of sex acts and those such as advertisers who assist sex trade workers with their business, but does not charge those selling sex. As predicted the new law was not constitutional in the view of independent legal experts. Professor Young, in his testimony before the Senate annihilated the law’s constitutionality. The witnesses appearing in support of C-36 gave the same crap that was rejected by the courts. Conservative commentators prostituted themselves to support the bill. Overpaid and under-worked trained seals. C-36 replicated the flaws of the old laws and was no less unconstitutional.
So, why did the Harper government bring in Bill C-36? Why did they spend endless dollars on lawyers, biased witnesses and other lackeys to appeal the findings of the trial that struck down the prostitution laws, or to defend the shameful Bill C-36? The answer is that they were pandering. Religious Christians and others did not want women to have the freedoms they now have. These same donors to Mr. Harper and his party fought access to abortion that we now have. They fought against same sex marriage.
Mr. Harper pandered to these types of people when he fought court rulings on safe-site injections, medical marijuana and mandatory minimum sentences. He said he was being tough on crime. He lied.
For example, if Mr. Harper was really interested in protecting women, as he claimed, he would have at least spoken out against wife beaters, dead-beat dads, lack of daycare or affordable housing, high tuition for women students from non-privileged backgrounds or the shortage of women’s shelters or shelters who accept family pets so the wife-beaters don’t use the pets as hostages. On these matters, and on matters like prison overcrowding and the wrongly convicted, or backlogged courts, or the cost of legal representation, he was silent. He talked about the rights of victims. What about the victims I just mentioned. Again, pandering to a base of donors and a base of voters. It was no different with the sex trade. He acted like he was promoting more missing women. No wonder he refused to call the inquiry into missing aboriginal women. The courts had already told him that the laws he was advocating were part of the cause. And then, with C-36, he doubled down. Under Mr. Harper human trafficking has become rampant. Tough on crime? Please.
He and his so-called justice minister were even caught up in their own lies. Mr. MacKay and his officials were testifying in support of C-36. When he and his officials were asked about the constitutionality of C-36 being questioned extensively by reputable legal experts, they said there was no need to refer the law to the courts. Then, within minutes, when asked what acts were sex acts under the law, they said the courts would have to decide.
I have spoken elsewhere about Mr. MacKay’s record regarding sexual and minority harassment in the armed forces when he was minister. Mr. MacKay is a national disgrace, as is Rob Nicholson his predecessor as justice minister. I have spoken about him before as well. They have got part of the fate they deserved when their party was humiliated in the election. But enough about them.
Now that Mr. Harper and his lackeys are out of office I believe this new Parliament can do better. They can tell Canadians to take their moral judgements and shove them. Instead, crack down on corporate crime. Crack down on tax evasion. Crack down on those traffic in undocumented foreign women as nannies or men as farm workers. Crack down on terrorists. Crack down on polluters. And like I said before, have the authorities help women who are forced to do what they do or stay where they are, and not on women who are are acting freely. Stay out of the private sex lives of consenting adults. Show some courage on that issue. The people will approve. Not all of them – but enough.
Tomorrow the new Parliament will meet for the first time and in 2 days the Throne Speech will be delivered. We may hear more of the new government’s pending decisions on what to do about the sex trade. They have already committed to repeal or amend C-36. I think the federal government is right if it calls for a task force report before telling Canadians under what circumstances they may be paid for sex acts. And the Supreme court also said that for any new law to be legal it must not be vague. It must tell me, as a sex worker, as a dominatrix, and as a woman, what I may or may not do in the privacy of my bedroom. I believe they must begin by setting a time-line for the repeal of Bill C-36, and call for its non-enforcement until that happens.
In other countries liberalization of the laws restricting the sex trade has been a success. In every area of society and the economy laws are broken and things happen underground, and the sex trade is no exception. Yet, for their own purposes, governments or journalists cherry-pick the so-called evidence. The most blatant and frightening examples in the debate on C-36 were when Margaret Wente and Barbara Kay, two somewhat prominent conservative journalists, ignored even mentioning judge Himel’s exhaustive review of court tested evidence about other countries and cited a recent study each, neither of which were court tested, and both of which have been discredited, to support C-36. Their lack of integrity in debating this issue is frightening. They have sunk to the level of hate groups on the Internet. Fortunately both of them are old and I don’t think anyone takes them seriously any more, if they ever did, or if they have even heard of them.
But even more of a danger than lies and funded propaganda, is morality. We must never allow policies to be driven by morality – as opposed to the considerations of freedom, safety and privacy. That’s the Canada I want.
In the sex trade that means I can operate a brothel or dungeon in full view and with full protection of the law. It means that I can’t force anyone to enter or stay in the business against their will. It means I obey the labour laws obeyed by a restaurant or factory. It means I pay taxes. It means I do not assault anyone. It means my employees do nothing they are not comfortable with. It means my customers are free from harassment and their privacy is protected. It means I can advertise my services. It means that any restrictions on where I locate and where I advertise and who I hire are the same as, say, any other adult entertainment facility. It means that people who have a moral objection to my line of work can go to Hell. These are the same people, all too often, who objected to birth control, equal pay for women, homosexual relations, same sex marriage, interracial marriage and more. These are also the same people who in one breath condemn sex for sale and within hours buy it. If you want to know who is on that list, a good guide is to look at who is most sanctimonious.
I hope historians and other researchers will tell the stories of those who, for decades, fought for the freedoms and protections that sex workers and members of the LGBT community have been and are now in the process of achieving. The names that make the media are the tips of icebergs. Great changes take time, money, effort, perseverance, savvy and many good people to come about.
As you hear the presentations over the next day or so and read the materials you are being provided, you will see that some things are getting better in Canada, and you will find out more about how and why that has come to pass, and share your findings. We are obviously at a landmark time in deciding the most crucial questions on issues relating to the sex trade.
But in my view the most crucial question should be asked the most often. The question is 2 words. It is the question at the heart of almost every level of almost every issue. Here are the 2 words.
I want to thank you again for having this important conference and for inviting me to speak here tonight.