You can read more about this week’s events in Tuesday’s post. I’ve had a lot on my mind the past few days and will be writing a more reflective post on this issue soon. Stay tuned.
You can read more about this week’s events in Tuesday’s post. I’ve had a lot on my mind the past few days and will be writing a more reflective post on this issue soon. Stay tuned.
Yesterday was a big day in Ontario regarding prostitution laws. The Ontario Court of Appeal, the province’s highest court, legalized brothels based on the argument that “Ontario’s current anti-prostitution laws place unconstitutional restrictions on prostitutes’ ability to protect themselves.”
If you are new to this issue or want to understand today’s ruling in simple terms, here is a summary of what has happened to date.
According to the law, prostitution itself was legal but everything surrounding it was illegal. For example, it was illegal to:
1. Communicate for the purposes of prostitution - ie. soliciting on the street
2. Live off the avails of prostitution – ie. pimps living off the money they receive from exploiting women and children, or someone in the trade paying for their child’s education with money from prostitution
3. Keep a bawdy house - ie. operating or working out of a brothel, which could include residences used by groups of women
Dominatrix Terry-Jean Bedford and ex-prostitute Valerie Scott (along with Amy Lebovitch and their lawyer Alan Young), launched a constitutional challenge of Canada’s anti-prostitution laws. In simple terms, they wanted prostitution and everything surrounding the actual act to be decriminalized.
The Ontario Superior Court ruled in favour of their proposal by striking down the three anti-prostitution laws. This meant it was no longer illegal to keep a bawdy house (brothel), communicate for the purposes of prostitution, or live off the avails of selling sex. The federal government appealed the Ontario Superior Court’s decision, in effect reversing it until it was looked at again by the Ontario Court of Appeal.
Five judges found that banning bawdy houses and living off the avails of prostitution were unconstitutional, but agreed with the Crown that the open solicitation of prostitution should be illegal. What exactly does this mean? It means that those in the sex trade can legally run or work out of brothels in Ontario, as well as hire drivers, bodyguards and support staff. From a legal standpoint, it makes prostitution just like any other taxable profession. Bodyguards and staff can legally be hired as early as April, but the brothel ban is still in effect for up to a year, giving the Crown the chance to appeal. This would mean that the case will go before the Supreme Court of Canada. Whatever they decide will be the ultimate decision and will affect the entire country, not just Ontario.
There is no question that Canada’s prostitution laws have not made sense or protected women. The fact that prostitution itself has been legal while everything surrounding it has been illegal makes for poor lawmaking. New prostitution laws are absolutely necessary, but that is where my agreement with the pro-sex work group ends. They want the laws changed so that the entire industry is decriminalized, making the sex trade a fully legal. But there are many, myself included, who want the laws changed so that women can be empowered to leave the trade, as the majority of those in the sex trade desperately want out but have no exit strategy.
Terry-Jean Bedford and her group assume that they are the only ones who will be affected by the Court’s ruling. They assume that most working in the sex trade have chosen to enter it willingly and that this will empower them to work like any other tax-paying citizen. But here are some of my concerns:
It is not the law that makes prostitution dangerous. Prostitution is inherently dangerous. Even when it is legal or “high end,” women are encouraged to have panic buttons and learn skills that get them out of life-threatening situations. Is this the type of industry we want to promote as a career choice for young girls? Terry-Jean Beford herself entered the trade as a teenager, manipulated by an abusive boyfriend. There are definitely some who make a decision as adults to prostitute themselves, but it is incredibly naive to think that most enter in this way.
Global studies have demonstrated that whether prostitution takes place indoors or outdoors, many women experience post traumatic stress disorder as a result of being in the trade.
The ruling allows those in the trade to hire bodyguards, drivers, and support staff. For the small minority who is able to call the shots, this could arguably make them safer. However this provision does absolutely nothing to protect the unfortunate majority which includes trafficking victims and those who are manipulated and controlled by pimps. Though the Court clarified that no one can live off the avails of “exploitation,” now pimps and traffickers can pose as drivers and bodyguards, giving them a legal loophole to continue exploiting women and children.
Those who are pro-prostitution often us the case of Robert Pickton, a BC man who savagely murdered dozens of prostituted women, as an example of why legal brothels would make women safer. But Angel Wolfe, the daughter of one of the women killed by Pickton, points out that legal brothels would make it more difficult for police to get warrants for sweeps that uncover victims of trafficking and abuse. Now it is easier to hide trafficking victims.
When you legalize any component of the prostitution industry, you increase demand for paid sex. This gives the green light for traffickers to increase supply to help meet that demand. If a “legal” woman refuses a john because he seems unsafe or because she does not like him, where is he going to take his fantasies instead? Trafficking victims are the ones who will end up with the most abusive and violent men, as their so-called “bodyguards” now have the competitive advantage of their girls being willing to “do anything.”
What bothers me is that I have never heard people like Terry-Jean Bedford or those who are pro-prostitution mention victims of trafficking or exploitation, except in an attempt to sweep them under the rug and disconnect them from the argument altogether. Are we so blinded as a society that we think we can disconnect prostitution from trafficking and exploitation? This certainly did not work in Amsterdam or Las Vegas, where trafficking networks run with seamless efficiency due to high demand for paid sex.
The Crown will doubtless apply for a stay from the Supreme Court, meaning that this decision would be decided in the highest court of Canada. That will be the final decision for prostitution law in our country. One article states:
The landmark decision is binding on Ontario courts and sets up a final showdown at the Supreme Court of Canada next fall or in early 2013.
This means that right now we have a window of opportunity to push our government to change prostitution laws. The Court’s responsibility is to make sure that laws are not unconstitutional, but the Crown’s responsibility is to actually create laws that are good for society. This means that we must do everything we can to encourage our Members of Parliament to push our country in the opposite direction – away from a fully legal sex industry that promotes exploitation – and towards laws that protect women and decrease demand for paid sex.
We should be looking at the example of Sweden. In contrast to legalization or full decriminalization of prostitution, Sweden’s approach has significantly cut down human trafficking levels. It has criminalized the purchase of sex while decriminalizing the selling of it. This has decreased demand for paid sex, reducing monetary incentives for traffickers to set up shop. Because its success has encouraged other countries to adopt it, this approach is now known as the “Nordic Model.” This is the direction we should be headed. You can read more about the Nordic Model here.
As my friend John MacMillan has aptly pointed out, Courts are not swayed by public opinion – in fact when the Charter is involved, the role of a court is often to protect the rights of a minority from public opinion. Petitioning the government is our best course of action right now. If you want Canada to head in the direction of the Nordic model that prevents exploitation instead of supporting a fully decriminalized prostitution industry, here are three steps you can take:
TWO. Contact your Member of Parliament and let them know how you feel about this issue. They need to know that Canadians care and that this is priority. Don’t know what to say? Here is an outline. Personalize it and send it to your MP.
THREE. Hope for the Sold is currently raising funds to make a documentary about legalization of prostitution and its connection to sex trafficking. We believe that film is a powerful way to help sway opinion and change minds, and our hope is that this film will have an impact that will help governments around the world take an approach that prevents trafficking and exploitation as opposed to legalizing an industry that us full of violence and abuse. Due to the generosity of blog readers, small businesses, friends, and family, we have raised $23,000 to date. We have $57,000 more to raise. As soon as we have $80,000 we will hit the road. Clearly this is an urgent matter, so please consider supporting this project! All donations are eligible for tax receipts. Watch our pitch video and support the film here.
4. Please stay tuned. This week I will give you further instructions from the Crown on how to proceed. We MUST be a united front on this issue, and currently there is a plan being formed. Please check back this week to find out how you can be part of this movement. As my friend Tara Teng says: This is NOT the time to stand by and do nothing. We have a window opportunity. Let’s use it.
I leave you with this question: do we care more about the rights of women who want to sell their bodies, or the rights of the exploited who desperately don’t want to? Let’s see the Court’s decision not as a tragedy but an opportunity – as it forces our government to decide where they really stand on this issue.
**Max Waltman at the University of Stockholm found in a recent working paper that the Court of Appeal’s decision misrepresents evidence and contravenes the Charter. Read about Max Waltman’s response here.
**September 2012 update: We are making a documentary about legalization of prostitution, its connection to sex trafficking, and preventative models that decrease sexual exploitation. If you want to help us reach our funding goal for this, get more information here. All donations will receive tax receipts.
As awareness spreads, the issue of sex trafficking is increasingly showing up in movies and TV shows. Actress Karen Robinson (Lars and the Real Girl, The Gospel According to the Blues), who plays Detective Ingrid Evans on King – a detective show on Showcase – recently sat down with retired Toronto Police Service Detective Wendy Leaver to discuss the issue of sexual exploitation. Karen kindly took the time to answer some questions for Hope for the Sold readers as well.
The interview clip below is part of the King Case Files, which are informative short videos accompanying the episodes. This one goes with the 2nd season’s first episode, which is on the topic of sex trafficking. Please excuse the very brief bit in a strip club, as I try to avoid images like that as much as possible on this blog out of respect for those trapped in the trade.
I can’t think of any single moment. There were nudges in the general direction – my mother’s natural flair for the dramatic; being the baby of my brood and therefore an attention seeker; Cicely Tyson in ‘Sounder’; and Saturday afternoons in the ’70s spent watching a Jamaican children’s variety show called ‘Ring Ding’ where my beloved Miss Lou handed me my ancestors’ oral traditions like treasure. Canada handed me the possibility.
What draws you to Detective Ingrid Evans’ character?
Her groundedness. Her failings. Her passion for what she cares about. Her limitations. Her lingerie (fingers crossed). Her sensible shoes. She works hard. And then she goes home. So . . . her humanness, I guess.
You recently sat down with Wendy Leaver to discuss the issue of sex trafficking. What was the most surprising or shocking thing that you learned?
How easy it is to find oneself in these women’s position. We, the lucky ones, tell ourselves “they’d leave if they really wanted to”. But these women are threatened, beaten, fear for their families’ safety, and are terrified of the humiliation if they are exposed. They don’t trust the police and they often times don’t speak the dominant language. If I were in their shoes, I’m not so sure I could leave either.
What is it like to film an episode about sex trafficking? Does it make the issue seem more ‘real’ because it is being acted out? Did it lead to any interesting conversations on set?
On set, we’re so consumed with telling the story in the most compelling and realistic way possible that there isn’t a lot of time for conversation. What it does leave time for are moments of such clarity in the work that I found myself truly moved by, for instance, Alina’s hope and innocence in her video application to be a nanny, or Jess King’s insistence that Ingrid and she can help women like Alina, women whose dreams of days spent caring for children turn into nightmares of rape and abuse.
What role does film play in raising awareness about injustice?
Few people enjoy being preached at. Everybody has their own stuff to deal with – work, money, kids, relationship, weather, transit, rent, you name it. Stories acted out, if done right, show us our world in an enlightening, edifying, and most importantly for many of these people, entertaining way. These stories, when delivered in a screen format, have the opportunity to reach a huge audience. That’s immense influence.
With a wide-ranging topic like injustice, I think we need to see real people – people who may be like us, our family, our friends, or who may be that person we see on the subway or street, that one we often choose to ignore. Film and tv, and plays for that matter, can lead us to realize that we all want much the same thing – to be seen, listened to, validated. And hopefully that leads to empathy. The ability to see ourselves in another’s shoes.
Karen, thank you for taking the time to share some of your story and thoughts with us. I am grateful that there are people like you who do not waste their talent, but offer it to the rest of us so that we can be inspired, entertained, educated – and hopefully even provoked to action on the things that strike a chord with us.
For those of you who missed the first episode of King’s second season, you can watch it here. You can follow the show on the Showcase channel on Wednesdays at 9:00pm.
For the past several months, Hope for the Sold has been raising funds to make a documentary about the legalization of prostitution and its connection to sex trafficking. We are raising $80,000, and hitting several countries. Why do we think this project is important in the prevention of sex trafficking? Read more here. Don’t know much about this issue? Learn more here.
I am happy to say that due to the generosity of HFTS blog readers, friends and family, and fundraising initiatives like Christmas parties, Ride for Refuge, CD release concerts, and business donations, we have now raised just over $22,000 to date, meaning we are over a quarter of the way there!
For those of you who have given to this project, THANK YOU! Your support is such a gift, truly.
If the vision of this project resonates with you and you want to make a donation, you can do so online here, or by cheque which you can make out to Hope for the Sold and send to:
International Teams Canada 1 Union Street Elmira, Ontario Canada N3B 3J9
Donations are eligible for tax receipts. American donors can also make a tax deductible donation by following instructions here.
We are also pursuing grants, so if you know of one that this project would qualify for, please let us know as soon as possible. Let’s invest into justice together and fight hard to prevent the exploitation and abuse of others!
My friend Niki, who also happens to be one of my favourite abolitionists, is inviting YOU to join her for a night of live music, yummy desserts & local art – all to support International Justice Mission‘s efforts to end human trafficking! It is a coffee house style event, so even if you can’t come for the whole thing, don’t let that stop you from dropping by!
For those of you who wrote this week to the Committee on Justice and Human Rights in support of Bill-310, I am pleased to say that it passed Committee yesterday with the support of all MPs! It will now be reported back to House of Commons for Third Reading on March 26. Thank you to all who participated, now let’s get this through the third reading!
When my husband Jay and I were backpacking through Central America, we took a local bus from Belize to Chetumal, Mexico. At the border we all got off to go through customs, with the understanding that the bus would still be there to take us the rest of the way to the station like had been promised.
We discovered, however, that the bus had disappeared. Along with dozens of locals, we had to catch taxis to the bus terminal in hopes that our pillows (the only items we had left on the bus) would still be there if we found the bus at the station. Other passengers had left even more valuable items on the bus, and some were travelling with children which made catching a taxi quite a hassle.
We arrived at the station and waited for our bus to arrive. When it finally did, all of the belongings that had been left on it had disappeared. Everyone was angry, as the bus driver had deviated from the plan that we had been told when we purchased our tickets. The bus driver simply said, “I had a schedule to keep,” but considering that he got to the station after we did, we were all skeptical. Jay has a bad back and was not happy his pillow had been stolen, but this was minor compared to what others had lost. It grieved us to watch local people experience injustice, even in this minor way, knowing that for some of them even a taxi ride would cost more than they had to spare.
Everything in me wanted to scream, “But we paid for these tickets! We were promised that we would be taken all the way to the station. How dare you violate the rules of a business transaction? As a paying customer, I have rights.”
This is a concept I have been thinking about all weekend. What exactly are our rights as paying customers? If I pay for a meal at a restaurant, I expect to have it served to me. If I pay for a plane ticket, I expect to reach my destination. But where does the black and white end and the gray begin?
If someone pays for a gun, do they deserve to use it for whatever they wish? If someone pays an entrance fee to a national park, do they have the right to litter? If someone pays to go on a safari, do they deserve to shoot a lion? If someone pays for a diamond mined by a slave, do they have the right to wear it on their finger? If a man pays for a woman’s dinner, is he entitled to sex afterwards? If someone pays for sex with a prostituted woman, do they have the right to her body? Victor Malarek, the host of CTV’s W5 who we interviewed in our documentary about sex trafficking, says this:
I am sick and tired of hearing johns say that just because they paid for a sexual service, they deserve to have their fantasies carried out. In The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It, one john says, “I want everything…If I am going to pay them, they better do as they’re told.”
This kind of entitlement is exactly what fuels sex trafficking. It is how sex tourists justify their trips abroad to use and abuse impoverished, exploited women and girls. If the exchange of money was the only moral filter for our actions, the rich would have the right do demand whatever they wanted, regardless of the cost to other human beings. And compared to much of the world, those of us who are North Americans are rich – so how are we stewarding that power?
We need to set aside our individual entitlement and instead think about collective entitlement. My right to pay for sex is trumped by your right not to sell your body. My right to litter is trumped by the right of future generations to enjoy the global commons.
In what ways do you think our society is entitled? In what ways do you feel entitled? Where do you think the lines begin to blur between paying for a service and harming others? Do you agree with Victor Malarek’s statement that money is an ultimate conscience pacifier? Would love to hear your thoughts.
Many of you ask how you can get involved in the fight against human trafficking. This week, Bill C-310 is going before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Bill C-310 has two parts:
Here is a request from MP Joy Smith:
I am pleased to update you that my private members’ Bill C-310 will be reviewed by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on March 15, 2012. If it is successful at Committee, it will be sent back to the House for Third Reading … I need your help to encourage members to move Bill C-310 through the Justice Committee in a timely manner.
Bill C-310 will help protect women and girls in Canada and abroad from exploitation. You can make a significant difference by taking a few minutes to send and email on behalf of yourself or your organization to the Members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Please also copy your local MP and myself ([email protected]). You can find out your local MP’s address here.
Here is a list of the MPs and their emails on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights:
Chair: Dave MacKenzie – [email protected]
Need more details on the bill? MP Joy Smith and her team have put together a fantastic backgrounder document so that you have enough information to write an informed email, see below:
If you are not well-versed in political language, do not feel overwhelmed. Even writing a brief email of support for the bill, requesting it to be moved through the Justice Committee as quickly as possible, is a great way for you to make a difference. If you can, include your contact information in the email (full name, address, and phone number).
Please write your email before Thursday March 15. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions at all!
Update from MP Smith’s office: “Bill C-310 passed Committee today with the support of all MPs. Will be reported back to House of Commons for Third Reading on March 26. Great testimonies by MP Joy Smith, Timea & Rob from Walk With Me, Roz and Mark from Beyond Borders and Amir Attaran.”
***Thanks to everyone who wrote an email of support to help this happen! I will keep you posted as this Bill moves forward.
When Jay and I got married, our first apartment was on Mohawk Road in Hamilton, Ontario. It was more of a glorified attic really, but after cleaning, painting, and furnishing the place, it felt like home.
It had a grocery store, a bakery, and a library nearby. High school students walked past it on their way to and from school. It was on a major bus route.
It was also on the same street as a house in which human trafficking victims were being held in the basement.
Brother and sister Attila and Gisela Kolompar were recently sentenced in Canada’s largest human trafficking case to date, for keeping labour trafficking victims confined in their basement and forcing them to work in construction seven days a week for no pay. As this Spec article explains, they ate scraps, had their identification seized and were instructed to make false refugee and welfare claims. They never saw their benefit money or wages, and were punished when they tried to escape.
Ironic. There Jay and I were, preparing to make our documentary about sex trafficking in Canada, while down the street labour trafficking victims were being exploited. I can’t even express how sick I felt when I found out that human trafficking, the very thing we were trying to expose, was taking place within walking distance from our little apartment.
When Jay and I hit the road to make our film, one of the people we interviewed was Benjamin Perrin, a law professor at the University of British Columbia who was in the process of writing a book entitled “Invisible Chains: Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking.” He had first been exposed to sex trafficking in Cambodia, but discovered upon his return to Calgary that victims were being exploited just a few blocks down from his favourite childhood restaurant. In Perrin’s words:
“It wasn’t in a seedy area of town. It was in a house, a residence like any other. You would have no idea driving down the street that there were victims of modern day slavery in that neighbourhood.”
Another story – when our friend Tara Teng was 18 years old, she lived with her family in a middle class Canadian neighbourhood in Langley, British Columbia. As she got to know her neighbours, she learned that their daughter had been trafficked as 14 years old by a trafficker posing as a boyfriend. This incident, which deeply affected people Tara knew and loved, sparked a fire in her to abolish human trafficking – and even led her to win the title of Miss Canada 2011 so she could use that as a platform to raise awareness about this horrendous crime.
Is slavery happening in our backyard? Absolutely.
This is just one of the reasons we need to get to know our neighbours. To be on the lookout. To be alert when we go about our daily lives.
If you are in the U.S. and want to report a tip, call 1-888-373-7888. Don’t know what signs to look for? Here are some ideas. If you are want further training, consider attending the Not for Sale Abolitionist Academy in San Francisco.
I long for the day where human trafficking, abuse, exploitation, and injustice is not longer taking place in my backyard, don’t you?
NOTE: Today the kingpin of the trafficking ring that exploited the construction workers is going to court. Here is what the trafficking ring looks like in a chart, and below is the info for the court case if you can attend.