Category Archives: Canada

Supreme Court strikes down Canada’s prostitution laws

A few weeks ago I did a “mini-cruise” to Amsterdam. We spent two nights on a ferry (which was really a small cruise ship) and had about 6 hours to explore the infamous capital of The Netherlands.

During that time, we walked through De Wallen, Amsterdam’s red light district where prostitutes stand in windows in their undergarments, advertising to potential clients. The entire practice is fully legal, regulated, and generally safe (though perpetually controversial).

It may now be a glimpse of Canada’s future as the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, has ruled that the governments laws against prostitution do not stand up against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Specifically, the exchange of money for sex is not illegal in Canada, but (1) living off the profits, (2) advertising, and (3) running a brothel were. This combination of rules made it effectively illegal as one could be arrested for soliciting sex on the street, could not operate out of their own or a shared premise, and could not hire security or bodyguards.

Because of the dangers created by working the streets, a number of sex workers and their supporters from various civil liberties and legal defence groups in Ontario challenged the laws in the Ontario Supreme Court. That court overturned the laws but the government won appeal at the Court of Appeal.

This lead to the showdown in the Supreme Court of Canada today, which has the final say on the issue. Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin, who tends to write brilliant decisions, wrote for the unanimous majority:

The appeals should be dismissed and the cross?appeal allowed.  Sections 210, 212(1)(j) and 213(1)(c) of the Criminal Code are declared to be inconsistent with the Charter.  The declaration of invalidity should be suspended for one year.

This verdict is very similar to the Morgentaler decision, which ruled that Canada’s abortion laws infringed upon a woman’s right to security of the person but granted Parliament a year to draft new legislation.

Brian Mulroney’s government actually did pass a bill through the House of Commons but it died in the Senate (our unelected chamber) in a tie vote. Since then, Canada has had no legal restriction on abortions (instead it is now treated as the medical procedure that it is).

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are now in the awkward position of having to draft a law on a highly controversial topic – something they have opted not to do at every turn for the entirety of their time in power.

Not that I like to be in the position of giving advice to the government, but one potential option might be to criminalize prostitution itself. The entire ruling dealt with Canada’s way of making a legal activity incredibly dangerous. I suspect that this is the direction that will likely come about (although I haven’t read the full background to the decision) and would also probably be supported by the Liberal Party and maybe even Mulcair’s NDP (because unfortunately no one really wants to be seen as on the side of the prostitutes).

Despite the progress Canada made in the 1990s and early 2000s, I don’t think it’s quite reached the permissive attitude of The Netherlands.

Same old politics or revolution?

Progressives are buzzing after British comedian-turned-revolutionary Russell Brand released his revolutionary manifesto as guest editor of the latest issue of New Statesman and went on an anti-capitalist rant when interviewed by Jeremy Paxman on BBC Newsnight.

The editorial is worth reading in its entirety. It wanders quite a bit but combined with the interview identify the core complaint that galvanized the support behind the 2011 London Riots, the Quebec protests, and the Occupy Movement: The system is broken and it won’t be fixed from within.

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Give everyone money

Following a successful petition initiative, Switzerland is set to be the first Western nation to vote on whether to implement a basic income program.

The idea has various names: Basic Income, Negative Income Tax, or Guaranteed Annual Income, which have the same basic premise of giving everyone money. Rather than rely on complex welfare or unemployment systems that require the un(der)-employed to jump through various hoops in order to collect benefits, the state simply provides a cheque every month to top people’s income up to a living wage, regardless of how much work is done.

Perhaps most interesting was that this policy was actually tested experimentally in Manitoba, Canada during the Liberal 1970s. The Mincome Program ran for five years and measured a number of social outcomes. Unfortunately, when the Liberal government fell in 1979, the following Progressive Conservative government shut down the experiment and locked away the results were locked away for 30 years until researchers managed to gain access.

Their findings were quite impressive.

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Seizing Canada’s Moment: The Speech from the Throne

The big news yesterday is of course that the Tea Party finally caved and allowed the United States government to reopen amidst its continued partisan deadlock (between the corporatist and the crazy corporatist right-wing). They’ve kicked the can for the next faceoff to January, when we’ll potentially get to do the whole thing over again.

In other news, my biased Canadian-politics Twitter was ablaze over the pomp and circumstance that was Stephen Harper’s (or I guess it was David Johnston’s) latest Speech from the Throne. Look, it even got it’s own domain: http://www.speech.gc.ca/

That website contains the full text, which I’ll analyze below, and numerous ads dedicated to  the never-ending Canada’s Economic Action Plan and “Seizing Canada’s Moment.” As far as I can tell, a speech from the throne has never gotten it’s own marketing material (beyond a press release or early leak), let alone branding. Such is Canada’s current political climate that routine procedures are marketable moments.

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Revised Charter: Less Hypocrisy, More Intolerance

A new report suggests the separatist Government of Quebec is listening to some of the criticisms of its proposed Charter of Values.

Supposedly the Parti Quebecois will now include a provision to remove the crucifix that has been hanging in the National Assembly since 1936 and “a previous exemption for lawmakers will also be struck from the charter, which would presumably make it against the law for Muslim, Sikh and Jewish politicians to sit in the legislature while sporting clothing and symbols important to their faith.”

One month ago, I wrote about the proposed charter, criticizing its hypocrisy for singling out some religious symbols while enshrining Catholic privilege. I also decried the antagonistic approach of the Quebec government, stating: “If you have to pass laws banning religious iconography, you’re doing secularism wrong.

I stand by those words today.

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Harper Conservatives continue to rewrite Canadian History

From the government that is still celebrating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 (a war fought between Britain and America) and that refused to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the defining legal document of the country and arguably one of the most progressive constitutions in the world), comes more pro-military historical revisionism:

Canada’s official commemorative plan leading up to the country’s 150th birthday highlights an arsenal of battles and wars, a smattering of sports and a nod to the Arctic, newly obtained documents show.

University of Ottawa history professor Michael Behiels said the list represents a traditional and exceptionally narrow approach that excludes much of Canada’s social, medical and technological history.

"You have to build a broader base here … for it to be really meaningful," Behiels said.

There is no mention of settling the west, the trials and tribulations of working people or legal landmarks that transformed Canada’s social landscape, he noted.

Under budget cuts during the Chretien 1990s and a shift toward militancy, Canada has fallen to historic lows from its once noble tradition of being the world’s peacekeepers.

By Ottawa’s count, there are only 42 Canadian military personnel currently serving in seven UN peacekeeping missions. The UN says the count is even lower. Its most recent monthly report, issued at the end of the April, registered only 33 Canadian military personnel in UN missions. Another 130 Canadian police – some from the RCMP, others from provincial and municipal forces – are also serving with the UN.

The demand remains high though, as the UN now deploys more peacekeepers then ever, with rising powers like India and Bangladesh filling Canada’s role. Canadians are still strongly supportive of peacekeeping, even more so than Conservative priorities such as arctic sovereignty and counter-terrorism interventionary wars like Afghanistan.

There’s little prospect for change though. The current government is bent on continuing to transform Canada’s foreign policy and history toward militarism, while the Trudeau Liberals have no current foreign policy and were responsible for drastic cuts to peacekeeping missions during the 1990s. The NDP is a bit better with its 2013 Policy Book calling for a focus on peacekeeping, summarizing:

New Democrats believe that defense policy should focus on Canada’s rights as a sovereign and effective world citizen – including defending the Arctic and our territorial waters for the benefit of all citizens and future generations. Peace building will be the top military priority of a New Democrat government.

Catholics crash poll to protect privilege

Ontario’s Liberal government has done something really cool in setting up an online database for policy ideas that can be submitted and voted up or down to prioritize what the province should be doing.

One ambitious member of a local Young Liberal riding suggested merging the Catholic and Public school boards to save money and end the religious privilege. The idea gained quick traction and made it to the top four spot.

Unfortunately, this caught the attention of the Catholic school board administration, which circulated emails calling on their staff and trustees to crash the poll, down-voting the idea. At the time of writing it sits at –220 votes.

Go to the site, register, and vote up the idea and spread the word.

Two sides of a coin

There is no inherent contradiction in viewing fundamentalist religious headgear as misogynistic while still supporting an individual’s religious freedom, so why does the media keep painting it as such?

The Charter of Quebec Values is creating a huge, perhaps irreparable rift in the province’s women’s movement. For feminists, there is no halfway position over the proposed ban on religious symbols worn by public employees.

On one side are those for whom the Muslim hijab (or any kind of religious headscarf) is anathema because it’s seen as a symbol of female submission. On the other side are those who believe that wearing a headscarf is a woman’s personal choice and that the law will victimize Muslim women in particular by excluding them from a large sector of the labour market.

It’s similar to the concept of defending even that freedom of speech which we disagree with. I don’t agree with the choice* to wear a hijab but it is not my place to tear it from a woman’s head.

*A tricky concept in this discussion but where free choice is restricted we should target those coercing, not the coerced (don’t blame the victim).