Thursday, October 9, 2008

Analysis of Libby Davies' Work on Prostitution Issues and the Controversy Surrounding It

Many of the aunties in our Vancouver East riding support Libby Davies of the NDP to be returned to Parliament, but some of the aunties have been saying they are concerned about her views on prostitution. An auntie who has been volunteering with Davies' campaign inquired about this and sends some information about what Davies' position is and has been.

In 2002, Libby made a Speech in Parliament: Time to Review Canada's Solicitation Laws She was supporting her private members motion to create a parliamentary committee to review solitication laws. She includes the fact that if women get a criminal record that makes it harder for them to leave prostitution. In 2003, Libby released a press statement saying all parties had agreed that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights should review federal laws around solicitation, with a view to "recommend changes that would reduce the dangers facing sex trade workers and ensure safer and healthy communities." The report that came out in December 2006 is called THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGE: A STUDY OF CANADA’S CRIMINAL PROSTITUTION LAWS. Libby discussed it in a January 2007 press release.

The government's 139-page report is interesting, among other reasons, because it shows that three parties in Parliament agreed that prostitution be viewed as a public health issue, while the Conservative party's dissenting section stated prostitution should be viewed as violence against women. This language, that prostitution is violence against women, is also used by the feminists who support abolition of prostitution; but clearly the Conservatives do not support the feminists' recommendations for a remedy, which includes a guaranteed livable income, housing, drug rehab availability, and other social services.

According to the auntie who volunteers on her campaign, Libby supports decriminalization but not legalization of prostitution, she wishes to reduce harm to women who are involved in the sex trade and reduce barriers to their being able to exit. The auntie said that even those who had some quarrels with Libby's position on prostitution would get farther towards their own goals keeping Libby, who is honest, works hard on the issue, and really cares about the prostituted women [even if she calls them "sex workers"]. She also said that Libby's positions are her own and not necessarily the same as those of the NDP platform. [I did not find prostitution mentioned in the NDP's platform, but here are sections of their platform on Women: Moving Forward on Equality and Building Strong Communities.]

Here are Libby's own words about prostitution from the 2007 release:

I will continue to call for law reform, immediate support for exit strategies, and the need for a public inquiry, to ensure that necessary changes are made at all levels of government, to best protect the rights and safety of sex workers and affected communities.

Current laws around prostitution make street level sex workers vulnerable to selective law enforcement as well as exploitation and violence. Survival sex workers are often poor and drug dependent, and are reluctant to seek protection under the law.

Cuts in social programs and spending, together with increasing poverty, particularly over the past decade, have forced more women into survival sex trade.

The Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Human Rights recently completed its report on prostitution laws, The Challenge of Change: a Study of Canada's Criminal Prostitution Laws. ... The report outlines the failure of the criminal code to protect sex workers and local communities. When sex workers are displaced to isolated areas as a result of the communicating law, they face greater risk for harm and death and become easier targets for predators.

There was near unanimous agreement from witnesses heard at the committee that the current status and regime of law enforcement pertaining to prostitution is unworkable, contradictory and unacceptable. It has created an environment of marginalization and violence, with negative impacts on both sex workers and affected local communities.

Sex workers are fearful to report violence, assault and coercion because of their illegal status. Their poor relationship with law enforcement authorities, contributes to the danger they face. Better training of law enforcement agencies is needed.

I believe the federal government must come to terms with the contradictions and impossibility of the status quo, and engage in a process of law reform that will lead to the decriminalization of laws pertaining to prostitution and focus criminal sanctions on harmful situations.

It is also critical for all levels of government to immediately improve the safety of sex workers and assist them to exit the sex trade if they are not there by choice, by providing significant resources for poverty alleviation and income support, education and training, and treatment for addictions.

In February 2002, I called on the Mayor of Vancouver, as Chair of the Vancouver Police Board, to support an inquiry into the police investigation of the missing women to determine what happened. This public inquiry still needs to happen.

In March 2008, the Workless Party hosted a forum titled "Should Prostitution Be Legalised Before the 2010 Olympics," organized and moderated by Carly Teng. This was recorded and produced as streaming video by Working TV. Among the participants, pretty much all wanted to remove the criminal penalty on women for "communicating" - i.e., offering to exchange sex for money - but there was a strong division over whether the johns, or purchasers of sex, should be criminalized (a.k.a. The Swedish Model - a law passed in Sweden in 1999 and emulated by a number of other countries, including Korea and Norway). It is significant that the success of Sweden's law has depended heavily on Sweden's survivable welfare rates and other supports to exiting both prostitution and drug addiction.

On legalization - which is not advocated by Davies - A recent report by Deutsche Welle, picked up by the Women's UN Report Network, is titled Europe Reconsiders Prostitution as Sex Trafficking Booms . Basically, legalized prostitution in Europe is creating a market and a cover for forced trafficking of women for sexual purposes.

Just as a footnote - from the same article:

In Britain, where paid sex is legal but prostitutes aren't allowed to solicit in public [like in Canada], a group of Labour MPs have advocated for replacing criminal penalties for street prostitutes with mandatory counseling programs to get them out of the business. "We don't criminalize people who sell kidneys, we criminalize the buyer," Labour MP Fiona MacTaggart told Reuters news agency.

I hasten to add that "mandatory counseling" is not part of Libby Davies' position, nor that of either the decriminalization or the abolition segments of Vancouver's activists on this issue.

1 comment:

  1. Many feminists agree with Libby Davies' position. In addition to that March forum by the Workless Party, there was an informative and well-attended forum on June 11, hosted by FIRST, a feminist advocacy group for sex worker rights and for decriminalization of adult sex work.

    It was also filmed by Working TV: