“Better to light a candle than curse the darkness” is the first thing to catch my eye when I visit the Amnesty International website. Since it’s beginning in 1961, the organization has been bringing light to the darkest of places and actions around the world. They now have more than 7 million people fighting to create a world where everyone will enjoy the human rights they are entitled to. With no political agenda, religious affiliation or economic interests, they are able to look at evidence without bias and hold individuals as well as governments accountable for their actions.
It is hardly surprising then, that they have heard and rallied behind the global cry of sex workers to decriminalize all aspects of adult consensual sex work and uphold our entitlement to international human rights. After more than two years
For many years governments around the world have been lamenting the difficulties of dealing with such a “complex issue” as the sex industry and it certainly is if the government is consistently making policy and law based on ideology rather than fact based evidence provided by credible research. I witnessed this first hand throughout 2014 as the previous Canadian government used a flawed process to rewrite the laws surrounding prostitution resulting in more restrictions than have been present in Canada in more than 100 years. The most disappointing aspect was the complete disregard shown to the highest court in our land who had stricken the remaining laws from the Canadian Criminal Code in 2013. The Supreme Court, like Amnesty International, recognized that the current laws were not only violating workers rights, they were not effective in combating the criminal activity surrounding the work.
When the former Justice Minister first suggested implementing the “Nordic” model of law there was a collective groan and outcry from the industry and supporters around the country. We all knew that this was about to recreate the dangerous conditions that we had been mostly freed from during the previous year. He stated that the objective was to “reduce the demand for prostitution with a view towards discouraging entry into it, deterring participation in it and, ultimately, abolishing it to the greatest extent possible” then added that it would give sex workers the ability to create better working conditions. Not only would those two goals be at odds with each other, it was apparent to me no one had noticed that after 16 years, Sweden had not been able to accomplish that goal. In fact, Gunilla Ekberg, one of the architects of that strategy, testified to that before the Canadian House of Commons during a three day session of hearings on this subject.
In the report on the “Nordic” law,Catherine Murphy, policy adviser at Amnesty International said, “People say the Nordic model sends a message, but let’s deconstruct that message… Unfortunately, that message seems to be, the most important thing is the eradication of sex work, and the people caught up in crossfire and whose human rights are violated—that’s unfortunate, but it seems to be tolerated. We as Amnesty International don’t accept that. People’s human rights must be respected and protected regardless. Any approach that has to violate people’s rights to achieve an aim is not a legitimate approach.”
“For decades sex workers around the world have been documenting how the criminalization of sex work leads to devastating human-rights abuses against their community. Far too often, their voices and inspiring activism are erased from discussions about sex work. I commend Amnesty for not only following the evidence but for refusing to ignore the voices of the people most affected—sex workers themselves.”
In their final evaluation in 2001, the authors of a study done by The National Police Board in Sweden noted that the results of the “Nordic” model were negative due to more difficult and stressful conditions for the most socially marginalized workers. All evaluations pointed to an increase in hidden prostitution where little is known about conditions and have documented the law’s negative impact on those still involved in street work. The government response has been to say that the law is not about improving conditions but is about ending prostitution and that ‘any negative impact’ on sex workers is outweighed by ‘the message’ conveyed by the law.
As I sit here tonight reflecting on the potential impact of Amnesty’s call to end use of the ‘Nordic’ model of law and the support from so many leading global organizations, I find myself feeling hopeful that we may see change ahead. We were so close at one point and I can only hope that leaders, governments and individuals around the world don’t disregard this clear message from Amnesty International as the previous government in Canada ignored the same message from our Supreme Court.
To our new Prime Minister, I’d like to remind you that on September 18, 2014 you tweeted the following: “The days when old men get to decide what a woman does with her body are long gone. Times have changed for the better. The Liberal Party defends rights.” Mr. Trudeau, with all due respect, that is exactly what happened with this bill and the resulting laws. It’s time to revisit this issue and demonstrate your government’s willingness to defend our rights. Let Canada be the first to heed this call which upholds our commitment to respecting international human rights and our Charter of Rights.