I was encouraged by the federal government’s proposed legislation on prostitution that was unveiled last week. Developed in response to the Bedford Supreme Court Case, the legislation criminalizes the purchase of sex, but specifically targets the consumers and profiteers of the trade. Even if the problems surrounding prostitution are not completely resolved by the legislation, at the very least it signifies a refusal to equate the buying of a person with getting a haircut; that is to say, one is not like the other. That distinction is important and will hopefully continue to keep the trade outside the accepted norms of society.
While some seem content to believe that prostitutes freely choose to work in the industry, I have a tough time believing that to be true. It may be for some, but for every “high-class hooker”, there are many more who are working the streets because they were trafficked into the industry, because they have an addiction to feed, or because it is the only option they have to make ends meet. The Bedfords of the industry are not the norm and our laws should reflect that fact.
The legislation seems well designed to address this problem. It strives to shrink the market by targeting the demand for it. While some argue this will drive prostitution further underground, legalization and regulation would ultimately result in the same thing. Legalization does not mean the automatic eradication of an existing black market; this is exemplified by the further existence of a black market for cigarettes. The “underground” aspect of this problem will always exist; the difference between legalization and continued criminalization is that it’s easier to tackle problems like underage girls or trafficked women working in the industry if prohibition remains intact.
On the other end, the legislation works to provide a safety net for those wishing to escape the trade. Regardless of your opinion on the issue, this is something we should all support. What’s lost in the theatrics of this debate is the fact that there are real women trapped in this exploitative industry. Our goal should be to assist those in need of our help, not by making their “working conditions” safer, but by helping them escape their horrific circumstances.
I think on the whole the government is on the right side of this debate; kudos to Minister Peter MacKay for his strong leadership on this issue.
Cody Boutilier’s piece on prostitution troubled me for a number of reasons. While I agree with him that conservatives don’t want to control what goes on in “the nation’s bedroom”, I believe a distinction can be made between the bedroom and the street corner. Prostitution has a visible social impact that extends far past the walls of the bedroom, and thus conservatives are not acting in totalitarian fashion by attempting to keep it at the fringes of society.
While Cody frames his argument well to support his position, he paints an incomplete picture of what prostitution is. Prostitution is a form of slavery. Prostitution is the purchase of a human being, with which the purchaser can do whatever he pleases; he owns that person for a set period of time. Making prostitution legal does nothing to alter this fact. What’s worse is that the legalization and regulation that Boutilier advocates will make government at best indifferent, and at worse an accessory, to this practice.
However, one does not have to be against legalization to see shortcomings in his argument. He argues that the Nordic model is flawed because prostitutes will be forced to “protect their clients.” On one hand he’s correct, but only to the extent that the prostitute wants repeat business from the client. If her client is abusive or threatens her, then she can report him without fearing arrest from the police. If anything, this ensures that the john will be on his best behavior and empowers the prostitute.
Cody goes on to say that the Nordic model denies women of their agency, as they don’t have the right to choose. While I feel this is a flimsy argument (if one is trafficked or forced into prostitution as many are, what “choice” is that?), the German model that he champions is worse in this regard, and in at least one case, has done the exact opposite!
He criticizes the Nordic model as “utopian” while advocating for the utopia of legalization and regulation instead. The black market won’t simply disappear with legalization and more problems are likely to materialize, such as increases in human trafficking as seen in Germany. While the Nordic model is by no means a perfect solution, it at least attempts to address the issue in a way that does not open the doors to even more problems and makes government complicit in exploitative activities.
In surveying the current political landscape, one can’t help but perceive a decline in social conservatism. Over the past 30 years, its supporters have effectively lost the culture wars and are now being pushed from the public square. Examples include Brandon Eich, who was chased from his job at Mozilla for his views against same-sex marriage, to pro-life clubs being marginalized at many Canadian universities. Gone is the tolerance to live and let live; instead, tolerance now means “accept and embrace, or else…”
How can social conservatives survive their decline into this new reality and live to fight another day?
Social conservatives tend to play defence. They try to apply society’s brakes, slowing the march of progress. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does lead to negative perceptions.
Pick any major issue that social conservatives have engaged with and chances are their position could be summarized with just one word: no. Whether it’s abortion, same-sex marriage, drug legalization, or prostitution, social conservatives are seen as the old cranks who just say no. This makes the job easier for progressives, who can present themselves as enlightened even without a convincing argument.
Social conservatives need to shift tactics by getting ahead of the issues and championing means to address them. On abortion, rather than simply advocating recriminalization, why not start campaigning to improve adoption services and other alternatives? Why not campaign for better palliative care than simply arguing that euthanasia or assisted suicide is wrong and dangerous? Progressives don’t have a monopoly on solutions for social problems; conservatives simply need to better articulate their alternatives. It is not difficult to do: the abolition of the federal long gun registry is a perfect example. Conservatives got in front of the issue and made a strong case against the registry, making the repeal of it politically achievable.
While it’s easier to sit back and lament society’s moral decay, it would be better for conservatives to clearly define their positions and champion alternatives. If we simply sit back and say no, we’ll continue to lose the hearts, minds, and arguments.