Some common ground on sex work.

Posted on June 15, 2011

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The Ontario court of appeal is hearing a case that will probably be the final deciding factor as to whether Canada’s sex work laws continue to exist in their current form. The current legal framework allows sex work, but punishes those who do it by making it illegal for sex workers to take any basic steps to protect themselves from dangerous clients. I recognize that sex work is a controversial issue on the left, but I think we can find some common ground on the sheer stupidity of the crown’s argument in defense of the current legal framework. Here it is, summarized in Xtra:

“[The crown prosecutor] argued that the fact that sex workers choose their profession knowing the dangers associated with it “weakens the causal connection” between the law and the violence faced by sex workers.

“What’s being interfered with is not a security interest,” but instead an economic choice, she argued.

In this case, “harm happens by individual acts of others without state encouragement. The state has not acted in a joint endeavour to cause harm,” Klukach said.

Therefore, she argued, the law cannot be responsible for the harm suffered by sex workers, using standards of criminal law.”

That first line seems to be the gist of the crown’s argument: If you choose to go into sex work, then you’re on your own. Don’t expect the government to lift a finger to help you. Don’t even expect the government to refrain from taking action designed explicitly to hurt you. When you sign up for a dangerous profession, you accept all the risks and if you get hurt then it’s nobody’s fault but your own. This is a pretty repugnant argument, but not entirely surprising for the Harper government. The important question is, can it be universalized to other people who voluntarily undertake dangerous employment? It’s easy enough to see, by just switching around a few words. Let’s have a look:

  • The fact that air force pilots choose their profession knowing the dangers associated with it ‘weakens the causal connection’ between the lack of F-35s, and the dangers faced by pilots.
  • The fact that volunteer firefighters choose their vocation knowing the dangers associated with it ‘weakens the causal connection’ between the lack of funding and the dangers faced by volunteer firefighters.
  • The fact that police officers choose their profession knowing the dangers associated with it ‘weakens the causal connection’ between their not being allowed to carry guns, and the violence committed by the criminals with whom they must contend.
  • The fact that hockey players choose their profession knowing the dangers associated with it ‘weakens the causal connection’ between the in-game legality of head-shots, and Sidney Crosby’s concussion.
  • And so on.

Somehow I can’t see the Federal government using this line of argument in any of the above examples. Probably because many people who willingly put themselves in harm’s way are darlings of right-wing populism. Not so much with sex workers, who don’t even have the right to protect themselves, much less expect protection from law enforcement. We can disagree over whether sex work should be abolished or de-stigmatized, but sane people can probably agree that it should not be back-handedly punished. I’ll let you make your own deductive inferences on what that says about the Harper government.

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