In the months since the Canadian government introduced its proposal for new legislation around sex work, Justice Minister Peter MacKay has been touring the country, holding closed-door meetings with what his department calls “criminal justice system stakeholders.” While the exact identity of those consulted remains unclear, one thing is likely: none of them were sex workers, the very people the government’s roundly criticised proposal will effect.
Canada’s CBC news network says that it has repeatedly requested a list of attendees at MacKay’s C-36 roundtables but was rebuffed with only a statement from his spokeswoman, Clarissa Lamb, saying that the minister "has met with a variety of individuals across many different sectors on justice issues of concern to Canadians across the country." "One central theme was clear throughout," she added. "That Canadians want safe communities in which to live and raise their families."
CBC noticed and linked to a Twitter post showing a selfie of MacKay with sex work abolitionists and vocal advocates of the bill, which gives us a clear indication of which “variety of individuals” was invited to discuss the bill.
Pivot Legal Society, which was an intervener in Canada vs. Bedfordand, in June, released a study on the human rights impact of criminalising sex workers’ clients, observed an interesting parallel in a blog post this week.
Two months ago, Pivot wrote, the Downtown Eastside organization Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV) sent invitationsto each and every Member of Parliament and Senator to come to the DTES community, meet with them, listen to their stories, and see what their lives are like; to understand how the legislation they draft directly impacts their lives. Out of 412 invitations, only one accepted. That MP (who requested anonymity) met with SWUAV members in the DTES last week; heard their stories and toured the neighbourhood, seeing where they work and where they live. “She heard stories about the importance of screening clients”, Pivot wrote, “working closely with other women and having full access to the police. She heard how these safety measures are impossible under Canada’s existing prostitution laws, and will continue to be impossible under Bill C-36”. This happened at the same time MacKay was in Vancouver, consulting with everyone except the people his proposed legislation impacts.
“That MacKay and the federal Conservatives failed to adequately consult with sex workers when they drafted this legislation is no surprise. This out-of-touch lawmaking has typified their approach since they formed government.
That no Member of Parliament, save for one, accepted an invitation to speak with the women whose lives will be most affected by this legislation is beyond disappointing. It’s a violation of the contract between those that govern and the people they represent.
Despite the disappointment, the women of SWUAV remain steadfast in their resolve to fight bad laws that endanger them. It meant so much to the women to be heard this one time, and they will continue to demand to be heard by the government that claims to want to protect them. As one member of SWUAV said in the meeting:
“If one person can listen to us, that might lead to change in the world.””