Canada’s new prosecution laws came into force this weekend. So, as of Saturday, purchasing sex and sexual services in Canada is criminalized.
The new laws represent a far more aggressive and draconian approach to criminalizing prostitution than had previously been in place. This is ironic, since the old (less criminalization-aggressive) prostitution laws were recently struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada as a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Not surprisingly, reaction from civil liberties groups has been “Typical Stephen Harper/Conservative approach – you don’t like me violating your civil right, well I’ll violate them some more”. Reaction from the legal community has been that the new laws will fail again in the courts and, once again, get struck down as a violation of the Charter.
So, what the Hell is Harper up to? When the old laws were struck down, making prostitution and sex work in Canada legal and calling for regulatory oversight and frameworks, most commentators were saying this was a pretty decent outcome. Canadians largely felt sex work should be legal with some sort of regulatory oversight to ensure safety and minimize nuisance. The smart money, at the time, would say Hell would freeze over before you saw a Canadian politician try to introduce new prostitution laws.
Yet, less than 12 months later, Harper introduces the most aggressive prostitution laws the country has ever seen. They clearly will not work – they will neither protect sex workers (they will make it more dangerous by driving it further underground) and they won’t stop prostitution (because, well, nothing stops prostitution – that’s why its the oldest profession). And, perhaps most importantly, the laws themselves are illegal. As soon as someone challenges then in the courts, they will be struck down.
So, again, what’s he up to? Politics, of course. He is mobilizing the vote in advance of next year’s federal election. By introducing laws that are draconian and in violation of the Charter (which the current Liberal leader authored), he is forcing the Liberals and the New Democrats to declare themselves on sex work. And here is what will happen.
1. Stephen Harper will take out ads claiming the Libs and New Dem’s want a prostitute on every street corner and the Conservative’s base – rural folks, religious folks and immigrants – will get really angry. And, while they aren’t loving Harper these days, they will rush from their suburban homes, from their 4×4 trucks, form their Church basements and from their lumbar-supported easy chairs and they’ll vote, vote, vote for Harper. They may not like him much, but at least he’s not selling them sex like that rascally Justin Trudeau is.
2. Civil libertarians, young people, and progressive will get really angry. They’ll blog, Facebook, tweet and… well… whatever the hell else these people do to show indignation. They are amazing at showing indignation. They will claim Harper is a dictator, a monster, anti-democratic… All that. And on election day… they’ll stay home. Because voting… that’s so ‘the man’.
Well played Stephen Harper. Well played.