Irrationalism and Politics

Mention sex work and politicians abandon reason. The latest example of this is Canada. Now I once thought of the land of the maple leaf as a “nice” country, a sort of USA lite with the Queen but without the guns, and less crass television and this is, I imagine, a not unusual view. Certainly the Canadians I met backpacking around Europe many years ago always had a maple leaf prominent on their rucksacks so that they would not be taken for Americans.

But Canada has some very restrictive laws on prostitution, at least until a dominatrix called Terri-Jean Bedford took them on and secured a Supreme Court judgement that the laws were unconstitutional in that they compromised sex workers’ health and safety.

The government was given 12 months to go away and come up with something better. It was no real surprise that they came up with a Nordic model inspired proposal to criminalise sex workers’ clients. The problems with this have been much discussed elsewhere so I won’t rehearse the arguments again here but just comment that opponents of criminalisation are not, as some allege, part of a pimping lobby but include the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, and closer to home, The Lancet and former Conservative minister Lord Fowler.

The issue is, of course, that the proposed new laws are open to the same objections as the ones struck down by the Supreme Court. Forcing sex workers into the shadows effectively cuts them off from protection by the police and denies them access to health services. In other words they compromise their health and safety at work.

If it seems strange that they would do this we need only look nearer to home where politicians like Mary Honeyball and Gavin Shuker show themselves the intellectual prisoners of the anti-sex work ideology that is a curious blend of radical feminism and religious fundamentalism and has little basis in the actual lived experience of sex workers, who they are oddly reluctant to talk to.

Expect sex work to be keeping the Canadian courts busy for a while to come.

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