Some hitherto unacceptable occupations stand poised to become listed in Canada’s job bank. If a memo from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada bears fruit, the following categories will be considered newly suitable for posting at the government website: “Exotic dancer, erotic dancer, nude dancer, striptease dancer and table dancer. Escort, chat line agent, phone agent for personal services and telephone agent for personal services.”
Lets not linger over the question of what possible difference there can be among some of these job descriptions – the bureaucracy must at all costs churn out words. Let us instead celebrate the very rapid enlightenment that has taken place in Canadian government circles in the scant two weeks since Ontario Supreme Court Justice Susan Himel threw out the country’s prostitution laws.
At that time Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, announcing a court challenge to the ruling, told Parliament that “prostitution is a problem that harms individuals and communities.” If HRDC goes ahead with the change, prostitutes will have access to such services as the Job Match -“Advertise your job profile to employers and receive a list of matching jobs,” the Resume Builder, the Career Navigator, and the job alert -“Receive by e-mail a list of job openings that match your search criteria.” Hey, who needs Craigslist?
Lets assume for the sake of argument here that the government of Canada is aware that escort services don’t exist simply to provide single gentlemen with suitable dates for formal occasions. Could it be that someone in Ottawa has recognized that it’s safer, and better for traffic flow, to get the sex trade off the streets and under the purview of Service Canada?
There’s some chance that the memo originated at the bureaucratic level and has nothing at all to do with the Conservative Party, which has not in the past shown a high degree of enthusiasm for the professions listed therein. Given that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has still not explained why he dumped former star minister Helena Geurgis from caucus, there’s little left to conclude but that she fell prey to rumours surrounding her husband and “busty hookers.”
Back in 2004, when Liberal immigration minister Judy Sgro signed a ministerial order to extend the work permit of a Romanian stripper, Conservatives were outraged. By coincidence, the afore-mentioned Geurgis scored the best comment on that occasion when she accused Sgro during Question Period of “dancing around the subject.”
It’s still quite possible that this memo will lead nowhere. Just because the Conservatives have set their foot on this path, it doesn’t mean they’re going to march up to the red light and knock on the door. Since taking office, Harper has displayed an ability to change direction on – well, I can’t think of a specific case, but he’s human, so they say, and human beings do change their minds.
But there are several reasons why the government might decide to stay the course on its new friendlier attitude toward the sex trade. There’s the increase in the tax base, the expansion of opportunity for MP expense claims, and most important of all, the reduction of Canada’s jobless numbers. Just let the opposition try to say the government isn’t addressing unemployment now, or that all the new jobs are low-paying part-time work.
A better reason than all of these, and one we can only hope might be taken seriously in government circles, is that street prostitution is a deadly trade, and the bizarre set of laws surrounding that trade make it all the more dangerous. Justice Himel tossed out the existing laws because they violate the Charter of Rights by endangering the lives of sex trade workers. Since 1985, 300 prostitutes have been murdered or have disappeared from Canada’s streets.
Whatever befalls the job bank listing, the government of Canada has a responsibility to address the Ontario court ruling, not by appealing it to the Supreme Court of Canada, but by writing new laws to protect sex trade workers from exploitation by pimps, harassment by police, and assault and murder by clients.
Prostitution won’t go away because it’s illegal. The circumstance most likely to diminish its presence in society is equality for women. Educated women with good employment opportunities will be less likely to choose “escort” from the job bank listings. In the meantime, choosing sex work as a way to get by is a tough enough decision as it is. Let’s not make it a capital crime.
Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.