Living, Working, and Wasting Time in Southern Manitoba

Month: February 2014

Strange bedfellows

To an outsider, the Manitoba New Democratic Party would appear a strange beast. Unlike their federal counterparts, Manitoba’s NDP has actually governed for a large amount of time. The federal party has never held power.

So it comes as no surprise that the provincial party has a more pragmatic approach to governing, and leans more centrist than its federal cousin. This could really be seen during the years of Premier Gary Doer who often made decisions that appeared to be more in tune with federal Liberals or even Conservatives than the NDP. The Selinger government has moved back closer to the left, but some things still perplex me.

A case in point is the Manitoba NDP approach to crime. It is understandable to a point for when they came into power, Winnipeg had some crime problems that had to be looked after. Car theft and murder capital are not good titles to hold.

This brings us to last week. The Winnipeg Free Press reported that Andrew Swan, Manitoba Justice Minister, had urged the federal government to use the Nordic Model when it comes to the sex trade in Canada. It seems that the Manitoba party of the left is going down the road in lockstep with the federal party of the right.

I have voiced my opinion on this matter in two previous posts about federal Minister Peter MacKay and WInnipeg MP Joy Smith.

So now the provincial NDP are weighing in and it seems that they also fail to see what the Supreme Court was trying to say. The short version of the Court’s decision was that you could regulate but not outright ban the practice of sex work in Canada. To me at least, it appeared that they said that any outright ban on prostitution would fail when challenged in the Court.

“It should make any purchase of sex illegal, period. But we should decriminalize the victims of sexual exploitation, ” Swan was quoted as saying in the Free Press.

Now I do understand how this fits in with the NDP’s outlook that everyone should be allowed a certain amount of dignity in their life regardless of their economic abilities and that the poor and disadvantaged among us must not be allowed to be mistreated or victimized by others in our society. I share this outlook on life, and I do believe that people should be afforded dignity by their fellow citizens and by their government.

This is where the argument breaks down. How can you claim to be honouring a person’s dignity and then tell them that their personal decision to do what they choose with their body is not acceptable? You cannot give someone the right to determine their own future and then take choices away. Consenting adults have the right to make choices for and about themselves. As per Swan’s comment, yes we should decriminalize the victims of sexual exploitation, no one would think that’s a bad idea. His comment is actually meant to infer that all sex workers are victims of sexual exploitation. While many sex workers are victims, some are not, and lumping everyone together is disingenuous.

Again, from the Free Press article:

Swan said crafting a fair prostitution law is complex, but targeting demand will decrease the number of sex-trade workers who are murdered or go missing. And it will reduce the levels of coercion many young women face from pimps and sex traffickers.

This is where the proponents of the “Nordic Model” lose me. To recap, the Nordic idea is to target the customers, the johns, of the sex trade and make it illegal to pay for sexual services, but not to receive payment. This decriminalizes the sex worker but keeps the customer criminalized. The idea behind it is to reduce prostitution by drying up the demand. This does not make sense. It is already illegal to pay for sex and people still do it. The customer is already taking that risk today, decriminalizing the sex worker will not change demand.

I also do not understand why targeting demand will necessarily reduce the number of sex workers who are murdered or go missing. I do not believe that everyone who wants to pay for sex is a murderer. My feeling is that to lessen the number of prostitutes that go missing or get murdered is to have a place for them to work that would be safer. A legal brothel in my mind would be a much safer environment than the back alleys and cars that the illegal johns would still be hiding in. If parts of the industry remain illegal, then pimps and sex traffickers retain their power of coercion over their victims.

The only safer environment is a regulated legal environment.

I understand what is going on here. The NDP has traditionally been the party that most defends the rights of minorities, women, and the poor. Therefore, on the surface this seems to be the right position. Sex workers, mostly women, are often victims of sexual abuse, coercion, and outright violence up to and including rape and murder. I don’t pretend for a minute that this doesn’t happen.

Where I start to think differently is what the reasons are for the problems that women, and some men, in the sex trade face. To me a huge part of the problem is that society as a whole has a real problem with talking about and acknowledging sex. Slut shaming is almost like a national sport in much of our society. Who one has sex with, in or out of marriage, seems to be the concern of a lot of people who really shouldn’t be concerned about it at all. People assume that their attitude and feelings on the subject should be shared by everyone. There is a big ick factor when it comes to the sexual practices of others.

This is where things become illogical.

I consider myself a feminist. I believe in the equality of women, and that is how I lead my life and my personal relationships. I abhor anyone, male or female, who would put women in a secondary class or role to that of men. I don’t stand for it.

So it confuses me when people, many who claim to be staunch feminists, discount the choices of their fellow citizens who choose to do sex work. If an adult woman chooses to have sex with someone for money, without threats of violence or coercion, I find it completely disrespectful to tell her that she cannot do that to which she chooses. It is her body, her choice.

Our job as a society is to make it so that it is not her only choice. Someone can only make a choice freely when they see that it is not the only option. To do otherwise would mean that you were a victim of coercion. That is what is not acceptable, to not allow other choices. As a society we need to stop furthering policies that drive citizens into making desperate choices in the first place. All of that being said, if someone makes the choice to work in the sex industry, it is their choice and theirs alone. I am not going to pretend that I have the moral authority to tell them otherwise.

The other thing we need to do as a society is stop marginalizing those that would participate in a legal sex work system. That is really the crux of this. When it comes down to it, this is our society’s ever present practice of slut shaming. Large parts of our society see sex workers, present and past, as somehow broken people. Perhaps many are, but I’m not the judge of that. It is not my place to pass judgement on other consenting adults doing what they decide to do.

My feeling is that sex work is more dangerous because society would rather not accept that sex workers are people too. If we could accept that they are people who need protections from traffickers and murderers, then we would go after traffickers and murderers instead of pushing the industry to the fringes of our society.

But targeting traffickers and murderers directly would actually make sense.

As an aside, the Federal Government did actually start a Public Consultation on this issue from February 17 to March 17 on the Justice Department website.

Fat Tax / Skinny Credit

The Government of Manitoba recently explored the idea of a “fat tax” for Manitoba, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

It seems that there is dubious evidence about whether a fat tax works or not. My guess is that it probably doesn’t, as even with the tax, many of the junk food items are most likely still cheaper than the items that people should be eating.

While thinking about this topic, it occurred to me that other factors besides a tax would affect what people would buy. The most likely culprits when it comes to making unhealthy food choices is that healthy foods are often more expensive to source and store for the retailer. Many processed foods also have the backing of large corporations and their marketing department. Retailers make more money on junk food, so the retailer promotes it.

So it occurs to me that it is the retailer that we as a society need to find a way to change. If you change the behaviour of the retailer toward featuring, promoting, and selling more healthy choices. If the retailer promotes more healthy foods, or makes more of them available, or even has them at lower prices, then chances are that the consumer ends up buying more healthy food choices.

So how do you do that?

My thought is that you do introduce a “junk food tax” but it applies to the retailer and the total amount of junk food that they sell. However, that alone would not do it, because prices would just raise across the board to cover the tax. What you do is also introduce a “healthy food tax credit” to the retailer. Essentially, you tax the bad stuff, and reward the good. The customer never sees the tax.

I don’t know how it would work, but if it gives stores like 7-Eleven a reason to promote healthier choices to its customers, I’d like to look at it.

The original reformer…


Today is Louis Riel Day in Manitoba.

He is now widely considered the Father of Manitoba, although it wasn’t always this way. Not too long ago it was taught in schools that Riel was a traitor to Canada and that his execution at Regina was justified.

Some people will call it revisionist history, but my feeling is that the re-examination of the facts with a less racist view has resulted in a story closer to the truth being told.

I personally do not think that Riel was necessarily a saint, few leaders are. To become a leader of people you often need some ruthless qualities to your personality. I do however believe that he was truly fighting for his people and their well being when he led the “rebellions” that he did. His labelling as a traitor seems to have been the work of a government that didn’t want to deal with The West.

What I find most ironic about Louis Riel Day is that the people here that are most opposed to the holiday being named as such, are also the most likely to resent the way that politics take place today in Ottawa and how they feel that the western provinces do not get a fair shake.

Riel was the original Reformer. The West wanted in on her own terms, not on those being forced by Ottawa politicians.

He is a man that helped build this country, and I am proud that my province has decided to honour him, warts and all.

Tense drive to the Tim Horton’s

We went to Elie on Tuesday.

It was supposed to be a trip to Winnipeg for an appointment that my spouse had made. Normally we would not travel on such a snowy day, but the appointment was important enough that we wanted to try to make it, and the roads were at the point where the trip looked reasonable for an experienced winter driver. The roads in Brandon by the time we left were okay and visibility was a few kilometers, the storm was to move further east ahead of us.

Well, things didn’t go quite as well as we had hoped, and by the time that we were halfway between Portage la Prairie and Elie we were basically in whiteout conditions. You could see about 90 metres in front of the car.

It was a little dicey, but the highway itself was still drivable, you just had to travel at a speed that matched conditions. By my own reckoning, that speed would have been about 60 to 70 kilometres per hour.

And no one was doing that.

So, here we are, our little Nissan Versa, hurtling down the highway at 8o km/h. I would have rather been going 65, but because of the other drivers on the highway, that didn’t seem safe either. I was confident in my ability to stay on the road and in the grip that my winter tires had on it, what was making my knuckles white was my nervous grip on the steering wheel while hoping that one of the idiots driving down the highway at 110 km/h in whiteout conditions was not going to rear-end us.

That is why I kept going 80… I shouldn’t have had to.

I just do not understand what people do not get about the concept of driving to the conditions. Nobody was. Not one other vehicle was travelling slower than us, we got passed by multiple vehicles.

And now we want to raise the speed limit on that highway to 110 km/h. Now, I’m not necessarily opposed to this. In fact, in the summer during optimal driving conditions I’d probably be fine with 115. Since most people I know go above the speed limit anyway, and the common speed on the Trans-Canada is about 110, I’m totally aware that the common speed on the route will become about 120. I’m okay with that, in the summer.

So, my suggestion would be that we do raise the speed limit on the highway to 110 during the summer, when it is safe to do so. However, keep the speed at 100 during the winter. Since we haven’t changed the signs to 110 yet, now is the time to consider this way of establishing the speed limit. Add a sign above the current 100 that says WINTER (NOV to MAR) and then attach the new signs to the side that say SUMMER (APR to OCT). Since we were going to have to create new signs anyway, the extra cost of this should be minimal.

Apparently drivers cannot regulate themselves to drive slower in the winter, so it seems to me the only safe thing to do would be keep the highway at 100 km/h, at least during those months. Sure, people would still overdrive conditions, but giving them even more rope to hang themselves with seems crazy.

Oh well, on the bright side, the Elie Timmies is open.

Failing grade for Conservative MP



As a former school teacher, I expect more from Joy Smith, M.P., so I’m giving her an “F” on her latest self imposed assignment, a letter to Amnesty International (AI) on their recently leaked proposed policy document on legalized prostitution.

It is obvious to me that she didn’t read the document, or that she has very poor reading comprehension skills, as her letter posted on the Huffington Post website completely misrepresents what Amnesty International is (allegedly) trying to say.

I have to give her credit though. If not for her opposition to it, I would have never read Amnesty’s policy document, which is a well thought out and researched statement. It balances the rights of consenting adults to participate in activities that involve nobody else while still advocating that the state has a place to make sure that everyone involved is doing so of their own free will, without “coercion, threats, or violence”.

In Smith’s first sentence she goes off the rails, “I am writing to urge Amnesty International to reconsider its policy position, leaked to the public, which promotes the legalization of prostitution and the rights of pimps over the rights of victims of sexual exploitation.” The emphasis is mine, but it shows that she has not read the document. The entire point of AI’s position is to advocate for those who willingly choose sex work. They do not once advocate for pimps. The closest I can see is where they touch on laws like Canada’s “living on the avails” recently struck down by the Supreme Court.

The blanket criminalization of the clients of sex work, or of support functions such as
body guards and receptionists, has also proven to drive those engaged in sex work
underground, increasing the risk of violence and abuse. Where aspects of sex work
remain criminal, those engaging in sex work are less inclined to seek both routine care
and urgent protection. Moreover, the criminalization of “living off the proceeds of
prostitution,” while perhaps intended to cover those who exploit sex workers, has
been shown to apply to both help-functions (guards, receptionists, landlords), as well
as roommates, family, and even children.

This section is obviously aimed at the sex worker’s ability to procure safer work conditions for herself and the legal ramifications for those that may share any accommodation with her. It is not meant to be a defense of the coercion, threats, and violence of pimps, the entire document in fact seems to be about getting rid of the conditions that would enable pimps to flourish.

Ms. Smith goes on further to claim that AI’s position on individuals with disabilities is “highly offensive and degrading”” to the disabled community”. Here is the alleged offensive section.

Along similar lines, men and women who buy sex from consenting adults are also
exercising personal autonomy. For some—in particular persons with mobility or
sensory disabilities or those with psycho-social disabilities that hamper social
interactions—sex workers are persons with whom they feel safe enough to have a
physical relationship or to express their sexuality. Some develop a stronger sense of
self in their relationships with sex workers, improving their life enjoyment and
dignity. At a very basic level, expressions of sexuality and sex are a primary
component of the human experience, which is directly linked to individuals’ physical
and mental health. The state’s interference with an adult’s strategy to have sex with
another consenting adult is, therefore, a deliberate interference with those individuals’
autonomy and health.

Apparently Ms. Smith cannot face the reality that some disabled people, while having very real sexual needs, may not be able to find someone through typical avenues that may be able to help them fulfill those needs. It is a fact that in our society sex is not always an equal opportunity experience, and that some individuals may not have the same access to fulfilling their own natural sexual needs. Who am I to deny someone the fulfilling of their reasonable sexual desires with another consenting adult, just because that act may require an exchange of currency or other favours. It is in fact Ms. Smith who is highly offensive and degrading to those with disabilities as she somehow thinks that she is in the position to make their personal sexual choices for them.

Joy, it is none of your damn business.

As for her contention that Amnesty is abandoning victims, she again goes off on a tangent. She starts talking about under-age victims of the sex-trade. Repeatedly Amnesty International states that their policy is about consenting adults.

Amnesty International considers children involved in commercial sex acts to be
victims of sexual exploitation, entitled to support, reparations, and remedies, in line
with international human rights law. States must take all appropriate measures to
prevent violence and exploitation of children. The best interests of the child should, in
all cases, be a primary consideration and the state should preserve the right of the
child to be heard and to have his or her views given due weight in accordance with
their age and maturity.

They repeat this position multiple times throughout the document. Amnesty International is against the exploitation of children, there is no doubt about this. Ms. Smith’s blatant dishonesty about this fact is disappointing.

Even in her closing argument, Smith refers to a study that shows correlation between legalizing sex work and human trafficking. Even the authors of said study state in their conclusion the following:

However, such a line of argumentation overlooks potential benefits that the legalization of prostitution might have on those employed in the industry. Working conditions could be substantially improved for prostitutes—at least those legally employed—if prostitution is legalized. Prohibiting prostitution also raises tricky “freedom of choice” issues concerning both the potential suppliers and clients of prostitution services. A full evaluation of the costs and benefits, as well as of the broader merits of prohibiting prostitution, is beyond the scope of the present article.

I do not have any problem with the fact that Ms. Smith has an opinion that is opposed to legalizing prostitution in Canada, she has the right to an opinion. My problem is with the fact that she misrepresents the position of those who disagree with her. As she is a former science teacher, her inability to grasp the statements and facts in relation to this topic flabbergasts me. She has been given the tools to interpret what she is reading, yet fails to.

Fine, she doesn’t like prostitution, but that doesn’t mean that it should be illegal. Yes, we should have controls on sex work so that it can be practiced safely and legitimately in Canada, and Amnesty International said as much.

It is obvious that the Conservative Government of Joy Smith and Peter MacKay is about to foist on us a new prostitution law based on the “Nordic Model”, which aims to protect sex workers by criminalizing their customers. It does not take a brain surgeon to realize the inherent problem with this plan. Because the customers are criminalized, the sex worker must then go to the places where the customers are. This puts her right back in the dangerous conditions that the Amnesty document and the Supreme Court of Canada decision were trying to rectify. Any rational person will see after some thought that such an approach will end up back at the SCoC where it will again be struck down. The Court’s decision made it clear, at least to me, that reasonable laws that respected the sex worker’s right to ply his or her trade would be acceptable, but that those which put unreasonable limitations on their ability to earn a living would be struck down. This is not very difficult to understand.

Perhaps Amnesty’s opening paragraph puts it best:

Amnesty International is opposed to the criminalization or punishment of activities
related to the buying or selling of consensual sex between adults. Amnesty
International believes that seeking, buying, selling and soliciting paid sex are acts
protected from state interference as long as there is no coercion, threats or violence
associated with those acts. Legitimate restrictions may be imposed on the practice of
sex work if they comply with international human rights law (i.e., they are for a
legitimate purpose, appropriate to meet that purpose, proportionate and nondiscriminatory).

…We believe that a policy based on human right principles that values
the input and experiences of sex workers is the most likely to ensure that no one
enters or stays in sex work involuntary.

If Peter MacKay and Joy Smith could craft a law that would meet that statement, we would have something that would stand up to the Charter, therefore surviving legal challenge, and would respect the rights of all Canadians.