A lot can happen in two weeks

I’m just a few days home from a two-week motorcycle tour that touched base in each of the four original provinces of Confederation, the province that hosted the Confederation conference and the last province to join the Dominion of Canada (answers later in the blog). While away, much that is important in my life unfolded in my absence.

Don - Headshot "Love, Hope, Believe"

Don – Headshot “Love, Hope, Believe”

Gloria, my wife, took the initiative to enlist some helpers and undertake several projects that were on the summer to-do list. The bench swing is stained and back up and swinging. The deck and front porch bench are stained. The windows are washed and bathrooms painted. The garage has been cleaned. And, there’s a small garden in the back yard. I don’t do gardening so this one is extra special for Gloria.

A little farther from home, there were developments in significant situations that lie close to my heart.

Hamas attacked Israel. This time it was more than the five rockets fired on the first day of Prime Minister Harper’s official visit in January. I was there that day. Apart from the local media reports – with confirmation from some of the IDF members who accompanied the delegation – there wasn’t much of anything said in January because the Iron Dome missile defence system did its job. Last week, however, Hamas launched a barrage that has seen more than 1,000 rockets (and climbing) fired into Israel from Gaza; some going deeper into Israel than ever before. Iron Dome has taken out more than 90% of them and the extensive network of bomb shelters throughout Israel has handled safety for all but a handful of Israeli citizens.

Sadly, hundreds of Gaza residents have died or been injured in the launch sites targeted defence initiatives of the Israeli Defense Force (which is potentially the only standing military force in the world that is named for and has the primary objective of defense). The IDF operates in a protective manner, engaging only when Israel is first attacked. As recently as this morning, Israel agreed to the Egypt brokered ceasefire, waiting 6 hours before conceding that the 47 rockets fired by Hamas during that timeframe meant that the political authority in Gaza – which said it was considering the ceasefire proposal – and the terrorist Hamas – which said it was not consulted – were not in step with pursuing peace, temporary or long term.

Please pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the State of Israel.

Back in Ottawa, there was a special sitting of the Justice Committee to hear testimony on Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, the proposal to replace Canada’s prostitution laws; for the first time criminalizing the purchase of sexual services and related conscription and marketing activities. It was a pleasure to pray that the voices of survivors and those they have trusted to advocate alongside them be heard. In this mix of witnesses, much like the motorcycle community, I have been privileged to meet and become friends with people I might otherwise never have come in contact with based on my own background and education.

Please pray for wisdom and compassion as the committee meets this week to consider amendments to the proposed legislation.

On the road, my friend Barry and I moved through original Canadian provinces Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick to enjoy a few days on Prince Edward Island. On PEI we attended the Atlanticade motorcycle gathering and visited Province House where the Confederation conference was held in September 1864. PEI didn’t join the new nation until 1873.

We hit original province number four, Nova Scotia, after leaving PEI. Riding round the spectacular Cabot Trail we arrived precisely on time in North Sydney to load the bikes on the ferry to Argentia, Newfoundland. Newfoundland and Labrador was the last province to join the Dominion, doing so in 1949.

On day one in NL we trekked to the easternmost point in North America and visited the famous spot on which Marconi received the first trans-Atlantic wireless signal – seeing icebergs just outside the St. John’s harbour. The next day we toured some of the most scenic highway I’ve ever encountered. A quick jaunt into Gros Morne National Park was to follow but will have to wait as plans were interrupted by post-hurricane Arthur wind and rain. Instead, we raced to Port-aux-Basques to beat the 110km/h plus winds forecast (and fulfilled) at Wreckhouse (still we encountered gusts between 80 and 100 km/h), arriving just before noon to weather the storm from inside our hotel. The next morning we caught the ferry (well it didn’t leave until mid-afternoon, waiting for the swells to drop below 4 metres) to North Sydney.

Waiting to get on the ferry, we met with two motorcyclists from Baton Rouge, LA, who had started the journey in a group of three. One rider went off the road near Wreckhouse and died a few hours later in Corner Brook. Please pray for Andy’s family and friends. His memorial service was today.

On the final part of our journey home, we rode through some neighbourhoods in Fredericton where trees were down and power was still out from their experience with Arthur. Please pray for folks there, some of whom have lost much and others who are still waiting for electricity to be restored.

A lot can happen in two weeks. And it did. Life is fragile. Handle with prayer.

Prostitution, Advocacy, and Canada’s Bill C-36

Originally published June 12, 2014 at The Cardus Daily.

Most Canadians know little about prostitution, but still feel strongly about it. Few see prostitution as a healthy thing for Canadian women, children, men, or communities. Even those who do, generally don’t want the women (and it’s overwhelmingly women) walking their street. And as Canada’s laws on prostitution were challenged in the courts, more Canadians became aware that upward of 90 percent of those marketed in the world’s oldest profession are commodities of sexual pleasure against their will.

Media Scrum at the Supreme Court of Canada

Media Scrum at the Supreme Court of Canada

A friend has written:

There are great limitations in being an advocate. The inability to be inside the skin of those one seeks to advocate for. The diverse experiences of those one seeks to advocate for. The reality that some feel your advocacy does not represent them. At times, it makes you want to curl up in a corner and just shut up. But the sad reality is that as a person of privilege there are places that I can go to speak where my friends are unwelcome—and while that deeply grieves me—I am compelled to go and use my voice to the best of my ability. Lord, have mercy on us.

—Wendy VanderWal Gritter

As one accepted as an advocate by those who have survived the abuses of prostitution and become activists for a community to which I have not belonged, I have engaged before Parliament and the Supreme Court of Canada; privileged to be able to use my voice, to the best of my ability, on their behalf.

I have waited until reading or hearing the thoughts of activist friends from the community before sharing an advocate’s thoughts.

Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, reflects awareness of the strong need for child protection, a theme of many Criminal Code amendments made by the current government and championed by MP Joy Smith. Trafficking in minors, procuring minors for the purpose of prostitution, and paying a minor for sex will all carry new mandatory minimum sentences. A new crime of promoting the purchase or sale of sex in a public place where minors are or could reasonably be expected to be present has been introduced.

For the first time in Canadian history, the purchase of sexual services or communication for purchase is explicitly criminalized. This emulates the so-called Nordic model of law that targets the johns (purchasers) and pimps (marketers/exploiters) engaged in prostitution.

The bill initiates a prohibition on advertising the sale of sexual services, with exception to prosecution for advertisement of one’s own services. I’m not sure how the exception will play out, but understand the principle of not prosecuting the woman, and rather offering her opportunities to exit prostitution. Minister of Justice Peter MacKay stated the government will commit $20 million dollars for the funding of exit services.

The prohibition against acquiring financial or material benefit derived from trafficking is clarified, with the exception of the benefit obtained by the person being prostituted, or a person in a healthy relationship with her, as supported by the facts.

The exclusion from prosecution provided for each woman who advertises or acquires financial or material benefit addresses much of the concern expressed by those who challenged the old law on behalf of the small percentage who choose to prostitute themselves. If it’s a career choice, the johns will bear the risk.

The definition of “weapon” is amended to include otherwise common and legal devices, if those devices are used for binding or tying up someone against their will for the purpose of trafficking or securing them for purposes of prostitution. This elevates such offences to penalties that reflect the use of a weapon.

Bill C-36 is a remarkable combination of being tough on crime while being compassionate toward those forced, cajoled, or otherwise pressed into prostitution (and those who choose to prostitute themselves). It protects children and women while targeting the physical and financial powerbrokers of the sex trade. It reduces demand by targeting the purchasers and purveyors of human bodies as commodities while reducing supply by offering opportunities that were likely not available when those human beings were first commodified.

One anticipates that the remaining portions of the old law—stopping or attempting to stop a motor vehicle, or impeding the flow of pedestrian or vehicular traffic in a public place for the purpose of offering, providing or obtaining sexual services—now combined with the new—communication in a public place where minors are or can reasonably be expected to be present—won’t be used to target those who are otherwise being offered a form of legal immunity in the amendments to the law. Hopefully, these provisions will simply provide police and prosecutors with tools to protect children and prevent purchasers and procurers from making their advances in a way that interferes with community life and safe places for children.

With enforcement, prosecution, and most exit opportunities from prostitution falling constitutionally within provincial jurisdiction, it is imagined that the federal government will coordinate with the governments and local agencies that will have direct contact with the children, women, and men who will be most impacted by this change in Canada’s prostitution law. I look forward to seeing how this previously missing piece of the puzzle will be incorporated into Canada’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking.

The constitutional concerns raised in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford appear to have been taken into account and properly addressed.

The day Bill C-36 becomes law will be a day of celebration for activists who have risen from the community of the prostituted and for advocates privileged to walk and work alongside them in the pursuit of this legislative reform.