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Saturday, July 12, 2014

CUPE Ontario has the right idea: Sex work regs ought to be about workers' rights

    CUPE is my new favourite union now that CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn has written a piece in the National Post saying the thing Canadians should be aiming for in laws and regulations around the adult, consensual sex industry is a safer workplace for sex workers.
    So true. The violence and vulnerability that Justice Minister Peter McKay keeps going on about as he tries to push through the flawed and dangerous Bill C-36 exists primarily because sex workers don't enjoy any of the standard workplace protections that the rest of the country's workers rely on. When you're a sex worker, there is no workers' compensation board, no contract law, no employment standards. You can't even go to the police with a complaint without wondering if you might end up getting charged yourself, and that will be doubly true if Bill C-36 is passed.
    Were the bill to become law, sex workers will have to be even more secretive in their work to protect their clients from being charged. The potential for danger will increase even more as they move deeper into the shadows. I don't know if McKay really is naive enough to believe that criminalizing the entire industry will wipe it out, but the rest of us surely know that's not true.
    CUPE has been the most progressive union in Canada for some time when it comes to viewing sex work as a workers' rights issue. Hats off to them for a brave stance, when so many other unions are still sitting back in silence.
    Unions could play a powerful role in shaping a safer future for Canada's tens of thousands of sex workers. They have lost their relevance on many fronts, but here's an area where they're really needed. I look forward to the day when the Canadian Labour Congress, the BC Federation of Labour and other union voices are joining CUPE Ontario in making the support of sex workers' rights and work safety a priority.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Federal hearings finally put a spotlight on empowered sex workers

 
  While I'm offended as a Canadian that the future of my country is in the hands of people as uninformed, close-minded and unworldly as Justice Minister Peter MacKay, it's a wonderful thing to see Canada's sex workers stepping up to speak their own truths to combat all the lies that are being told about them right now.
     I saw footage from the justice committee meetings in Ottawa this week as the debate around Bill C-36 gets underway. I totally love seeing empowered and passionate sex workers putting it all on the line to challenge the Conservatives' proposed new anti-prostitution law, which would take the ineffective and damaging laws that we've had for the last 147 years and make them considerably worse.
    Based on the untruth that all sex work is violent, coercive and sick and that all sex workers are victims, Bill C-36 is so far from so many sex workers' realities that the generally low-profile community just can't take it anymore. For those of us cheering them on from the sidelines, it's a beautiful thing to see them fighting back with such passion.
     I couldn't have imagined that there would be an upside to Bill C-36, but maybe this is it: That sex workers who have mostly just gritted their teeth and coped with Canada's flawed laws up to this point are now so incensed by MacKay and his team of yes-ministers that they are organizing, speaking up, and refusing to be shut out of other people's discussions about them.
    Two representatives of PEERS Victoria will be presenting to the justice committee on Thursday. They are the kind of people whose knowledge is deep and wise, and I can only hope the committee has its ears on when the PEERS team talks about all the things that are wrong with laws that criminalize everything about sex work.
    This issue is about workers' rights, and in many ways women's rights as well given that the majority of sex workers and brothel managers are women. On that point, MacKay should have been ruled out right off the hop as the man for the job. A man who places all women in the kitchen packing the children's lunches (and all men moulding and shaping the minds of the next generation) simply shouldn't be involved in making life-endangering changes to a woman-dominated industry he knows so little about.
    MacKay was on the news this week saying the goal of the bill is to eradicate sex work. What it will actually do is drive the industry further underground, where the "victims" that MacKay seems so worried about can continue to go unsupported, unseen and vilified in even more potentially dangerous situations.
     More and more, sex workers are speaking out to say, hey, buddy, you don't know anything about our lives. Like all leaders in the early days of a social revolution, they risk so much personally to be "out" as sex workers, which adds even more to the significance of seeing them in the justice committee hearings, bravely and calmly telling it like it is.
      There are always going to be people who don't want to hear anything that challenges their conviction that sex workers are helpless victims and their clients, perverted pigs. But for those who suspect there's more to the story, this week's hearings just might be a powerful public-relations tool for real change and respect for sex workers. 
      Finally, Canadian sex workers have a national platform. So far, they're looking great. Hope you know what you've started, Mr. MacKay.
     

Thursday, July 03, 2014

In search of a truly portable cellphone

   
I wouldn't say I rail against all of life’s constraints, but the lack of control for customers of cellphone service in Canada has always made me crazy.
    This, then, is the story of one woman with minimal knowledge of cellphone technology on an all-consuming mission: To find an affordable phone that could be taken almost anywhere in the world with just the change of a SIM card.
    The term for this magical thing is an “unlocked world phone,” a phrase I’d never heard when the search got underway in May, but one which I’d become very familiar with in the research-filled weeks that followed. There’s nothing particularly exotic about an unlocked world phone, and in many countries they are a snap to buy. But this is Canada, and our cellphone companies work very hard to stop us from doing that.
    But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back in those halcyon days two months ago, I had no idea of any of that. I had come back from Honduras with yet another cellphone I could no longer use, and discovered that my old Canadian cellphone I’d left behind was now a defunct model and also of no use. Feeling certain that for the rest of my years I will want to travel, I got thinking about a cellphone that could travel with me and just be adapted to different countries’ phone services.
    I had to do a lot of Google searches to figure out what I was even looking for. I’d heard that some cellphones could be unlocked so you could exchange the SIM cards, freeing the phone owner to buy cards in different countries and thus have local phone service without issue. I soon discovered that I’d probably be buying an unlocked phone on-line, because all the normal channels for buying such things were mysteriously unavailable. It lent a bit of a black-market feel to the whole thing.
    Eventually, I also learned that it isn’t just the unlocking that counts, you need a “world phone” – one set up to be compatible with global protocols for second-generation cellphones (I know. Whoever expects to have to utter a sentence like that?). You need a GSM phone: Global System for Mobile Communications.
Armed with these two essential pieces of information, I found a decent-looking refurbished, unlocked world phone – a Samsung Galaxy – on the Future Shop web site.
     They don’t sell any new unlocked phones, only refurbished ones, which I found pretty strange. But by this point I was finding everything strange, so I went ahead and ordered it for $119. It came and I had to send it back because the battery wasn’t charging, but the second one seems OK. (There are many more unlocked world phone-ordering options on the web, so Future Shop is not an integral part of the plan.)
    Then came the research to figure out who I was going to buy services from. More than anything, I didn’t want a contract, because I wanted to be able to come and go from Canada without anybody slapping me with a penalty. It's not like you can ask any of the dozen cellphone companies about any of this, because they've all got an agenda: Tying you and your sparkly new phone into a contract with their network for as long as possible. 
    I first looked at pay-as-you-go, but it’s not as cheap as you think when you work it out. So then I looked at month-to-month. I also had to pay attention to which companies had protocols compatible with the phone (the GSM thing). I ended up with Koodo for $39 a month, which gives me 300 daytime minutes, free evenings and weekends, and long distance in Canada. I can cancel with 30 days’ notice, at least in theory.
    I got the SIM card at Wal-Mart last week, from two nice young Wal-Mart clerks who swore to me that they were not receiving any commission for the activation and were truly giving me good advice about Koodo not having contracts. I am surprised by my own capacity to despise the cellphone companies for their damn contracts and costly packages and general lording it over us, but I will give Koodo a try.
    I started using the phone four days ago, and it seems to be working just fine. I guess the next test will be when I go to some other country and try to buy a SIM from there that works with the phone. Helpful tip: The network compatibility number is on the phone under the battery, and you can find web sites where you search on it to learn if a specific network is available to you and whether the phone’s been stolen. (Mine wasn’t. Phew.)
    Anyway, one day soon I expect to test this whole world-phone business in some exotic land. Maybe I’ll now truly have something I can take with me for use as a local phone. I feel hopeful but doubtful at the same time, as if there’s still one or two wrinkles that I didn’t know to account for and they're going to trip me up in the end.
    But hey, nothing ventured. 

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Angelitos Felices gang gets a great new home


  A miracle happened yesterday in our old town of Copan Ruinas: The 13 remaining children at Angelitos Felices orphanage were relocated to a much better organized, resourced and caring facility, Casita Copan. 
    It's a dream come true for Emily Monroe, the young Pennsylvanian who has worked so hard to realize this dream. She met the children of Angelitos in 2010 and was so disturbed by the conditions that they lived in, she set out to open a new children's home using a model that ultimately strives to place children back into their families and support the whole family. 
    She was the one who introduced us to the children in early 2012, shortly after we arrived. We went on to raise almost $30,000 through friends and family back home to improve living conditions and day-to-day supports for the Angelitos children at the home, but the dream was always to see those kids moved over to Emily's new place once she launched it that fall. 
    As we were getting ready to leave Honduras this spring, Emily had no idea if the children would ever be relocated to Casita Copan, despite her many efforts. But on the very day we left the country, April 1, the branch of Honduran government responsible for abandoned children (but not responsible in any way that includes financial support) finally acted and told Emily that Angelitos would be closed at the end of May and the children moved over to Casita. 
    Emily, her staff and supporters scrambled like crazy to get ready, but the date came and went without action. That happened several more times.
    But on July 1, it happened for real - admittedly with more initial trauma than anyone would want for the Angelitos kids, who arrived crying and confused in the control of armed police. But they have known Emily for years and have many friends at Casita Copan, and word is they were already calm and happy by the time evening came and they were in their new pyjamas (another first for them) and ready for bed. 
    Casita Copan is going to need lots of ongoing support to be able to manage the big jump in operating costs that these additional children will require. I hope the many people who supported these kids while we were in Honduras will also support them now that they've relocated to their new home. Paul and I raised $4,200 for Emily at our fundraiser June 5 in Victoria, and will be looking for other ways to support her great work.
    Big congratulations, Emily! You're one tough cookie, and doing wonderful work. We're honoured to be supporting you in all of this.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Anti-sex work revamp is just so wrong


Could this be Peter MacKay?
How timely to have University of Victoria researcher Cecilia Benoit and her team looking into the realities of the Canadian sex industry right now. Cecilia and other key researchers connected to the multi-project research have been gathering really meaningful information about the sex industry for many years, and with this project are investigating all aspects of the industry, from working conditions to management structures and clients.
    Such research will mean little to the Conservative government, which has already proven on a number of occasions that evidence-based research plays little role in its decision-making. But it's at least a branch to cling to for the rest of us in the coming storm around Bill C-36, which will set Canada back to the dark ages around sex work if it becomes law by criminalizing even more aspects of the work despite all evidence that criminalization doesn't work for anyone.
    I know how emotional this issue can be for people. I know how much people absolutely despise even thinking about the sex industry, having lived 10 years now of trying to talk about the realities of the industry and finding only a handful of people who want to hear about any of it. But for Canadians to stand back and let Peter MacKay and the federal government do this terrible thing - well, I just have to hope we can open our minds just a little to think differently about the people who work in this industry, regardless of our preconceptions.
    Bookmark the "Understanding Sex Work" page, which is already a great source of unbiased information on a profoundly misunderstood industry. For reasons I don't understand, we prefer to believe that all sex workers are forced into the business and are waiting to be rescued, and that all it's going to take is for Canada to get tough on "perverts" and pimps. The truth is that 80 per cent of the sex workers in this latest research said they chose to work in the industry.
    They are workers. They need standard work regulations, and access to all the resources the rest of us have to deal with the occasional exploitive, violent bosses or customers. They need support, not rescue. They need empathy, not these endless attempts to render them powerless, demoralized victims in the hands of horrible and violent men.
    The highest court in our land struck down the previous laws around prostitution, most of which we'd had for 150 years. Bill C-36 is no solution. It's a giant step backwards, and a truly heartbreaking development for those who understand sex work.