Dancing with Bill C-51

Dictum one: Make laws that promote ideology.

The Harper Government passes laws because they serve a political purpose, not because they believe they will pass a legal test. Bill C-51, the Anti-terrorism bill, is the latest. Before that was Bill-36. I like to call it The Illegal Prostitution Act.

Bill C51

Contrary to popular opinion, prostitution itself never was illegal. Rather, profiting from prostitution was. Late in 2013, the Supreme Court overturned the former law because it didn’t do enough to protect prostitutes.

In overturning the old law, the court ruled that, indeed, some people should make money from prostitution, specifically those who are hired by prostitutes to help them run their business such as managers, drivers, and security guards.

“Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes,” wrote Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin in the 9-0 decision that noted “it is not a crime in Canada to sell sex for money.”

The Supreme Court criticized the old law for punishing everyone who lived on the avails of prostitution. New laws should distinguish between those who exploit prostitutes and those who would “increase the safety and security of prostitutes.”

Government was given a year to come with a new law, if they wished. Or they could do nothing and prostitution would remain legal. Harper’s response was to make prostitution one-half legal. Confusingly, the sale of sex is legal but purchase is not.

The government’s response was not to protect sex-trade workers or even because it would survive a legal test. Justice Minister Peter MacKay made that clear: the purpose of the bill was to appeal to his conservative base. Unrealistically, they imagine they can abolish the world’s oldest profession. MacKay explained: “deterring participation in it, and ultimately abolishing it, to the extent possible.”

Minister MacKay was told that his law would not likely survive a constitutional challenge. He admitted that a court challenge would be likely because his law would drive the sale of sex into the shadows because Johns would avoid arrest. And prostitutes still can’t hire security or advertising agents to improve safety.

 Dictum two: Make laws that bait the opposition.

In election years, it’s useful to bait the opposition and provoke a response that defies common sense. They gave us a preview of this in Bill C-30, the so-called Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told the opposition MP they could “either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”

This false dichotomy is a model for the latest, Bill C-51. Frame your laws such that opposition to them makes no sense.

The Anti-terrorism bill, C-51 baits the opposition. If they oppose the bill they will appear to be in favour of terrorism. The NDP aren’t buying it. They insist that there aren’t enough resources to do the job of enforcing the law.

A group of 100 experts, mostly law professors, warn that Bill C-51 threatens Canadians’ privacy and freedom of speech. The Harper government will ram the bill through regardless.

It’s the actions of a desperate government in the throws of its last days.