Why the courts must decriminalize prostitution

by Kirk Makin

Want some action? In most of Canada, sexual services are just a click, a phone call or a short stroll away. Some are overtly marketed as nude massage parlours or body rubs. Other hide behind coy euphemisms: holistic centre; shiatsu; gentlemen's spa.

After choosing from a small selection of attendants at one such establishment, Toronto's Studio 409, one is led into a room with soft lighting, a shower, lots of towels and a selection of oils. The attendant lists a smorgasbord of services that include nude massage, fetishes and body sliding.

Body sliding?

“It can mean just about anything,” the attendant explains, laughing.

And the same is true of Canada's prostitution laws, a legal regime riddled with arbitrariness and hypocrisy. Enforcement is wildly uneven, when it takes place at all.

Yet the current laws are a masterpiece of coherence compared with the chaos that will break out if the Ontario Court of Appeal this month strikes down several central provisions of the sex-trade laws.

The court has set aside five days the week of June 13 to hear a joint provincial and federal appeal of last year's lower-court decision that invalidated prohibitions against maintaining a brothel, communicating for the purposes of prostitution or living on its avails.

That decision hasn't come into effect because of the pending appeal, but all year its broader implications have stirred up commotion and heated debate. The big question is: Has the moment come when Canada is ready to decriminalize prostitution?

A ruling that the law is unconstitutional would bind all Ontario judges and spark immediate legal challenges in other provinces that would cite the decision.

Many experts believe that if the Crown appeal fails, the Harper government will not venture into the morass of prostitution law, “for the same reasons as they avoid dealing with abortion,” says Mariana Valverde, a criminologist at the University of Toronto: “There is just too much to be lost and not much to be gained.”

Theoretically, prostitution – exchanging sex for money – has long been legal in Canada. But in practice, virtually any method of buying or selling sex is prohibited. It's Canada's half-baked compromise to avoid all-out confrontation between two camps that split long before the 2010 decision: One faction, led by religious groups and rural Canadians, objects to any loosening of the laws that govern sex work, fearing decriminalization could lead to underage prostitution and human trafficking. The other favours liberalization, provided there is no increase in crime and public nuisance. Whenever the two sides clash, committees are charged to review the laws. They report back months later with sensible proposals. These are ignored, and the daisy chain begins anew.

That is, until now. The horrific Robert Pickton murders in B.C. raised the country's awareness of prostitutes' vulnerability, and now the Ontario court's scrupu- lously written decision is at last providing an opportunity to sort the problem out.

If you listen to the people most affected – the prostitutes – it becomes clear that the rational thing is to destigmatize the oldest profession, to help it be practised more safely and sanely, as the normal part of Canadian life that, like it or not, it is.

With the midafternoon sun streaming through a living-room window of her condo, 17 floors above Toronto's east end, Victoria Love (her trade name) lives a comfortable, middle-class existence after 15 years in the business. But she has to be cautious. “I skirt around the law,” the slight 32-year-old says. “I go to places to meet my clients, and nobody knows what is going on. There is a lot of vulnerability, but I'm very careful to keep myself from running into legal problems.”

Such great care, and good fortune, have prevented Ms. Love from getting hurt or coming onto the police radar. To avoid bawdy-house charges, she does only outcalls. And she avoids any customer who raises her suspicions.

Others, she knows, are not nearly so lucky. “There is an incredible variety of experiences in the sex industry,” she says. “For some, the laws created conditions that led to horrific forms of violence. When the communicating law came into effect in the 1980s, we began to see missing women and severe forms of violence.”

Forced by the communication law to assess a potential customer hurriedly before getting into his car, street prostitutes are the ones most likely to end up beaten or dead. A 2006 study by Parliament's standing committee on justice and human rights found that at least 79 prostitutes were killed from 1994 to 2003. It concluded, as most researchers have, that street workers face the greatest peril.

Sex workers of all kinds seldom seek help from the authorities because their boyfriends can be charged with procuring or their children apprehended by child-welfare authorities. “Whether you're being arrested or not, your name is in the system now as a criminal,” added Katrina Pacey, a lawyer with Vancouver's Pivot Legal Society. “You will forever be marked.”

Thus, current law not only fails in its goal of preventing street prostitution, it also has forced sex workers of all types to operate in perilous isolation, afraid to reach out for help.

If the court throws out that law and Ottawa doesn't act, by default the mess will end up in the hands of municipalities. “They should be preparing pro-actively for this, but they aren't,” Prof. Valverde says.

She predicts that municipal politicians will panic and pass hasty measures that drive sex work further into the shadows – literally, figuratively and dangerously.

Policing paradoxes and social stigma

Just before the communication law was introduced in the 1980s, a number of prostitutes The Globe and Mail interviewed on Toronto's Church Street described a beat cop they had dubbed the Sperm Whale, based on his willingness to turn a blind eye in return for sexual services.

Today, it is rare to see a prostitute on Church, but a wary relationship endures between sex workers and the police, who are expected to be both pursuers and protectors.

The illegality of the sex trade helps the police in giving them a window through which they can watch out for underage boys and girls as well as human trafficking. Advocates say that while some police are understanding and see the arbitrariness of the law, others are judgmental and harsh.

“The vast majority of enforcement efforts have always been to target street-based sex work because it is the most visible aspect of prostitution and that's where the complaints are,” Ms. Pacey says. “It has made them incredibly vulnerable.”

Still, it isn't law enforcement that tends to irk sex workers the most. It is the constant need to lie about their vocation. It is having to stomach the frequent public indifference when a hooker is murdered. It's the sense of being an untouchable caste.

As Ms. Love says, “I'm a prostitute, which is a very stigmatized and devalued identity.”

The feminist debate always comes down to this: Are these women victims of exploitation or empowered women with a right to decide how they use their bodies?

The Crown argues that what sex workers need most is not decriminalization, but programs to help with addictions or mental problems and to aid them in developing work skills.

But, to the attendant at Studio 409, it is all about controlling one's own destiny. A full-time office worker who was attracted to the idea of stepping outside her workaday life, she works two evenings a week servicing men: “I get to meet a lot of interesting people,” she says. “And it gives me money to go travelling.”

Emily van der Meulen, a public-health expert at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital and a strong advocate of reform, says she looks at prostitution as analogous to a young person settling for a burger-flipping job at McDonald's. “Maybe he would really like to be the CEO of Apple,” she says. “Unfortunately, Steve Jobs isn't going to give up his job. But it's not for me to say that the kid made a bad choice by working at McDonald's.”

Her point is that “choices are always constrained by social context. … Given those constraints, sex workers see this as the best possible avenue for them to make a living.”

Ms. Love, for her part, scoffs at the idea that she is a victim. “Those debates are so old to me,” she says. “People have sex in apartments. Well, sometimes, they have sex in an apartment and leave money on the table when they leave. What's the difference?”

A wave of international reform

Most countries that have decriminalized sex work did so after deciding that, since it will never disappear, it only makes sense to take a pragmatic leap to tolerant regulation. In the past decade, Australia, New Zealand and Germany have all embraced decriminalization, acknowledging that their own versions of the it's-legal-but-you-can't-do-it game were not working.

Meanwhile, Sweden went in a unique direction, based on a conviction that sex workers are victims of exploitation. Today, Swedish prostitutes are never charged or prosecuted – their customers, however, can be.

In Canada, politicians have repeatedly ignored cries for reform, leaving it to York University law professor Alan Young finally to persuade the judiciary to step in. During the week-long hearing last year before Madam Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court, Prof. Young and the Crown brought out a parade of sex workers, criminologists and international experts arguing for or against decriminalization.

Judge Himel concluded that the communication law compels sex workers to operate in dark corners at great risk to their safety; that outlawing brothels forces prostitutes to work in solitude; and that the pimping law precludes them from hiring drivers or bodyguards to enhance their safety, as well as making it legally dicey to live with boyfriends or family members.

The reaction from sex workers was all over the map. Some cherish their anonymity and independence from state scrutiny, red tape and taxation. Legal reform would cost them at least some of that.

But there would be many payoffs. For example, labour protections would allow sex workers to participate in employment insurance and have recourse against brothel owners who force them to work unpaid overtime or unsafely. As in Germany, they might even form unions.

“Right now, some escort services … expect you to be on call 24/7, and you are fined if you miss a call,” says Susan Davis, a Vancouver prostitute-activist. “We have booking girls who work totally on commission, so they will send you anywhere. We really need to be covered by labour law.”

As for the canard that decriminalization will lead to neighbourhoods being overrun with leering prostitutes and unruly johns? As Judge Himel took pains to point out, police have ample charges at their disposal to deter public nuisances.

What's more, many politicians seem unaware that the Internet has profoundly changed the nature of sex work, reducing the need for prostitutes to troll for business in public. Studies have shown that the bulk of them now work in massage parlours or with escort agencies or communicate by phone or online with clients.

Only the most desperate remain on the streets. But there will always be some. “For as long as there is extreme marginalization, poverty, drug addiction and untreated mental health, there is going to be street-level sex work,” Ms. Pacey says.

Conversation needs sex workers' voices

Regulations drafted without the input of sex workers are prone to fail, Ms. van der Meulen says. They are the real experts on the realities of their trade, and any approach that didn't have them on board would create a new black market. Vancouver has already led the way, installing sex workers on boards and committees that influence municipal policy.

Ms. Davis attributes the city's changed attitude to the lingering trauma of the murders by Mr. Pickton. “No one here was unaffected,” she says, “so there is a desire to try something new.”

Under decriminalization, municipalities would find other tools – zoning provisions, licensing fees, surveillance and health rules – to regulate sex work. In large centres, brothels would probably be licensed.

But Gillian Abel, a public-health expert at New Zealand's University of Otago, warns that sex workers will shy away from any system that forces them to reveal their names and personal information. Brothel owners must be the ones who are subjected to background checks and divulge financial information, she says.

For those who don't think Canada is ready for a decriminalized sex trade, consider this: For 25 years, the country has existed without a genuine abortion law. Midwifery has gone from being an illegal activity to one that is regulated and widely accepted. Medical marijuana has become legal and Vancouver has even created a safe injection site for heroin addicts.

However controversial, they all reflect a move toward pragmatic accommodation rather than top-down control.

The sex trade, meanwhile, is everywhere, with its existence causing minimal public disturbance. If the political will to recognize and cope with that fact is too weak, then it will have to be done in the courts.

Gazing out at Toronto's skyline, Ms. Love muses about how the Ontario Court of Appeal may change her world. “There are fear-mongers who try to get people's knickers in a knot,” she says. “They say: ‘Oh, there's a prostitute next door!'

“Well, there are prostitutes next to everyone. We are just going about our business.”

10 Ways You Waste Money on Your Car

By Jerry Edgerton

With gas bills putting a crimp in your budget, you don’t want to be wasting money on other car expenses. But many car owners do just that — either spending more than needed on maintenance or putting off work that will cost more later.

To be smart about your car, you need to do the right amount of on-time maintenance — while resisting mechanics’ pitches for unnecessary work. “With advertising that emphasizes maintenance-free cars, people may have the idea they don’t have to take care of them,” says George Sadowski, education manager at the Norwood, Mass., campus of Universal Technical Institute, a leading provider of training courses for auto mechanics.

But while neglect doesn’t work, neither does overspending. From Sadowski and Michael Calkins, manager of the AAA program that recommends repair shops, here are 10 ways you may be wasting money on your car.

1. Changing oil every 3,000 miles. A relic of a bygone era, this guideline is often promoted by dealers or repair shops eager for business. Instead, read your owner’s manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for oil-change intervals — it’s often 5,000 to 7,500 miles.

2. Using premium fuel unnecessarily. Don’t pay this higher cost unless your owner’s manual says premium fuel is “required.” High-performance engines like those in Corvettes and some luxury models do really require it. But if premium fuel is just “recommended,” you can still buy regular. Michael Calkins of AAA takes this suggestion to heart. “I have a Nissan Murano that recommends premium,” he says. “But it runs fine on regular.” At recent national averages of $3.78 a gallon for regular and $4.04 for premium, that’s a savings of about $4 every time you fill up a 15-gallon tank.

3. Failing to change your air filter. “If you have not changed your air filter by about 40,000 miles, it is probably clogged and hurting your gas mileage,” says George Sadowski. That MPG penalty could be as much as 10% to 15%, he estimates. So if your mechanic recommends a fresh filter after about 25,000 miles, say yes.

4. Failing to check the brake pads. Most mechanics will raise this issue periodically, but you should suggest it if not. Getting timely pad replacement can help you avoid later (and much more expensive) repair to the brake drums or rotors, Sadowski advises. Replacing the pads should cost less than $150.

5. Buying mileage-boosting additives and devices. On auto racing shows and other sports programs, ads are nearly constant for oil additives or devices — like magnets on the fuel lines — that will supposedly improve your car’s mileage. “I’ve never seen any good scientific study proving that any of this works,” says the AAA’s Calkins. “They come out of the woodwork whenever gas prices go up.”

6. Tune-ups for your engine or air conditioning. Another relic of a bygone era, this is still a popular promotion to drum up business. “Modern engines are constantly being tuned by on-board computers,” says Calkins. “And as for air conditioning, if it is blowing cold air, it is fine. If it isn’t, get it fixed.”

7. Changing coolant. Mechanics or dealers will often say you need to have the engine coolant flushed out and replaced. That’s only true if you have plenty of miles on it. Modern coolant — you’ll know it because it’s usually brown or light red – is engineered to last five years or 50,000 miles, says Calkins. That’s about double the lifespan of the old-style green coolant.

8. Ignoring your check-engine light. This amber light on your dash, which in some cars says “service engine soon,” indicates a problem with the fuel or emission system. A malfunctioning oxygen sensor, often the reason for the light, can hurt your gas mileage. (See 5 Questions to Ask Your Mechanic.) And an out-of-kilter fuel mix, if ignored too long, could harm the engine.”You could wind up with a $1,000 repair job instead of what could have been a $150 job,” cautions Calkins.

9. Buying expensive performance tires. When it is time to replace your tires, the dealer rep or salesman at the tire shop may try to convince you that you need the super-grip performance tires that come with sports cars and other high-performance vehicles. But they can sometimes cost twice as much, Calkins notes, and because they are made of softer rubber, they often do not last as long. And let’s get real: Are you driving an Indy track or circling the mall looking for parking?

10. Paying for built-in navigation. If you are buying a new car, taking the factory navigation system can cost $2,000 or more. Calkins points out that most smart phones now have navigation options that work just as well and carry free updates of their maps, unlike the built-in systems.

You can’t control the price of gas. But by paying attention to your maintenance schedule and doing just enough — but not more than you really need — you can keep from wasting money on your other automotive costs.

A long-buried release, possible Beach Boys reunion give reasons to Smile

By Ryan Snyder

There`s a 1971 Beach Boys recording from a Fillmore East show with the Grateful Dead where Carl Wilson, having just concluded “Good Vibrations” to uproarious applause, sends his gratitude to the song’s authors. “It sure was nice of Mike and Brian to write that song,” he said. The Mike in question was lead vocalist Mike Love and the Brian, of course, was the band’s mercurial mastermind Brian Wilson. The band was but 10 years old at that point, but had already endured myriad internal problems, and the show with Jerry Garcia and company was to serve as rehabilitation for the sagging hipness. Another 40 years later and the Beach Boys may be primed for another shot of cool.

It’s true that the peachy keen, aw-shucks demeanor that Carl Wilson espoused in innocent stage banter typified the Beach Boys then as much as their infallible harmonies and revolutionary lyricism did. At the same time, the growing ideological rift between the militantly teetotaling Love and the psychedelically curious Brian Wilson came to be the band’s albatross. Through numerous legal, professional and interpersonal complications, The Beach Boys are on the verge of two historic milestones: a potential 50th anniversary reunion and the definitive release of the Smile recordings, the creative work said to be the tipping point for the band’s creative differences.

While the album that’s come to be known as The Smile Sessions is finally seeing the light of day after several excruciating misfires over the decades, plans for a 50 th anniversary reunion of the surviving band members are a little less evident. Brian Wilson, the only living Wilson brother, has offered contradictory quotes as to his potential involvement in a reunion over the past two weeks. The first, more encouraging statement came in a piece published on May 16 by BBC 6 Music where he said simply, “I’m considering it. I don’t know yet, but I am considering it.” He followed that in a teaser published 10 days later by the Village Voice, referencing the same report published by BBC 6 and rollingstone.com, “I don’t know anything about that. I don’t really [have a relationship with the other members] right now, and I’m not really interested in them.”

In a recent interview with YES! Weekly as the Beach Boys prepare to make the inaugural performance at Greensboro’s new White Oak Ampitheatre, Love expressed confusion over the conflicting reports before striking a similarly guarded, but more conciliatory tone.

“I heard of an interview where he said I’m retiring the Brian Wilson thing and next year I’m going to be a Beach Boy. Who knows?” Love said. “I can’t speak to what he said because I wasn’t there, but I think we’re all open to doing stuff together again.”

In regards to the anniversary, there are a couple of formative events worthy of observation according to Love. One being the release of their first single “Surfin’” in the late fall of 1961, and the other being their first time promoted as the Beach Boys, which occurred on Dec. 31 of the same year. As for his ideal observation for the Beach Boys’ golden anniversary would be, Love could only express his support for a performance involving the surviving members.

“It makes a lot of sense.

There’s a lot of interest in that,” Love said. “I can only say that I’d be open to it and it could be fun, fun, fun.”

Those surviving members, of course, are Love, Wilson, rhythm guitarist Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston, who joined the band in 1965 as an onstage replacement for Wilson. Johnston currently tours with Love as a member of the Beach Boys, while Jardine has found success fronting his own solo band. Jardine made a brief return to the Beach Boys earlier this year, signifying that animosities resulting from suits brought against him by Love and the estate of Carl Wilson over the touring usage of the Beach Boys’ name may have quelled.

As for Love, he’s charioted the Beach Boys since the 1998 death of Carl Wilson despite sharing corporate ownership with Brian Wilson, who otherwise became preoccupied with work outside the band. While Love made scattered attempts at a solo career that ultimately proved less fruitful, he believes a reunion would still be a part of the conversation had he opted in favor of his own work.

“Its possible, I don’t think anyone would have thought that the Buffalo Springfield would be out touring today, that’s for sure, especially after taking about 35 years off,” Love said. “Anything’s possible in music, as long as you have your health and your chops, and you haven’t overdone it with drugs or alcohol.”

Long the spearhead of the clean-and-sober faction within the band, Love has almost gone out of his way in the past to project an image of temperance and mildness. He brought his friend John Stamos on as a drummer during the actor’s peak years as Uncle Jessie on “Full House” in the 1980s, and still references him as “America’s Favorite Uncle” in conversation. While he says he was disapproving of the drug use that began to consume Wilson during the Pet Sounds era and increased during the recording of Smile, Love acknowledges that Wilson was always the most important member of the band. At the same time, however, he expressed his hesitance in joining him artistically as his unbridled creativity was capable of taking the band off into places for which he wasn’t prepared.

“The only exception I took was that I wasn’t involved in the lyrical part of it, and the lyrics are a little far-fetched and obtuse for me because I have a different style of writing and a different thought process,” Love stressed. “But that’s been misconstrued by some as to say that I didn’t like the Smile album — and that’s absolutely not true. I never said that, but I did take exception to some of the lyrics. What I took exception to was the insanity of that time, all the drugs and everything like that. As far as the music is concerned, that part of it is incredible.”

This obviously isn’t the first time Love has said he was only opposed to the lyrics — which Smile co-writer Van Dyke Parks has called “revisionism” — Love remains adamant about his stance. Some evidence suggests that it may simply be time that has softened Love’s stance on the band’s more psychedelic music. He spoke glowingly of the Carl Wilson song “Feel Flows”, a song from the album Surf’s Up which itself was salvaged from the Smile recordings.

“My son went away to school a while back and he said one of his friends heard ‘Feel Flows’ with a solo by Charles Lloyd,” Love said. “This friend of his comes back and says that ‘Feel Flows’ is the best song he’s ever heard. It’s not really well known, but it’s a phenomenal recording.”

He says he hasn’t heard what the project as it will be released on Aug. 9 sounds like, but he also doesn’t see it as a weight is about to be lifted from the band’s collective shoulders. He says that “Wonderful” shows Brian Wilson singing at his best, with the rest of the band offering some of the most complex harmonies of that period, and described “Heroes and Villains” as simply “dynamic.”

“I think people will listen to it, and some will get their mind’s blown and others will think it’s too far out there for them,” Love said. “But I think everyone will find something they’re going to like on it.”