Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Oldest Profession


After writing about punishment as a means of discipline in my last post, an issue practically designed for illustration purposes has dramatically popped up in the news: prostitution—the ubiquitous deviance of the ages. In short, “Ontario's Superior Court of Justice ruled Tuesday the Criminal Code provisions relating to prostitution contribute to the danger faced by sex-trade workers.” What it means is that the laws against running a brothel, against offering or requesting sexual favours for pay have been found to be unconstitutional by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

“Well, I never! What message are we sending to the pimps, johns and hookers of this world?” That’s been the most immediate reaction around the country, alongside the jubilation of what are called “sex-trade workers.” If the ruling passes appeals and becomes law in Ontario, it will wipe out a whole class of what are now criminal offenses and provide some relief for both the police and the courts. Other effects are not known for certain, but one can imagine something similar to the red light district of Amsterdam where prostitutes sit in shop windows in varying degrees of dishabille, selling their services to passersby just like retailers display and sell motorcycles or toasters. No doubt, others are picturing soliciting hookers on every corner and traffic jams of men trying to get at them.

I don’t need to repeat the litany of harms that currently surround the sex trade on the streets and backrooms of our cities. You know them all, from Robert Pickton, to Hell’s Angels, to human smuggling, drug addiction and disease. The right question is probably, “What can be done to end these cycles of greed, exploitation and misery?” The right answer, unfortunately, is not as obvious, although we have plenty of people around who would grasp quickly for a “throw the book at ‘em . . . lock ‘em up and throw away the key” solution. In the age-old fight against prostitution, even a cursory review of our cultural history tells us that punishment regimens have failed.

There are plenty of harmful practices among us, heaven knows, besides prostitution. Smoking, drinking, gambling and overeating come to mind for starters. Thing is, we haven’t criminalized these but have used other means to make them reasonably tolerable. Alcohol production and sale, for instance, was criminalized in Canada and the USA from 1920-1933. “After several years, prohibition became a failure in North America and elsewhere, as bootlegging (rum-running) became widespread and organized crime took control of the distribution of alcohol.” Smoking has been fought as a health issue as opposed to a criminal issue, and clearly, progress has been made to curb this unhealthy habit. As regards overeating and poor eating—often resulting in huge costs to healthcare systems—we have gone only as far as the provision of public information and labeling mandates, and have left the choices up to the individual.

There are more options than criminalization that could be considered in the case of prostitution. It’s clear that whatever we do must make the sale and purchase of sex unattractive to organized crime. Hell’s Angels are not interested in selling underwear, but if we made the wearing of thongs a criminal offense, you can rest assured that organized crime would be selling them, most likely for five hundred dollars a pop, and they’d be shooting each other over thong-peddling turf.

How the application of more original curbs on deviance would work out in the case of prostitution in Canada is unclear. But it’s surely worthy of exploration.

Think about this. Let’s imagine, for a moment, a big-box store of “sin” in the middle of Saskatoon. Here practitioners are trained and registered to provide sexual services in all their manifestations. Here, nurses give heroin injections and retailers sell marijuana at prices set by the marketplace. In the country, farmers grow poppies and marijuana alongside wheat and oats until surpluses drive the prices down, when they probably go back to peas and barley.

The individual chooses whether or not to shop in this “sin” store, just as he does when looking for entertainment: ball game, movie or night club? All participants in the trade are qualified and evaluated, just like architects, teachers and plumbers are.

There’d still be laws to be obeyed, of course. Operating as a sex practitioner without a license would be a punishable crime, just like a charlatan practicing medicine is subject to penalties. Trading in sex or drugs without licensing and inspection would similarly remain a crime. The main advantageous effect of decriminalization would be that the prices would fall since supply could easily be made to exceed demand and the incentives to organized crime would vanish. An added advantage would be that sex workers would have to be fit, disease-free, subject to inspection.

One of the saddest aspects of the current sex industry is the exploitation of women, girls, men, boys, even children by greedy, ruthless “entrepreneurs.” We have a chance at reversing these abominations only if our models of correction change. Crassly put, if a person becomes addicted to heroin and its price is high, selling his or her body to feed the addiction is inevitable. If he/she can get a fix for $12.00 in a clinic, let’s say, a job at the local MacDonald’s might be just the ticket, and professionals would have access to the addict along with a possibility of influencing him or her with a health-based, psychological or spiritual rehabilitation.

But the Harper government will appeal the court ruling. They’re not likely to seize this moment as an opportunity for creativity and broad discussion. Conservatives have trouble thinking outside the box on this issue, especially when garnering votes in the next election is the uppermost consideration.

Too bad.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

On Law and Order

Athabasca Falls celebrates its ten millionth birthday, possibly.

Our federal government is taking “law and order” steps in the interest of public safety that will probably require the construction of new--and the expansion of older--prisons and penitentiaries. No doubt, they’re responding to that impulse with which most of us grow up, namely that the way to deal with deviance is to make the consequences severe enough to deter potential offenders.

There’s some logic to that; if the penalty for speeding were to be changed from a fine to a prison term, I would probably keep a closer eye on my speedometer. On the other hand, states that maintain the death penalty are still obliged to execute people regularly and California with its “three strikes, you’re out” policy has jails bursting at the seams and little else to show for it’s get-tough stance. At least that’s what one study shows. Another shows that it has made a remarkable difference in safety, largely because fewer repeat offenders are on the streets.

In the Ancient Middle East, harsh penalties were the rule. A creditor, for instance, could enslave the child of a debtor, but if he abused that child to the point of death, his own son would be executed. Adultery was punishable by stoning the adulterers to death. In parts of the world today, amputations and executions are still the prescribed penalty for transgressions like homosexuality, theft or apostasy.

What teacher or parent hasn’t wrestled with the question of discipline through punishment? A large segment of the population lamented the discontinuance of “the strap” in schools, maintaining that it had a place in the correction of deviant behaviour. To a teacher or parent at wit’s end over the unruly behaviour of students or offspring, the application of corporal punishment will undoubtedly always spring to mind. Lashing out is a visceral consequence of rage and frustration.

There is, of course, a vast range of possibilities in the application of punishment as a corrective measure with the deliberate inflicting of pain and suffering at the one end and the curtailment of privileges at the other. There’s an enormous difference between enduring a public lashing and being obliged to observe a curfew for a certain period of time. Even if we believe that sparing the rod spoils the child, our thinking about the subject shouldn’t end there.

We “candy-assed liberals,” of course, preach prevention and rehabilitation as the primary defences against deviance. If we’re correct in saying that offences against society are bred in the unjust realities of discrimination, prejudice and poverty, then we should be taking a much greater exception to the government’s determination to change the world through harsher punishment. The voices of retribution are screaming out their message; the voices of reconciliation are silent, or at best, whimpering.

Where is the Plan B?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fighter shopping news

Boeing 737 - 900 - $53,000,000

F-35 fighter jet - $246,153,846.15
Any chance weapons manufacturers are ripping us off?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Annie register your gun

In my book, What I meant to say was . . ., I wrote an essay titled “Annie, register your gun.” In it, I wrote one line in bold type: personal liberty trumps social responsibility. Well, we’re back into the debate, and next week the retention or abolition of the long gun registry will be decided. My MP is insisting that he represents the constituents while the retentionist Bloc, Liberal and New Democrats don’t. I personally have doubts about whether or not he (or the other parties, for that matter) actually knows what the majority of his constituents think on this issue; we’ve never been asked.

 Obviously, the passionate ones urging abolition are the ones most directly affected. They’re the long gun owners.The majority of Canadians live in urban settings and own no long guns. They’ve been understandably silent. It doesn’t matter to them enough to raise a hue and cry about the issue like the gun lovers have. I doubt that most Canadians even understand the process of long gun registration.

I personally own no gun, but if long gun registration means that someone out there is safer from danger by gun fire, I’d vote for keeping it. I’ve been thinking about registration and licensing generally and have come up with the following list off the top of my head:
  • Automobiles are registered and their drivers must prove themselves competent through training and testing because, we’re told, a car can be a dangerous weapon. There’s no protest about this, no assertion that it’s making criminals out of law-abiding citizens.
  • Professionals must be registered in order to practice. Most would do their jobs conscientiously and within the law if they weren’t, but we accept this as necessary to protect us from incompetence.
  • To participate in benefits like OAS, CPP, etc., we must be registered and must possess a Social Insurance Number.
  • Our municipal government attempted to have us register our cat, which we didn’t do. This bylaw made criminals out of law-abiding cats and their owners.
  • Airplanes can’t be flown unless they’re registered.
  • Births, marriages and deaths are all registered by law.
That’s just a short list. In the world of registration, long gun registry doesn’t stick out as particularly onerous. What’s the fuss about? Are we going to end up being badgered by a gun lobby like the National Rifle Association in the USA? I sincerely hope not.

If you’d like to know what’s involved in registering a firearm, go to This form describes the different kinds of guns so you can fill in the line on the application that describes your weapon. The form has two parts: one part identifies you and the other identifies the weapon. The form might take as much as five minutes to fill out. You then need to get a “verifier” to sign the paper to ensure that you’ve identified the gun correctly. That’s it. You send it in and pay the fee and it’s done.

Annie, for Pete's sake, register your guns and quite whining.

Monday, September 06, 2010

A Fox News Sabbath

Walking the dogs on a Sunday afternoon

Here’s a question I find interesting, although you may not:

When Moses brought down the Ten Commandments from Sinai, including the admonition to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” did the Children of Israel know exactly what day that was? In other words, if they were to labour for six days and rest on the seventh, was it clear to all and sundry which day of the week was the seventh one and when it would next appear?

I followed a surfing-chain yesterday starting with a forwarded email from a friend suggesting I sign a petition to block Fox News from coming to Canada. That led me to the website of Glenn Beck, Fox’s resident reactionary, on which there was a link to the Restored Church of God, which led in turn to a few talks by a David C Pack on why the Restored Church of God is the only true church in the world, which led further to the debate in the Church of God about whether or not the true Sabbath is actually Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, thence to the article declaring Sunday observation a heresy by said Mr. Pack.

If the Children of Israel had begun to observe six days on, one day off immediately, would the current Saturday still be in synch with them? I don’t think so. Every leap year pushes the calendar one day back (or forward, take your pick) and a strict sequence of six-on, six-off would mean that the Sabbath would rotate through the days of the week over time. Correct me if I’m wrong.

This may illustrate little more than that the exploration of the web is best characterized as a descent into ignorance, silliness and the endless flogging of pet horses. Or it may raise a far more disturbing question: if the reading of the Holy Bible produces such enmity, confusion and strife as we see in the splintering of the Church of God (into The Living Church of God, the Worldwide Church of God, the Global Church of God and now, The Restored Church of God) and the endless bicker about doctrines, should we be recommending other reading instead, or at least, as well?

Maybe we should rise up and block Fox News. The movement across North America toward fundamentalism and “conservatism” is insidious and concerted, and very, very discouraging. It’s a movement that throttles the great potential with which creation has endowed us. It’s a movement that eulogizes the merits of old doctrines and habits and would rather concern itself with mystical meaning in ancient writings than with the expanding possibilities of human intelligence, logic and creativity. It would rather predict the future than live responsibly in the present, and assigns catastrophes to the workings of powers beyond our control. It’s anti-civilization, and to see the church leading the charge back into ignorance would be the most disappointing development of all.

An aside: David Pack makes much of the verses where Jesus is purported to speak of “building my church.” This is not a firm foundation for many of his arguments, since etymologically speaking, the word church was not used in the sense in which we use it until the fourth century AD (see Some will say that Jesus never set out to “build a church,” others will say that it’s not possible that Jesus ever said those words, particularly in the sense that we understand them. There’s a difference between “reading” and “reading with understanding.”

So back to the Sabbath. Taking a day off regularly is a good idea, no matter what day it is. Giving that day to contemplation of a greater reality than our daily tasks allow is probably a bonus. Fighting over whether that should be done on Saturday or Sunday was probably not what was intended, to say the least.