Here are thoughts after a day online watching an Ottawa parliamentary committee discuss Bill C-36 and the concept of arresting men who hire prostitutes:
• Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson is a calm middle-aged man who has seen it all. He has a patient air and is as sympathetic to brutalized local prostitutes as he is to angry homeowners who collect jars of discarded condoms for evidence of how hordes of sex buyers can ruin a neighbourhood. When I compare Chief Hanson + Mayor Nenshi to the chaotic Chief Blair + Mayor Ford that is Toronto’s domestic situational comedy, I am eaten alive with envy.
• Kady O’Malley (@kady) of the CBC is a smart, funny tweeter. Montreal journalist @martindufresne is also wise and helpful. I also direct readers to thestar.com where they can find I wrote recently about prostitution laws in Europe. Creepy desperate entitled men are still emailing me about it.
• One reason Canadians tune out of federal politics is that once a journalist is stationed on the Hill, he doesn’t dare say that Ottawa is a small dire city that attracts the dim. So he reports it all straight, without context, and pretends it’s plausible. I was quietly appalled by the committee’s performance, but I may just be writing that to preclude the Star sending me to Ottawa.
• MPs from all parties are pleasant well-intentioned people. Almost none can form a coherent sentence or ask a crisp question. Even I, who have never had my words transcribed, know my sentences must eventually end, hopefully with punctuation. Don’t drop points like bread crumbs. Stay with the trail and circle back. I used to spend summers at Hansard, and I say my notes covering this committee should not read “says is good tho basicly flerm bu (sic).”
• MPs often lack social skills. The distinguished Portuguese parliamentarian José Mendes Bota, who studied European prostitution laws for the Council of Europe, spoke to the committee via satellite. MPs who referred to him as “Mr. Bota” should not then have called prostitute witnesses by their first names, even if that felt right. New Brunswick Conservative MP Robert Goguen spoke particularly brutally to one witness — she had been gang-raped by three male clients — but the atmosphere of mutual misunderstanding was a committee constant.
• In Germany where prostitution is legal, there are 400,000 prostitutes, Bota said, but only 44 have taken legal advantage of registering as such for taxation benefits. People who want prostitution called “sex work” might wonder why even there it is not a career choice.
• It is not a waste of money to send MPs to Strasbourg on the fact-finding trips that are widely scorned as “junkets.” MPs who have never been outside their rural ridings learn a lot from other continents. They bend intellectually and inhale cultural respect. Going to Yurp taught me how to use a fork, look at paintings, cope with tiny refrigerators, fast trams.
• There are MPs who do not know the difference between “indictable” offences and “summary” ones, or indeed “dual” offences in which the Crown Attorney can choose “summary” or go all indictable on you. MPs can sit on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights without knowing this.
• Hanson said $20 million to send prostitutes to national rehab was “woefully inadequate.” When a cop says this, it means Justice Minister Peter MacKay got his sums terribly wrong.
• Do not visit #C36 on Twitter. It is people throwing creamed corn at each other, sometimes without opening the can first, and you’ll have to block extremists who find it grotesque that Bota, a man, should have been in charge of researching violence against women in the first place.
• Childless people often don’t consider a central issue in prostitution: would you want your daughter to do this for a living? If you are blithe about this question, you do not have a teenage daughter who is rebellious or indeed walks along a local prostitution “stroll” on her way to school. I have talked to career brothel managers, to pimps, who got defensive about this. But then some people don’t like their children in the first place, another issue that runs very deep beneath the prostitution story.
The hearing continues.