Who Dropped the Ball?
SEX LAWWS / Activists Riled over Handling of Hearings
on Bawdy House Laws
March 11, 2005
491 Church Street, Suite 200, Toronto, Ontario M4Y 2C6, Canada
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Don’t blame Libby Davies.
The Vancouver lesbian MP says she tried to get word out
to the queer community months ago about an opportunity to tell Parliament that
the bawdyhouse laws have got to go.
Davies was responding to a flood of calls and
correspondence to her Ottawa office after the Xtra papers sent out an urgent
e-mail bulletin to listserv members on Mar 7.
Queer activists across the country are demanding they be
heard after being told there are no spots available for presentations as a
Parliamentary sub-committee travels the country starting Mar 15.
The Parliamentary Sub-committee on Solicitation Laws is
asking Canadians what they think of laws against prostitution. The committee
was formed in response to a 2003 motion before Parliament from Davies, who was
alarmed at the murder of dozens of sex-trade workers from her East Vancouver
But after hearing about how bawdyhouse laws are used to
target both prostitutes and gay bathhouses, Davies approached Canada’s
national lobby group, Egale, suggesting they consider making a presentation to
the sub-committee. And then she talked it up every time she met gays at events
and organizations, she says.
“I did tell Egale about it ages ago,” she says. “I
feel like I’ve been putting the word out about it for ages.”
Davies approached Capital Xtra’s editor on the same
topic at the Feb 24 Wilde About Sappho celebration in Ottawa. Gareth Kirkby
then connected Davies with Gilles Marchildon, the executive director of Egale.
That’s the first time he had heard about the
opportunity to address the Parliamentary subcommittee, says Marchildon. But he
acted on the information and Egale board member Stephen Lock will address the
subcommittee in its Edmonton stop Mar 31 on behalf of the organization, he
“I don’t recall [Davies approaching Egale
previously]”, says Marchildon. “It’s possible, in all fairness to
Marchildon says Egale wants to see the bawdyhouse laws
overturned, but is concentrating its energies on seeking intervener status in
a court case. Egale’s efforts to get intervener status at an upcoming
Montreal case were turned down in early February. Charges against bawdyhouse
patrons and staff were recently stayed in Calgary.
Would Egale usually let other gay groups know about
important issues like hearings addressing prostitution laws? Marchildon is
asked. “Sure,” he says. “We’ve done that in the past.” He cites
Svend Robinson’s hate bill, Bill C-250.
At least one Toronto-based gay organization is frustrated
by its inability to get on the speaker’s list for the Mar 15 visit of the
Parliamentary subcommittee to that city. Peter Bochove, founder of the
Committee To Abolish The 19 th Century, has widely circulated emails noting
his “outrage” that the gay community was not specifically invited to
participate, given the history of bawdyhouse laws being used to target gay
And, he notes, many in the gay community see the need to
abolish laws used against prostitutes.
“No gay groups, no sex activists in Toronto knew
about” the subcommittee’s hearings, says Bochove. “These laws impact the
gay community too, and we certainly have a right to sit down at that
Bochove polled activists about crashing the meeting
anyway, but backed off.
“It’s not the right thing to do,” he says.
“People on that committee are trying to affect change. But we need to find a
way to show our displeasure.”
If Egale was invited to make a presentation, it should
have done so, says Bochove. And it should have kept other gay groups informed
so they could make local presentations.
“There’s an opportunity there that’s been missed
and it’s not Libby’s fault.”
Davies says she’s trying to find another way to ensure
the gay community’s opposition to the bawdyhouse laws is incorporated.
Almost all time slots have been filled for the tour in Toronto, Montreal,
Halifax, Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg, she says. And the committee has
only a limited budget and so cannot return for a follow-up hearing.
But written submissions are welcome along with
presentations to the committee once it returns to Ottawa.
For information on how to make submissions to the
committee or to appear before the committee in Ottawa, contact Committee Clerk
Marc-Olivier Girard at firstname.lastname@example.org or
MP Libby Davies
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