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  • My Reflections on Bill C-36 – Part 4

    Over the past few blog posts (blog 1, blog 2, blog 3), I have outlined some of my opinions on bill C-36. In this final post on the matter (for now) I would like to look at the issue from a new angle: let us look forward.

    What does it mean for Canada now that bill C-36 has passed? What should we as a nation be looking for?

    It takes time for the true effects of a piece of legislation to show. But what we can do is observe, and report what we see, closely. When you experience something or see something that is happening related to bill C-36, talk about it. Communication is one of the best indicators we have for getting feedback on legislation – on both its weaknesses and strengths.

    What we learnt from the Bedford decision was that the safety of sex workers in Canada needed to be protected. Whether or not bill C-36 will be successful in this is debatable. You have heard the debates. You have read my thoughts. Now we must see whether the route our government has put forward will work. Please use the power of your own individual voice and share your feedback on this bill.

    We should also, at all levels, do what we can to provide the necessary support to those members of our society that will be helping secure the safety of sex workers. I urge the government to invest more into supporting initiatives that help sex workers that want to exit the industry do so safely and effectively. I also urge these groups to highlight the importance of the relationship between sex workers and law enforcement officials – this is arguably the most important relationship in determining the potential success of this bill. The trust between these two parties needs to be strong in order to make sure we do not have violent offenders abusing those individuals that choose to remain sex workers in Canada.

    As we move forward, I hope you will keep these things in mind. Please let me know how I can work with you via twitter at @SenJaffer, using the hashtag #C36. I want to make sure that the safety of sex workers is protected. As always, I look forward to your feedback.

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  • My Reflections on Bill C-36 – Part 3

    I decided to write a series of blog posts on Bill C-36 even though it has passed because I believe that the discourse around this piece of legislation needs to continue.

    Bill C-36 brought with it a heated debate, with strong opinions and strong emotions. Instead of abruptly ending that dialogue, I want us to continue to discuss what is right for us as a nation collectively. The chapter does not close with the passing of the bill – now is where the work begins. We need to make sure the legislation works as the Minister of Justice said it would, and that it protects those members of our society that need the support.

    Before going any further, I encourage you to read my previous blog posts (Part 1, Part 2) if you are unclear on the issues presented by bill C-36.

    In this post, I want to explain to you why I proposed amending bill C-36. Even though the amendment did not go through, I firmly believed that under no situation should a sex-worker be criminalized – I still believe this. By criminalizing the worker, they will be distanced from the very people that can help them if they find themselves in an abusive situation. If they fear being criminalized, they will be less likely to report violent clients to law enforcement officials, because they will fear facing a conviction of their own. By criminalizing the worker, sex work will be forced to go underground and function further away from the law.

    The bill in its current form leaves room for discretion of whether or not a sex worker can be criminalized in certain situations. One example is the ban on discussing the sale of sex at or near a playground, school or daycare. We have a duty to protect our schools, but also have a duty to protect these sex-workers. There is a possibility that the interpretation of this section of the bill can be used out of reasonable limits, and this concerns me.

    Ultimately, we want to see sex workers that are choosing to remain in the profession doing so safely, without having to compromise their rights protected by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    While the amendment did not go through, there is still hope. We need the continued support of our law enforcement officers and social workers to ensure that safety is given the utmost priority. We need to support these agents to help them do their job the best they possibly can. I will continue to listen to the concerns of citizens, whether they be sex workers, law enforcement officials, social workers, or anyone else, surrounding the effectiveness of this bill.

    I want this dialogue to continue in a respectful manner, and I hope you will share your thoughts on bill C-36 with me.

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  • My Reflections on Bill C-36: Part 2

    In my last blog post, I summarized what happened with Bill C-36. In this post, I would like to explain to you why I took the position I did on the bill.

    As critic in the Senate of bill C-36, I found aspects of the bill concerning. Now that it has passed, we must continue with our mission of ensuring the safety of all Canadians. The main way this will occur is by continuing the conversation around the issues facing sex workers in Canada. My priority in the Senate has always been to protect the safety of minorities.

    This is also the case for sex workers. Consensual sex workers that practice in Canada have rights as well, and those rights need to be protected. Admittedly, these workers are in the minority. But this is no different from any other minority rights that I have fought for – they need to be protected, and we must protect them. This is why I stressed the importance of understanding that since sex work will continue in Canada, we must do all we can to protect the safety of these individuals.

    Sex workers, social workers, police officers, and legislators, all need to do our part. We need to make sure these workers feel secure in reporting any abuses or violations in their work. With the passing of Bill C-36, we must continue to have the conversation around the impact of the legislation. We want to ensure that these workers are secure, and if not that they feel safe in reporting their concerns to law enforcement officers. We have an amazing team of law enforcement officials across our nation, and I urge all citizens to keep their trust in them if they face concerns about their safety. Let’s keep this conversation going. Let us continue to protect our citizens.

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  • My Reflections on Bill C-36

    Over the summer, I spent a lot of time speaking with sex workers in my home province of BC. This was in anticipation of Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.

    As a result, I heard many stories over the past months, and was moved by a number of them. I thank all the women and men who trusted their experiences with me. I mentioned the story of one such woman in my speech yesterday. Taryn Onody sent me a letter with her story. I encourage you to read more of it in my speech, but here is a short excerpt:

    “I started ‎in the adult industry when I was 21 years of age. I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto. I’m a practicing Catholic. My parents are upper-middle class. My siblings are tax paying, working citizens. I come from a wonderful home, wonderful people, and a great upbringing. I was an over-achieving student with accelerated grades, and hold multiple post-secondary diplomas/degrees. I am the ‘girl next door’.

    I started looking into sex work when I became bored with my corporate job, which ‎I had held for 5 years. I felt bored, trapped, and craving something more in my life’s experience.”

    With this, she added:

    “We are all someone’s daughter or son. We all deserve rights, freedom, and safety.”

    She expressed concern for Bill C-36, which is why she wrote to me. C-36 is the government’s legislative response to the Bedford decision. Terri-Jean Bedford is a sex-worker, and she challenged the existing legislation criminalizing aspects of sex-work as unconstitutional because it violated her rights protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court of Canada agreed with her, and struck down the existing legislation as unconstitutional. This gave the government one year, until December 2014, to come up with new legislation before the old legislation is no longer in effect.

    On Tuesday November 4th, the Senate passed Bill C-36. Throughout all the hearings in the House of Commons, Senate pre-study, and Senate Legal committee, there have been many different views on this bill. While the conversation around this bill has been very controversial, and I hope we will continue to have a healthy conversation about how best we can protect all of our citizens. This is an important conversation that needs to be continued. Please send me your thoughts by tweeting @SenJaffer.

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  • Sickle Cell Disease

    According to the Sickle Cell Disease Association of Canada nearly 2000 Canadians live with the debilitating and sometimes life-threatening sickle cell disease and 1 in every 2500 children in Canada will be born with this condition.

    Sickle Cell Disease is caused by an abnormal form of Hemoglobin – the molecule in red blood cells which carries oxygen throughout the body. In patients with Sickle Cell disorder the red blood cells become stiff and sickle shaped.

    The deformed cell does not flow easily through the blood vessels and they can clog the vessels and break apart. Sickle cells also have a dramatically shorter life span than a healthy cell which can result in low red blood cell counts known as anemia.

    The one-two punch of clogged blood vessels and anemia impedes the body’s ability to deliver adequate oxygen to the organs. The continued starvation of oxygen to the body’s systems most commonly manifests itself as severe pain, especially in the bones. There is also the threat of organ failure, damage to the lungs, heart, kidney, liver and eyes or stroke, leg ulcers and infections.

    Because of the lack of oxygen travelling throughout the body, including to the brain, children with sickle cell disorders often struggle in school with fatigue, loss of concentration and memory lapses. Infections can also be a major complication of sickle cell anemia especially during childhood.

    Anybody can have sickle cell disease but for unknown reasons it is drastically more prevalent in people who have descended from Africa, the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Middle East, South East Asia, Western Pacific Region, South America, and Central America.

    Sickle cell disease is not contagious; you cannot “catch” it. You inherit it from your parents. To be born with sickle cell disease, a person must inherit two sickle cell genes; one from each parent.

    Because of the rarity of the condition, Sickle Cell Disease is woefully misunderstood by many medical professionals in Canada which leads to misdiagnosis and unnecessary suffering of patients. Early diagnosis is extremely important so that children can be closely monitored by family and by healthcare providers.

    Something as easy as a simple blood test at birth would help prevent misdiagnosis and would provide medical personnel with the information needed to properly manage the disease right from birth. Early diagnosis is the best way to avoid permanent organ damage and can save lives.

    Universal screening for sickle cell disorders would go a long way to assisting healthcare providers. Universal testing now occurs in every state in the United States and is something that only three provinces in Canada now practice; Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, which started the testing in April of this year .

    We need leadership from the federal level of government to coordinate early screening efforts and provide guidance on the issue for the provinces and territories.

    Ideally, Canada should be developing a comprehensive national strategy for patient care for those with sickle cell disorders. A good start would be for the federal government to work with the provinces and territories toward the creation of a national list of diseases to be screened at birth. Provinces and Territories can then draw up their own policies taking guidance from this national standard.

    Ensuring equal access to equal care is a fundamental right of every Canadian and setting national benchmarks and standards is a simple way to help meet this goal.

    Canada is a stronger nation when we work together and federal leadership is the mechanism through which we build a strong national union.

    It is important that the public and particularly healthcare providers become more knowledgeable about sickle cell disease. It is also important that there is collaboration with the government agencies, healthcare providers, researchers, community leaders and families affected by the disease.

    I am hopeful that the federal government will recognize the importance of their leadership to facilitate changes in pre-screening policies across the country.


    Please click here to read Senator Cordy’s speech on this topic

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