A splash in Ontario makes waves in Alberta

The Ontario Superior Court’s Charter finding against prostitution-related provisions of the Criminal Code has unexpectedly cast light on the new Alberta politics. The hard-charging Wildrose Alliance talks a good game when it comes to defending provincial rights; the logical corollary, one might suppose, would be for it to observe a dignified silence about matters reserved to the federal government. This is never how things work, of course, and the Alliance couldn’t move fast enough to issue a joint statement in the names of its two turncoat MLAs, Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson.

Just as the mind of Newton was instantly discernible by contemporaries from his anonymous solution to the brachistochrone problem, so the corresponding organ inside Heather Forsyth is recognizable from the language of the press release. Forsyth never heard an idea for “protecting children” she didn’t like, and certainly never, as an Alberta cabinet minister, implemented one she would recognize as a failure.

“No little girl,” reads the statement, “ever dreams of growing up and becoming a prostitute, and no parent wants to see their child become a sex worker.” As an argument in favour of the existing prostitution laws, this immediately raises the question whether the parents of Robert Pickton’s victims dreamed fondly of their fate, complete with a soundtrack of swine gnawing bone. No little girl does foresee becoming a sex worker, any more than little boys imagine becoming garbagemen or sheet-metal cutters. (Hands up, all those of you who do have the job of their dreams! I’ll admit I’m relatively blessed in that regard, but then again I am not writing this note from the deck of the space shuttle.)

It is precisely the unpleasantness of such professions that demands we attend carefully to their occupational safety. That is the ground, for better or worse, on which Justice Susan Himel acted. The Wildrose statement does not object that Himel’s decision will fail to make prostitution safer; it concedes the point, and specifically rejects the idea that prostitution should be made safer for women. Why, one wonders, is Robert Pickton in prison at all? By the Forsyth standard, surely he should be freed, perhaps even subsidized as a public benefactor.

The fact is, Alberta already has a governing party that was happy to implement Forsythian ideas of justice and child welfare, dozens of them, before Forsyth became the victim of a geographic squeeze and left the PCs in a snit. The party’s statement thus leaves one wondering whether a vote for the Wildrose is a vote for ideological change, or just the same old formula with a different gang of ministers. It suggests tentatively that Danielle Smith’s “big tent” is going to fly the Oriflamme of social conservatism rather than the Gadsden flag of libertarianism.

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