Pubdate: Thu, 24 Dec 2009
Source: Eye Weekly (CN ON)
Copyright: 2009 Eye Communications Ltd.
Author: Chris Bilton


 From drugs to gay marriage to prostitution, the 2000s marked a 
collective loosening of the collar

Hands up everyone who spent New Year's Eve of Y2K: a) high out of 
their minds; b) experimenting with same sexuality; c) partying with 
prostitutes; or d) all of the above. Yup, that's what I thought. Some 
would blame these actions on your basic NYE debauchery or 
end-of-the-world fear mongering. On the other hand, lots of folks 
would chastise this kind of behaviour as being immoral, unholy or 
simply illegal. Despite such protestations, a great many of us would 
be more inclined to defend their drug use or sexual preference with 
something along the lines of: actually, this is who I am, so deal with it.

After all, the turn of the century also marked the end of one of the 
most self-obsessed, pop-culture-inflected, sociological Petri dishes 
of a decade since the 1960s. So it's not surprising that Personal 
Choice would be the prevailing factor for how people - especially 
those flirting with adulthood - approached things like drug use and 
sexuality. Contrary to the fears of parents everywhere, this was 
actually a good thing. In the conflicted decade that followed - where 
anyone could get rich and yet most of the world still lived in 
poverty; where we waged war on terror and yet never really knew the 
enemy; and where an increasing portion of our lives could be accessed 
on any home computer - egocentricity became an undeniable force for change.

As we, as a society, became more open to the power of personal 
choice, the rules governing these personal choices became far less 
appropriate. And while the laws surrounding drugs, same-sex marriage 
and prostitution are by no means perfect, a great deal of progress 
was made in the '00s. Some laws were overturned, some were modified 
and some are still simply under consideration. But at least there has 
been a general movement towards de-moralizing the institution of 
marriage, or certain herbal crops or even the world's oldest 
profession. In these three cases, we came a little bit closer to 
granting more people their basic human rights.

The Chronic 2001

 From hippies to High Times magazine to Cheech and Chong to Snoop 
Dogg, dope smokers have long been a part of pop culture as an overt 
projection of how common drug use really is. Many of us recognize the 
hypocrisy that some drugs are perfectly acceptable for mass 
consumption while others - those "un-taxed drugs", as Bill Hicks 
would say - remain illegal. Some subvert the laws by treating pot 
smoking as a better alternative to beer or cigarettes, while others 
have gone so far as to explore the medical benefits of marijuana.

The latter context served as the basis for the historical day in 
Canada when we became the first country to adopt regulations for 
medicinal marijuana use. This meant that people suffering from AIDS 
or cancer, for example, would be able to have access to 
government-approved pot. Ironically, these regulations made way for 
an unexpected shift towards decriminalization when in 2003 a Supreme 
Court ruling said that allowing access to pot without providing a 
legal supply is unconstitutional. And for a brief period in Ontario 
during that year, marijuana was actually decriminalized.

In Kensington Market, Toronto's counter-culture haven, Abi Roach took 
advantage of this legal reprieve and opened The Hot Box Cafe in the 
back of Roach-O-Rama that boasted a spacious back patio on which any 
paying customer would be free to smoke whatever pot they brought with 
them. The Hot Box continued to operate long after the temporary 
decriminalization ceased, providing a hassle-free place to smoke 
right up to this day. One thing about public pot smoking remained 
taboo however, and that was that you still couldn't buy marijuana.

That all changed with Dominic Cramer, the "Mayor of Yongesterdam." 
Cramer - who had been operating a compassion club since 1997 - opened 
Vapor Central above his Toronto Hemp Company, where for a membership 
fee, people would be free to smoke as they pleased. He has since 
expanded his operations to include the Kindred Cafe, a place that a 
recent Toronto Life profile touted for its high-powered 
milkshakes-plus (as Alex and his droogs would say). While pot is 
still very much illegal, the public perception of its use has changed 
so drastically over the past decade that cases like Marc Emery's 
extradition to the US or the 2008 raid on Kindred Cafe seem far more 
outrageous than a bunch of happy stoners celebrating April 20th with 
a public toking session.

Do you, Michael, take Michael to be your husband?

The most important human rights case of the decade, however, has to 
be the long overdue recognition of same-sex marriage. The year 2000 
marked the 20th anniversary of Toronto's pride parade - a celebration 
that's become an institution in this town and across the globe, 
which, at the time, even counted the support of staunch conservatives 
like former mayor Mel Lastman. While Toronto prides itself on being 
one of the most inclusive cities in the world, the fact that a 
specific group of its consenting adult citizens couldn't be legally 
recognized life-partners was like a "whites only" sign on the 
institution of marriage.

Though two same-sex couples were legally married in 2001, it wasn't 
until 2003 when a Supreme Court ruling upheld the Charter of Rights' 
equality provisions that these marriages would also be registered and 
given a licence. Michael Stark and Michael Leshner then became the 
first officially gay-married couple only hours after the court's 
ruling was set. Other provinces followed suit, as did the federal 
government in 2005 when it issued the Civil Marriage Act of Canada. 
Sadly, the same can't be said in the hope-filled climate of our 
neighbours to the south, where appalling legislation like Proposition 
8 gets passed even in otherwise progressive left-coast California.

"Punish the products but not the machine"

But the most contentious of these three human-rights struggles is the 
one that's been going on since the Code of Hammurabi: prostitution. 
Ironically, prostitution is also the lone case where the act itself 
is already legal. But the laws surrounding the sex trade, which 
effectively prevent any act associated with prostitution - like 
soliciting in public or operating a brothel - mean that sex workers 
have to conduct their business without any legal or societal 
protection whatsoever. Needless to say, this fact is hardly a deterrent.

Even when dire circumstances of this situation become a national 
tragedy - as in the case of Robert Pickton and the dozens of 
Vancouver sex workers missing or murdered - there seems to be little 
opportunity for discussing the rights of prostitutes. Thus it was 
really only this year, when Terri-Jean Bedford, Valerie Scott and Amy 
Lebovitch came before the Supreme Court to argue that Canada's 
prostitution laws perpetuate violence against women that the debate 
became nationally heated. Of course, this dialogue often descends 
into morality versus legality, despite the fact that worrying about 
corrupted morals is a pretty lame excuse for putting vulnerable women at risk.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom