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tabatha southey

Set aside the almost visceral disgust Justice Minister Peter MacKay seemed to show for sex workers while he unveiled the government's Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act this week.

Forget that he was barely able to say the word "prostitute" without lowering his voice like a Victorian maiden aunt in conversation with a six-year-old vicar and that he referred to sex work as a "so-called profession" and "degrading practice."

Let's take Mr. MacKay's word for it and assume the targets of the law are, as he claimed, alliteration substituting for sound reason, "the perpetrators, the perverts, the pimps," not the "vulnerable."

Let's assume that the Conservatives are genuinely concerned about "exploited persons" – and that, being adults, sentient in the 21st century, they have no interest in punishing a demographic merely because sex is involved in its profession.

Now, let's remove sex from the equation (sorry) and imagine the state of affairs that would ensue were these same "protections" applied to a different but also legal trade. Let's pick one largely practised by women who often work alone with clients, sometimes in their own homes.

Let's get really concerned about piano teachers, who, after all, are entitled to the same protection under the law as sex workers – that is, full protection.

What if, claiming concern for pianists' safety, the government legislated that piano teachers couldn't have others advertise on their behalf? Newspaper and Internet ads would be illegal, even on one's own website, because – despite containing an exemption for advertising one's own services – under the Protection of Communities and Exploited Ivory Ticklers Act, placing those ads where they might be viewed by a minor would be a crime.

A piano teacher, barred from advertising, then answering the phone and screening any budding Alfred Brendels seeking her services, would be more at risk from any unsavoury Alfreds. The law would also make trying to sell her services in public areas where people under the age of 18 might witness her efforts – so anywhere but a bar – illegal.

Mind you, it would also be illegal to inveigle anyone to visit a piano bar, or school, for the purpose of receiving piano lessons and, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, hanging out at houses of piano would be evidence you were illegally living off the avails of piano lessons, and you could be jailed.

Besides, while teaching piano would remain legal, learning piano would be a crime, and so the piano teachers would operate in the dangerous shadows anyway – where they would be at the mercy of both organized and chaotic crime.

Were an eager and skilled piano teacher to walk down a crowded street with a copy of Teaching Little Fingers to Play under her arm and a metronome in her hand, and respond "Boy do I! But I expect you to practise every day" to anyone who, merrily eyeing her metronome, asked if, by chance, she teaches piano, that response would be punishable by up to five years in prison. For her own safety.

Imagine that the government were to make the penalty for seeking a piano lesson "near a religious institution" worse, forgetting how, metaphorically, Jesus had love for Duke Ellington too.

The Supreme Court wouldn't let this anti-piano law stand, of course. It struck down Canada's old prostitution law months ago because it denied sex workers security of person, something to which all of us, even saxophone teachers, are entitled.

The court instructed the government to do better. It has done worse and, yes, I know some piano teachers might have hoped to be on the concert circuit instead, and some piano teachers might need to switch careers, but a police record won't get them there, and I also know there are people adept and inclined and happy to teach piano, and who are we to stop them?

"But," I hear some say, "why would a guy need professional piano lessons anyway? It disgusts me. Doesn't he have a friend who can teach him piano?"

"No, he does not," I might say. "Does that mean he should have no music in his life?"

Or I could tell you that perhaps he does have a musical friend but she plays only the oboe, and he thinks about pianos night and day.

Maybe he has a wife who is brilliant on the piano, but, she will confess to her friends, if she has to hear this guy bang out Fleur de Lis on her precious keyboard one more time, she'll lose it.

"No one needs piano lessons!" I hear some of you cry. "He can teach himself!"

"But it's seldom as much fun," I say, "and left to his own devices, he might strain his wrist."

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