5 min

In their own words: sex workers on Canada’s new prostitution bill

‘I’m tired of my government thinking I’m some degenerate who needs to be policed.’

Reaction from sex workers to the Conservatives’ new prostitution bill has been fierce and pretty well unanimous: it sucks. Credit: Thinkstock

Reaction from sex workers to the Conservatives’ new prostitution bill has been fierce and pretty well unanimous: it sucks.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay introduced Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, on June 4.

Sex work groups have blasted the bill. The usual suspects of abolitionism have come out to endorse it.

Xtra reached out to the sex-work community to get their take on the bill. Here’s what they had to say:

“I am saddened and angry that the government truly didnt consult with workers or supportive organizations and are quick to hand over money to exiting programs rather than deal with safety issues. The issue of violence on any level needs to be addressed as not acceptable on any level. The Conservatives are still perpetuating the myth that because you are a low-life whore you should be subjected to violence, as you are part of a high-risk activity — I say ‘activity’ as they still do not agree to address it as an occupation/work . . . Safety is and always will be my issue here; beginning the process of destigmatizing the work is where I am at. I also feel that the proposed aspects are far too broad and vague in their scope for advertising, solicitation, and I feel that other sex-faceted businesses will be targeted in a broad sweep. It truly is about oppression!”Velvet Steele, “Canada’s premiere transsexual fetish lady!”

“I find the speech given by Peter MacKay, Bill C-36, to be reckless, dehumanizing and dangerous. We do not need his $20 million in funding to rescue us from our consensual jobs. We need occupational health and safety rights. We need our jobs to be recognized, and we need to be protected by local authorities in those worst-case scenarios. Sex workers are not victims. We provide our service consensually and are, in some cases, highly educated but are often times marginalized and racialized . . . Being allowed to screen our clients means that we can choose clients that are respectful, honest and understanding of our boundaries. We talk, entertain, cuddle, listen and provide companionship and sexual services. We are skilled workers who deserve to be protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As for the $20 million in funding: this shouldn’t be contingent on forcing sex workers to leave the industry if they don’t want to. This money can be allocated to maintaining bad-date lists; providing health services, including for addiction and mental health; and compensating injured workers.” —Akio, in Toronto

“After C-36, nothing will change for me. It will be business as usual for the independents and agencies. What gets me angry now is that living on the avails of prostitution is now illegal. Advertising is illegal. Indeed, buying is illegal. Communication is illegal. This phone on which I am typing is illegal. You try to find that situation in any other labour trade like this, and I guarantee you won’t. Regulation and legalization is proven to work. Just as I would not be expected to know about employment standards in the oil industry, I don’t see why the average Canadian should be expected to know anything about a very polarizing and stigmatized industry, and I don’t see why faith-based organizations were involved more than sex workers themselves. People don’t like talking about this. I get it. People have their panties in a twist. But I bet Peter MacKay has never been stigmatized. It might do him good. What he is doing is conflating voluntary sex work with sex trafficking so that we have to go directly to the Supreme Court and redo Bedford. With all of that said, I will fight with all I have because this law is draconian, unconstitutional and conflates sex trafficking and sex work. What if I went up to him and told him I am voluntarily among those who do sex work? By criminalizing the client (and just about everything else to do with prostitution) he places sex workers in a very tough position. He should take a look at the CBC polls and rethink his moralistic stance.” — Genevieve

I received one response from a sex worker from Melbourne, Australia. She had been working as pharmacist until 2013, when she was held up in a robbery. She experienced symptoms of PTSD and was unable to go back to work. She knew some people in the sex trade and decided to give it a go — starting at a brothel but eventually going into private escorting. In Australia, a lack of federal rules mean a patchwork of provincial regulations. In Victoria, she needed a licence to operate and was restricted in how she could advertise and see clients. In New South Wales, she can do in-calls, but rules allowing alcohol in brothels put some of the workers in danger. She’s also operated in Queensland, where a state task force maintains heavy regulation on the trade that often leads to prosecution. She has lots of experience with a variety of government oversight:

“I have read your new Canadian laws, which are even more strict than the Australian laws. While I’m frustrated that I have to change my working habits to suit laws, at least I feel confident that if something was to happen to me, the law would protect me. I feel confident that I can go to the police if a client was to assault me. I feel confident to go if a client robbed me. I’m aware even girls in brothels feel they can do this. Best of all, clients are prosecuted with these crimes. In Canberra a client was convicted of rape by deception for paying a worker with fake money. The same happened in Melbourne after a client reversed a deposit transaction to a worker after he’d seen her. A worker was robbed at a brothel in Melbourne recently, and the man has been arrested and charged. I’m not sure the Canadian model allows for the same protections to be afforded to the sex workers living in Canada . . . Sex work has allowed me to continue my education. It ensures that I do have a life to look forward to. But if I was in Canada in the same situation, I’m sure I wouldn’t have this choice because my choice is legal here. It is safe. And I feel I have the backing of the law if something was to go wrong. That’s all sex workers want. To feel like they are members of the community and to feel safe within that community.” Karoline Kole, Melbourne

“I’ve been in the sex industry for over 16 years. In that time I have gone to school three times, raised two great kids now getting ready for university. I’ve bought and sold three houses, paid off my two cars and I had time and money to be a hands-on mother. I chose my profession and did so with pride and ran it as a business. I am saddened by today’s revelations of C-36. It puts women and children at risk. I’m tired of my government thinking I’m some degenerate who needs to be policed and told what I can/cannot do. I’m tired of being portrayed as less than worthy of being a normal human being. I truly feel if this should pass it puts women back into the stone ages and we will be the first of many Canadians to lose their basic human rights of freedom, liberty and to pursue the gaining of a livelihood. All other business are able to promote and do business safely, so why are adult industry workers not afforded the same privilege? Just a thought from a woman in an industry being attacked (yet again.)” Anonymous