3 min

Tensions within & without

Prostitutes fight some cops, embrace others

OTHER LIVES. Mirha-Soleil Ross (seen here second from left, cooking for Mealtrans at the 519 Church Street Community Centre) has a 60-year-old retired prostitute alter ego. Credit: Jan Becker

Kara Gillies says strip clubs are being hit by cops – and the sex trade activist says the stories of trapped and abused immigrant strippers used to justify the harassment aren’t entirely true.

“This is being presented by police and mainstream media as an attempt to rescue abused and exploited women from the pimp or trafficker,” Gillies says.

“We have not seen the horrid abusive scenarios that we read about in the daily press. It’s our contention that this is an excuse for both the crackdown on the sex trade and a war of garnering otherwise liberal support for increasing the repressive immigration policy.”

Gillies says the targeting of strip clubs, in conjunction with the siege on migrant workers, is the most prominent issue facing the sex trade in Toronto.

To get the word out (on this and related issues), Gillies has organized the line-up for a Wed, May 3 Sex Works cabaret, an evening of strippers, dominatrixes and prostitutes and others (and a part of Mayworks: Festival Of Working People And The Arts).

Though Gillies says migrant workers in any field can be subjected to substandard working conditions, she disagrees with the popular portrayal of immigrant workers.

The mainstream media’s highly sensationalized and vague use of the term trafficking increases the public’s confusion over what that actually means. The National Post reported on Apr 15 that “Canada’s open immigration policies are contributing to its emerging role in the international trafficking of sex slaves.” Ottawa introduced tough new changes to the country’s immigration laws earlier this month.

“In fact,” says Gillies, “long before this new Immigration Act was brought to the table, the federal government put out a white paper on Canada’s future in terms of refugee policy. Despite the fact that previous bills made no mention of smuggling or trafficking, this white paper, which is for the general public, at several points talked about how we needed to limit the trafficking of women and children for the purposes of sexual exploitation.”

Gillies quotes the white paper as stating that Canada’s loose and open borders policy is a haven for pimps and exploiters.

Gillies insists that many reported victims of trafficking are actually prostitutes looking to find better working conditions.

It’s more palatable for the public to fight “forced” prostitution – and ignore or condemn “voluntary” prostitution. The immigrants are innocents; others can be arrested or harassed.

Gillies works at Maggies, a centre for sex trade workers, a group working on targeted policing – known officially as Community Action Policing. The CAP program, due to launch soon for the summer, focusses more than $1-million on overtime for cops to sweep people off the streets and out of parks.

“Community action policing involves the direct specifically funded targeting of street active people, including street prostitutes.”

Security is a big issue.

When prostitutes are assaulted, it’s difficult to find support. This may change if the recent promise by the Toronto police’s Sexual Assault Squad holds water.

“In the past sex workers were often fearful about coming forward with a complaint of an assault, they feared an inappropriate or hostile response from the police, and they fear that they would become under investigation themselves.

“The Sexual Assault Squad has promised that not only will they take the sexual assaults against prostitutes and other sex workers seriously, but in no way will they investigate into the woman or man’s business. It’s a major development.”

Although the Canadian labour movement has shown little interest in the rights of sex workers, the Mayworks fest is on board.

Next month’s Sex Works show includes transexual activist Mirha-Soleil Ross, debunking the popular myth that the client-prostitute relationship is inherently exploitive (she plays a 60-year-old hooker looking back at her tricks).

There is traditionally a lot of tension among sex trade workers – between those who lap dance and those who do not, street prostitutes and indoor workers, dominatrixes and prostitutes…. Says Gillies: “It’s often the easiest defence when you’re accused of being a dirty whore or a fallen woman to say, ‘Well, at least I’m not like that bitch back there, that crack whore back there.’ Mayworks provides a forum where people can come together and learn from each other.”

Doors open at 8pm on Wed, May 3 at Ted’s Wrecking Yard (549 College); admission is $5. Mayworks is at (416) 599-9096.