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Xtra continues to publish sexual services ads

‘This is a bad law,’ says Pink Triangle Press president

Akio Maroon, co-chair of the board of directors of Maggie’s Toronto; Valerie Scott, legal director of Sex Professionals of Canada; Richard Elliott, executive director of the HIV/AIDS Legal Network; Cheri DiNovo, MPP Parkdale—High Park; and Alice Klein, publisher of Now, all attended the press conference held Dec 17 at Queen’s Park. Credit: HG Watson

The president of Pink Triangle Press, Xtra’s publisher, says that the company stands with Now magazine’s decision to continue publishing ads for sex workers despite a new law that may prohibit it.

Now’s publisher, Alice Klein, announced Nov 7 that she believes that printing ads placed directly by sex workers is still legal under the federal Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act — the new sex-work bill better known as C-36.

“We have always refused to discriminate against sex work and sex workers,” Klein said in a press release. Her statement came in advance of a Dec 17 press conference at the provincial legislature in Toronto at which Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her government were called on to intervene and challenge the constitutionality of the new law.

“This is a bad law, an unconstitutional law, made in defiance of both the Supreme Court and public opinion,” says Ken Popert, president and executive director of Pink Triangle Press. “We fully back Now’s position on prostitution-related advertising,” he says, noting that Xtra and The Body Politic have opposed the criminalization of sex work for more than 40 years.

While Xtra currently receives only a tiny amount of revenue from sex-work-related advertising, members of Squirt, a gay cruising website operated by Pink Triangle Press, are free to advertise escort services. Popert says there are no plans to change that going forward.

At the Dec 17 press conference, Klein, along with Akio Maroon, co-chair of the board of directors of Maggie’s Toronto; Valerie Scott, the legal director of Sex Professionals of Canada; and Richard Elliott, executive director of the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, explained that C-36 is in many ways just as bad as the previous criminal laws surrounding prostitution.

“Our sex workers are fearing for their lives,” Maroon says.

The federal Conservatives enacted the new law after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the previous prostitution provisions in the Criminal Code as unconstitutional. Upon its introduction, the bill was immediately criticized for being as harsh as the laws struck down by the Supreme Court.

Under the old Criminal Code provisions, the sale of sexual services was prohibited. Now, the purchase of sexual services is criminalized, putting clients at risk of jail time and, activists argue, putting sex workers at risk by limiting their ability to screen and negotiate with clients and seek police protection.

With the advertising of sexual services prohibited, media outlets face potential charges under the law.

Some sex workers and their allies say that advertisements serve as a point of first contact and negotiation with clients. Many of those same sex workers often work out of their homes, and this new law could force them into working on the street, which is a riskier proposition.

Maroon says also that the people at the front lines of harassment over enforcement of these laws are LGBT, black and indigenous street-based sex workers. “We’ve seen historically that all laws within Canada disproportionally affect black, trans, migrant and indigenous sex workers and workers in general.”

Since the bill received royal assent in early November, activists are hoping provincial governments will intervene and raise their concerns about the constitutionality of the new law. Wynne has already expressed concerns about the bill and has asked Madeleine Meilleur, Ontario’s attorney general, to review it. The activists who organized the Dec 17 press conference are asking that the provincial government not enforce the new legislation.