Opening the Doors Report- Short 2011Opening the Doors- Final Report
BC Coalition of Experiential Communities 2011
Project Background and Rationale
During the .Developing Capacity for Change Project.-coop development work shops, workers expressed how a trade association and a branding or certification process could support safer work conditions over all and stabilize the existing safer indoor venues that exist now. The development of occupational health and safety training was also seen as a way to give people entering and in the sex industry the tools to make safe decisions about their work. It was agreed that all stake holders including business owners and consumers should be engaged to contribute to the design of the future of our industry.
Currently a charter challenge is underway to bring down the laws governing sex work. This action will only be successful if as an industry we can prove adult consensual sex industry workers are making an informed decision, have access to resources, are of legal age to engage in the sex industry and that ethical sex industry business owners do exist. In the next 10 years we must agree to respect each other and treat each other with dignity. This will be an enormous task but an absolutely necessary one none the less. If we cannot demonstrate the ways in which we have traditionally maintained the stability of our industry, the system at large will most likely impose whatever laws it sees fit and we as an industry will be faced with another disaster.
With this in mind, the BCCEW/C set out to engage sex industry workers in beginning the process and determining whether or not there is industry support for such an action and what the structure of such an organization might look like.
here is John Lowman’s response to Lee Lakeman’s attack on his testimony at the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry. Lowman’s article includes some interesting history on these issues in Canada, including on the perspective of the 1970 Royal Commission on the Status of Women.
Missing Women, Feminism and Prostitution
Outsiders to the Sister Outsiders: A Response to Lee Lakeman/Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter
John Lowman, SFU School of Criminology, November 6, 2011
On October 13th 2011 Vancouver Rape Relief and Women Shelter posted on its web site1 Lee Lakeman‟s commentary on my testimony at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.
Lakeman accuses me of numerous sins, including “sleight of hand, trick of phrase [and] ideological advocacy.” In this vein, she claims that when I responded to a question about my research on prostitution, I neglected to mention “forty years of feminist work on this issue demanding decriminalization of the women and the criminalization of pimps and johns and bawdy house owners,
VANCOUVER, February 24, 2011 — Vancouver sex worker groups and supporters have launched a complaint to the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime against the federal government’s decision to exclude sex workers from the national strategy on missing and murdered women.
“Unbelievably, thirteen Canadian governments – federal, provincial and territorial –totally ignored violence against sex workers in the national strategy,” says Susan Davis, Coordinator of the BC Coalition of Experiential Communities.”
The February 16th complaint strongly urges Federal Ombudsman Sue O’Sullivan to use the powers of her office to recommend the federal government immediately work with Canadian sex worker organizations to support sex workers’ urgent needs for safety and protection.
‘We wrote the Prime Minister and every Justice Minister in Canada in December demanding they take action on sex worker safety and got back a couple of pro forma responses” says Kerry Porth, Executive Director of Providing Alternatives Counselling and Education Society (PACE).
“Our governments seem to be saying sex workers are not acceptable as victims of violence. We need the Ombudsman to make them understand that sex workers, who often endure extreme violence, have the same right to protection as every other Canadian.”
Established in 2007, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (OFOVC) ensures the federal government meets its responsibilities to victims of crime and is empowered to make recommendations on its findings. Victims can file a complaint to the Ombudsman about any federal agency or federal legislation dealing with victims of crime including when they believe “Canada’s laws or policies for victims of crime do not meet their needs.”
Davis noted the tri-lateral government report on missing and murdered women was the foundation for the national strategy that governments announced in mid-October, pointing out that despite a report mandate that included sex industry workers, no report recommendation addressed violence against sex workers. The federal government later announced $10 million in national strategy funding, but not a single dollar was allocated to sex worker safety needs,
“We live in a city where dozens of sex workers have been murdered over the last 30 years while knowing that violence against sex workers happens right across our country,” says Davis.
“We’re begging government to work with sex workers to show us commitment and action. Their indifference is killing us.”
The following organizations are parties to the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime complaint:
BC Coalition of Experiential Communities – Exotic Dancers for Cancer - FIRST Decriminalize Sex Work – HUSTLE: Men on the Move – The Naked Truth Entertainment - Providing Alternatives Counseling and Education Society (PACE) – PEERS Vancouver - Pivot Legal Society - West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals - WISH Drop-in Centre Society
If Wally Oppal didn’t know what he was getting into before, the commissioner of the missing-women inquiry found out yesterday.
Ahead of his formal inquiry, the former attorney general hosted a public forum in the Downtown Eastside last night and heard from politicians, community activists, residents and advocates, all of whom told him how the system has failed dozens of women and thrown them into the hands of predators like serial killer Robert Pickton.
“I believe your greatest challenge in this public inquiry is to produce a report that cannot be ignored,” MP Libby Davies told Oppal. “It must be a report that addresses the deeply disturbing and egregious crimes done to our society.”
Nothing from last night’s pre-hearing forum, or from the second one scheduled for tomorrow, can be used as evidence when formal proceedings begin in June, but Oppal said the comments will help him shape the inquiry.
“We want to hear from (the community), what went wrong and how we can prevent these wrongs from taking place in the future,” Oppal said.
In response to requests by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and four provinces, fuelled by lobbying by groups opposed to prostitution and human trafficking, Craigslist recently removed the “Erotic Services” section of its Canadian websites. The action mirrors Craigslist’s removal of “Adult Services” from its U.S. websites following an open letter by 17 state attorneys-general lamenting its support for the “scourge of illegal prostitution.”
While illegal in most of the U.S., prostitution is legal in Canada. Communicating for the purpose of prostitution only constitutes an offence when it happens in a “public place,” such as the street or a park, not a newspaper or website.
Some Canadian politicians were concerned Craigslist “could facilitate” crimes involving child exploitation and human trafficking. Charges should be and are laid in Canada against persons who advertise for, and profit from, such exploitation. But persons can only be charged with aiding or abetting if they encourage anyone to commit an offence or do, or omit to do, anything for the purpose of aiding another to commit a crime. There is no evidence that Craigslist has such a purpose. In fact, Craigslist has a strong record of co-operating with police by providing electronic information used to track down suspected abusers.
Shutting down “Erotic Services” is counterproductive and in bad faith. Following the section’s removal, traffic to other less-monitored websites advertising sex services spiked. This scattering effect hinders investigation and prosecution of actual cases of exploitation.
Governmental intimidation of Craigslist is a heavy-handed move that will likely result in increased violence against sex workers. The Ontario Superior Court recently struck down as unconstitutional several prostitution laws, including the communication provision, on the basis that they “materially contribute to the decreased personal security” of sex workers. Online advertising is crucial to sex-worker safety because it allows for effective client screening. Many sex workers require new clients to provide referrals from existing clients, references from other sex workers, and confirmation of identity.
The anti-Craigslist campaign is part of a backlash against progressive developments toward decriminalization of prostitution-related activities. Concerns about exploitation mask the larger goal of eradicating sex work per se. In casting all sex workers as coerced women and children, the anti-prostitution lobby homogenizes a diverse industry that includes consenting adult men, women and transgendered persons.
Targeting Craigslist perpetuates a strategic narrative of saving and punishing, where vulnerable women and children are saved and parasitic pimps, johns and traffickers are punished. The impulse to punish and save lies at the heart of Western theological and colonial traditions. Viewed in this light, the conservative approach to sex work is part of a civilizing mission that reduces participants to either saved or fallen, victim or perpetrator.
This simplification denies the complexity and prevalence of transactional sex. It thereby restricts the range of social and political responses to the root causes of real vulnerabilities. Alternatively, improved immigration policies and support services for trafficked persons, empowerment of first nations communities, increased funding for drug addiction and mental-health services, and implementation of a national childcare plan are measures likely to decrease sex industry-related exploitation.
We should all be concerned when government uses its power to pressure private corporations to excessively limit legal forms of expression.
Lisa Kelly, a Trudeau scholar, and Heidi Matthews are doctoral candidates at Harvard Law School.