cropped-8159635642_28f21c508b_b.jpgFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FRIDAY, MARCH 02, 2018



Vancouver has seen it’s share of violence against sex workers. The Case of the Missing Women and it’s horrific details put a spotlight on how NIMBYism and lack of concern for the lives and safety of Vancouver sex workers lead ultimately to their torture and murder. Contributing factors identified through the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry, the City of Vancouver Task Force and a city wide project known as “Living in Community” showed that there were many actions which could have prevented the disaster and that could prevent it from happening again.

Recent revelations about yet another unfolding disaster in rural communities in British Columbia and murders of sex workers in places where enforcement is high, have reminded us all how enforcement, uninformed actions and stigma can isolate sex workers and make them vulnerable to violence.

In Vancouver, all citizens were impacted by the terrible outcome of targeted enforcement and lack of understanding issues facing sex workers. No matter a persons perspective on sex work, everyone agrees that the violence and vulnerability caused by the actions of the past are unacceptable. A culture of change was created by the tragedy and indeed remains the legacy of the women who died.

Increasing understanding of the mistakes of the past and the violent impacts of taking action based on moral or ideological assumptions about sex workers and their lives has changed the way sex work is viewed and monitored in Vancouver.

The Vancouver Police created a “Sex Work Enforcement Guidelines” Policy and clearly stated that adult consensual sex work would no longer be a priority. Instead of blanket targeted actions against all sex industry participants, exploitation would be their only focus and of course investigating crimes against sex workers. Training about the policy has ensured that police officers know and understand the position of the VPD and what is expected of them in terms of fair and unbiased treatment of sex workers during interactions with police.

The VPD also strengthened the Sex Industry Liaison Officer position, currently held by Lynda Malcolm. Lynda’s role has been critical to increasing the trust between sex workers and police in Vancouver. She has consistently made herself available when sex workers are in need of help and provides a non judgmental link to the police and reporting those who commit crimes against us.

The City of Vancouver also adopted a policy of non enforcement through their “Sex Work Response Guidelines” which states explicitly that sex work is not a by-law violation. Training for licensing and inspections staff has ensured that staff understand the spirit of protection in the policy and what is expected of city staff should they have cause to interact with a sex industry worker or businesses.

The net result of all of these things which includes a lot more than described here, has been defacto decriminalization of sex work in the City of Vancouver. Even before the policies were made official, steps were being taken to change the culture of policing and enforcement against the sex industry in Vancouver. Criminalization of sex work has been the largest contributing factor to violence faced by sex workers and needed to change.

“How is it working?” you might ask….

We are happy to report that these actions have made a prolific difference and that not only are crimes against sex workers being reported more often and true exploitation being countered with several exploiters being investigated and prosecuted successfully but that…..

There have been no murders of sex workers in Vancouver since 2009

We would like to congratulate the Vancouver Police and City of Vancouver Staff for having courage in the face of opposition to these actions from those who feel the sex industry could never be safe and who for moral or ideological reasons promote the “abolition” of the sex trade. This past decade has proven without a doubt that decriminalization of sex work does make sex workers safer and is truly the only solution to ending exploitation and violence in the sex industry.

As the federal Liberal and NDP parties debate whether to support decriminalization of sex work, it is our hope that Vancouver can be held up as an example of how communities can address these issues in a way which respects all people’s rights and safety. Vancouver is success of decriminalization in a Canadian context. Both sex workers and communities are safer now.

It is time for reason to prevail. It is Time to decriminalize sex work in Canada.

Contact : Susan Davis



BC Coalition of Experiential Communities


Dr. Lowman’s response to Lee Lakeman of vancouver rape relief

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,

Sex workers celebrate court ruling – Federal statutes violate Charter rights, says Ont. judge

By Laura Baziuk, The Province; with files from Postmedia NewsSeptember 29, 2010
 Vancouver’s sex workers celebrated a historic day Tuesday after an Ontario court judge struck down three federal prostitution laws.

“I didn’t think this was possible within my lifetime,” said Kerry Porth, executive director of the PACE Society, which promotes safe working conditions for the city’s prostitutes.

“For once, the court has finally heard what sex workers and our allies have been screaming for years.”

In a trial started in 2009 by three Toronto prostitutes, Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel ruled that the laws that forbid running a bawdy house, communicating for the purpose of prostitution and living of the avails of prostitution are unconstitutional.

The provisions “are not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice,” Himel wrote in a 131-page decision, released Tuesday.

The laws “force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their security of the person as protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Prostitution is not illegal in Canada, but many aspects of prostitution have been criminalized by Parliament. The Ontario ruling takes effect only in that province, but if upheld on appeal would apply across the country.

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the government is “very concerned” about the court’s ruling and is “seriously considering” an appeal. It has 30 days to do so.

Data from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics suggest the number of homicides against prostitutes has remained steady over the past two decades. From 1991 to 1999, police reported 72 prostitute slayings. From 2000 to 2008, there were 70.

“I don’t think that any of us thought when we began this trial . . . that the outcome would be this sweeping and overwhelmingly incredible,” said Sue Davis, an active sex-trade worker and member of the B.C. Coalition of Experiential Communities.

“I think it gives hope to sex workers all over Canada.”

She dismissed critics’ concerns that Ontario could become a hot spot for sex tourists now that brothels can be legal.

“There will not be a sudden flood of women working on the street — a sudden flood of men seeking sex,” Davis said. “Nowhere has that proven to be the case.

“What will happen, though, is that we will be able to move forward on labour organizing, having review boards and complaints processes so that we can finally weed out some of the exploitive people that do operate in the sex industry, and eliminate child exploitation and human trafficking.”

She and other advocates said the battle is still far from over.

Katrina Pacey, a lawyer with Vancouver’s Pivot Legal Society, said groups must continue to lobby local and provincial governments to make conditions safer for prostitutes all across Canada.

© Copyright (c) The Province

Ontario Superior Court judge strikes down prostitution law

Ontario Superior Court judge strikes down prostitution law

Kirk Makin

Globe and Mail Update
Published Tuesday, Sep. 28, 2010 1:12PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Sep. 28, 2010 1:56PM EDT

Ontario’s prostitution law fell Tuesday after a judge ruled that it endangers the very women it is meant to protect.

More related to this story

In a landmark decision striking down the core of the controversial law, Ontario Superior Court Judge Susan Himel said that the law forces women to operate their business furtively in an atmosphere of constant secrecy and danger.

“By increasing the risk of harm to street prostitutes, the communicating law is simply too high a price to pay for the alleviation of social nuisance,” Judge Himel said in her 131-page ruling which took almost a year to produce.

“I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public,” she later added.

The ruling means that the law can no longer be enforced in Ontario. If the decision were to be upheld on appeal, it would topple the use of the prostitution provisions across the country.

In the short term, however, the Ontario Crown is expected to seek a stay of execution that would permit police to temporarily continue enforcing the law.

Three prostitutes launched the challenge in an attempt to bring Canada into line with other nations that have relaxed their enforcement of prostitution, including New Zealand, Australia and Germany. In particular, the litigants challenged three key provisons relating to communicating for the purpose of prostitution, living off the avails and keeping a common bawdy house (brothel).

The litigants would have viewed winning on one of them as a major triumph. They hardly dared to imagine gutting the law entirely.

“We got everything,” the lawyer behind the challenge, Alan Young, yelped as he read the concluding portions of the decision. “We did it!”

Mr. Young said that the judge refused to suspend the effect of her decision while the government moves to fill the legislative gap.

“It takes effect right now,” he told reporters at Toronto’s downtown courthouse.

If upheld on appeal, the decision will plunge Parliament back into the extremely divisive and complicated job of criminalizing an activity that is not itself illegal.

Indeed, successive governments have been branded hypocritical for taking a legal act and erecting criminal impediments to every aspect of carrying it out.

Judge Himel said that any doubt about the dangers to women was dispelled when serial killer Robert Pickton’s targeted women in a killing spree at his Vancouver pig farm.

She heard evidence during a weeklong hearing last year that as many as 300 sex-trade workers, most of whom were street prostitutes, have disappeared since 1985.

“It is estimated that street sex work makes up less than 20 per cent of prostitution in Canada, but they appear to account for more than 95 per cent of the homicide victims and missing women,” said a key witness for the litigants, Simon Fraser University criminologist John Lowman.

Judge Himel stressed that several other provisions relating to the sex trade remain in effect. These include prohibitions against child prostition; impeding pedestrian or vehicular traffic; and procuring.

She said that these are sufficient to give police the power to keep prostitutes from bothering passersby or turning neighbourhoods into sleazy dens of iniquity.

Judge Himel also said that pimps who threaten or commit violence against prostitutes can still be prosecuted using other sections of the Criminal Code.

“In conclusion, I respectfully reject the argument made by the (Crown) that a legal vacuum would be created by an immediate declaration of invalidity in this case,” she said.

However, Judge Himel gave the Crown a 30-day window in which to make arguments against legalizing bawdy houses on account of a concern that “unlicenced brothels may be operated in a way that may not be in the public interest.”

Mr. Young tried to prove that the women’s constitutional right to life, liberty and security were jeopardized by repressive laws that exacerbate the perils of a notoriously hazardous profession. The litigants argued that there is no harm to a sexual act between a consenting prostitute and her client.

Sporadic attempts have been made over the years to chip away at aspects of the prostitution law, but the challenge was the first in two decades to aim for a broad sweep of its provisions.

With the Charter challenge almost certain to reach the Supreme Court of Canada, both sides amassed a vast body of evidence, including dozens of witnesses.

Lawyers for the federal and Ontario Crown focused on proving the inherent dangers of prostitution – whether it is conducted in a car, an open field or a luxurious boudoir. They also argued that prostitution is inherently degrading and unhealthy, and should not be encouraged as a ‘career choice’ for young women through a slack legal regime.

The prosecutors urged Judge Himel not to intrude on the terrain of legislators who have studied and vigorously debated prostitution provisions. They said that, even if prostitution were made legal and moved indoors, it would still entail a high degree of danger its practitioners.

“Any time you are alone with a john, it is dangerous,” federal Crown Michael Morris told Judge Himel. “There is no safe haven when you are involved in prostitution. There is overwhelming evidence that johns can become violent at any moment.”

However, Prof. Lowman countered that prohibiting communication renders prostitutes unable to “screen” potential clients, hire security or move behind the relative safety of closed doors.

He said that he purposely delayed his challenge until after the Pickton trial, cognizant that the Supreme Court insists on strong evidence of actual harm, rather than abstract arguments.

Prof. Lowman also testified that, according to public opinion polls and research, a majority of Canadians believe that prostitution between consenting adults should be legal.

“So do the Bloc, Liberals and NDP, according to the 2006 parliamentary report of the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws,” he said. “Clearly, Canadians are ready to end what one judge has characterized as the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ state of Canadian prostitution law.”

Several cities – including Toronto, Victoria, Windsor, Calgary and Edmonton – charge fees to licence body-rub establishments despite the general understanding that many sell sexual services.

“We have this strange situation where the biggest pimps in the country right now are municipal governments,” Prof. Young told the court. “It’s just another irrationality of the law.”

The hearing grew heated when Prof. Lowman said that many of the Crown’s experts have a history of lying to foreign legislators, conducting simplistic research, fabricating scare stories and employing absurd rhetoric to help stall the global liberalization of prostitution laws. He accused them of travelling the world trying to convince permissive governments of their errors.

FIRST – Feminist Allies

FIRST is a group of feminists working for the decriminalization of sex work in Canada. Here is an op-ed by them that was published in the Vancouver Sun.


A 2010 deadline for prostitution

Decriminalization and a sex worker cooperative in time for the Games would provide safety and equal rights


Joyce Arthur and Tamara O’Doherty, Special to the Sun

Published: Thursday, December 06, 2007

Many feminists believe that adult sex work in Canada should be completely decriminalized.

To that end, Vancouver-based “First” is the only feminist organization in North America advocating the decriminalization of prostitution. First supports the right of sex workers to engage in consensual sex with other adults without being criminalized.

We believe that sex workers have the right to safe working conditions, the right to equal protection and benefit of the law, and the right to have their dignity, autonomy and liberty respected.

Decriminalization means the repeal of all criminal laws relating to adult prostitution. In Canada, prostitution is not technically illegal, but most activities associated with it are criminalized, including soliciting in public and living off the avails of prostitution.

Although decriminalization will not on its own stop the injustices experienced by sex industry workers, First believes that we cannot eliminate violence against sex workers and ensure their equal rights until we address the illegal and stigmatized status of their work.

Recent media reports have sown fears of a large increase in sex trafficking for the 2010 Olympics. Columnist Daphne Bramham, for instance, warned in a recent Vancouver Sun column that the city should brace for an explosion in prostitution and trafficking in 2010.

However, there is no evidence of dramatic, let alone “explosive,” growth in sex industry activity at large sporting events. In 2006, we saw headlines that 40,000 women would be trafficked into Germany for soccer’s World Cup.

The Swedish government funded an independent report that conclusively found that an increase in human trafficking did not occur, either during or after the World Cup. The report concluded, “The 40,000 estimate was unfounded and unrealistic.”

After the last four Games (Turin 2006, Athens 2004, Salt Lake City 2002, and Sydney 2000), there were almost no confirmed reports on the numbers of sex workers, level of violence or other associated factors. Notably, almost all anecdotal reports suggested no obvious change in level of activity.

During the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, where sex work is legal, only a marginal increase in prostitution was reported. In Salt Lake City, one confirmed report indicated that city licences for escort services increased by only 12 per cent in the period leading up to the Winter Games.

Similarly, research has found virtually no information on sex industry enforcement during the Games, suggesting that police saw little need to deploy resources towards it. After 9/11, security requirements have become the overwhelming concern at Olympic Games, with policing of minor and nuisance crime a secondary concern. In Salt Lake City, the police reassigned its vice squad to Games security duty, and made no arrests for prostitution during the Games.

First is an ally of the BC Coalition of Experiential Communities, the Vancouver group of sex worker rights activists working to establish a sex worker cooperative in time for the 2010 Games.

The cooperative will enable sex workers to benefit from collaborative ownership and self-management of their work. One feature of the project is a cooperative brothel, a worker-controlled safe space to conduct sex work.

Other plans include the creation of occupational health and safety guidelines, collectively purchasing services such as an extended medical plan, and marketing products and services.

Revenue will be used to support benevolent purposes, including a fund for the children of murdered sex workers.

Our support for a cooperative brothel is grounded in research that shows that violence levels are greatly decreased for sex workers who work indoors, compared to those on the street.

In Vancouver, the off-street sector comprises more than 80 per cent of sex workers, who report better control over their transactions with clients and, hence, improved safety.

Although Vancouver sex workers are mobilizing to address their needs, we believe the severely under-funded organizations providing services to sex workers will need greater support to prepare for 2010. This issue is particularly pressing for sex workers in the Downtown Eastside, who will likely experience increased homelessness as a result of the Games.

The immense security regime associated with the Games may end up forcing women away from their usual strolls into more isolated areas, reducing their ability to negotiate safety.

Dedicated housing and increased government funding for Vancouver organizations that work with sex workers would help address these problems.

While alarmist rhetoric continues to plague discussions on sex industry work, the lack of concern for the safety and well-being of Vancouver’s sex workers continues unabated. In light of the 69 missing women from the Downtown Eastside as well as the Pickton trial, this is deplorable and deeply troubling.

As feminists and as concerned community members, we urge the public to join us in supporting the dignity and safety of sex industry workers.

Decriminalization of adult sex work is an absolutely critical step towards improving working conditions and ending the violence.

Joyce Arthur and Tamara O’Doherty are with First, a feminist organization advocating the decriminalizing of prostitution.