Yes, I am.
My name is Chanelle Gallant. I'm a former staffer at Maggie's: The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project. I'm here representing one of our staffers, Monica Forrester, who could not be with us.
Monica is an indigenous sex-working woman. She was scheduled to be here, but over this past weekend one of her close friends, who is also an indigenous sex-working woman, was arrested on “communicating for the purposes of prostitution” charges. Monica has to stay in Toronto to offer her friend support and bail.
I believe that Monica was to be the only current indigenous sex worker that this group will be hearing from. I invite you to correct me if I'm wrong on that. I'm here in her stead to offer her submission because we do not want to allow the policing of prostitution to silence the very women whom we need to be hearing from. So following this is the submission of Monica Forrester.
My name is Monica Forrester. I'm a woman of colour from Curve Lake Reservation in Ontario. I'm a trans woman and a street sex worker of 25 years. I've been stigmatized because of my identity, my race, and my class. I'm here to speak about sex workers who are doing the work due to choice, coercion, or economic circumstance.
For many years I was homeless. I had no other options but to do sex work to survive and to get the basic necessities of life and access community. Sex work was where I found community with people dealing with the same discrimination as I was. I'm now a college graduate and an outreach worker bringing community, empowerment, and safety to marginalized groups.
Many do not understand street sex work or how Bill C-36 will affect us. Some work the street because they are poor and don't have the money to pay for things, like a phone or a computer or renting space. Some are homeless and have no other method of earning money. For some women, such as single mothers, social services are far from sufficient. Ontario Works provides $718 to a single parent in Ontario, but the average one-bedroom rent in Toronto is about $1,000 per month. Single parents who are sex working to support their family do not want to work at home where their children live, and so some choose to work on the street.
Aboriginal women in remote areas are working along the highways to get from town to town. Survival sex work is necessary to feed their kids and themselves. They face added stigma within their communities because of ongoing colonization. Colonialism already silenced them about sex, and sex work adds another layer of stigma and more isolation from their community.
Aboriginal women in Vancouver who were killed by Robert Pickton were from all over, but went to the downtown streets to do survival sex work. There are migrants and newcomers to Canada whose first language isn't English. For them, advertising is difficult or even impossible, but they can advertise by being on the street and negotiating a few English words.
Bill C-36 does not help these people, does not help sex workers, including those who have no other choices. A lot of trans women like me, because they don't have basic human rights, can't find jobs. Recently a trans woman asked me about these new laws, wondering how she was going to pay her rent or go to college or transition so she could get another job. This week a 50-year-old woman who's been a sex worker for her entire adult life came into Maggie's for safer sex supplies and asked who was going to hire her. It was all she'd ever done. Was she going to have to go on welfare now?
Bill C-36 will silence sex workers who experience violence. I'm a sex worker and a front-line outreach worker with 20 years' experience. I have seen all these situations first-hand. When there is more policing and surveillance, sex workers get isolated from people providing essential services, and that isolation leads to vulnerability. These services include education about safer sex, safer work areas, the law, policing, and community support. The street-based community is a community of its own. It can be close-knit. We educate each other because we need each other. Bill C-36 will change that because people will be more in fear of sharing information and supporting each other. We will have to take whatever clients we can and not be able to fully screen for safety.
Police will push outdoor workers away from residential areas because of the restriction on being near anyone under 18. This will lead to an increase in residential surveillance and harassment. Marginalized groups, like people of colour, trans women, aboriginal women, and two-spirit women are more likely to be street-based, and they will face extreme criminalization under this bill.
With the Internet, much of the sex industry moved indoors. By criminalizing advertising though, these workers will now be forced back out onto the street. This puts them at risk because indoor workers do not have any knowledge of street safety. Together, all of this will increase violence, murder, and HIV/AIDS against our community.
My recommendations are that $20 million in exit funds should be used to offer direct support to sex workers that is not dependent on their leaving the industry, which many of us can't or don't want to do. We need laws that allow us to work with safety and dignity, to make our own choices, for example, the right to advertise, to hire security staff, and to work with buddies. We need sex-worker positive agencies, like Maggie's, that empower us about safety, health, and well-being. The Supreme Court decision should be respected because it saw the necessity of decriminalization for all sex workers, whether we are in it by choice, coercion, or because of economic circumstances.
Right now, if we face violence, we can't call the police because it will be recorded in the system. I have never been able to call police for help, even after I was sexually assaulted. At the time I had been through the mandatory diversion program after an arrest for prostitution and knew that I faced incarceration if my sex work was discovered, so even though I was raped, I did not call police. Bill C-36 would not have helped me then, and it won't help me now.
I would ask that you reconsider Bill C-36 and the horrible outcomes it will have on the most marginalized sex workers in Canada. The fate of the sex worker community is in your hands.