My name is Robyn Maynard and I'm an outreach worker at Stella. Stella is sex-worker led, a “by and for” sex worker organization. We offer service and advocacy to Montreal-based sex workers. Stella has been around since 1995.
Because there were a few comments levelled yesterday really talking about how sex workers' organizations push people to stay in the industry, I did want to address that. I think that is something that is not accurate at all about the way we work. We have a listening line. We have a drop-in centre. We do daily street-based outreach. Some of that—at least two shifts a week—are with nurses from different community organizations because sex workers are often isolated in the way that they work from the legal system and they face a lot of stigma. We work specifically with street nurses doing outreach.
We also do regular workplace visits to escort agencies, to massage parlours, to dance clubs. We have a medical clinic, and we also have an anti-violence program in which we support sex workers who are in violent situations whether that be with a boyfriend, an abusive working situation, or anything like that, and based on their own defined needs, we'll really help to support them in that violent situation. Sometimes that could mean coming forward against someone who committed an aggression against them. It can mean a variety of different things, but it's a really important project to us as well.
In 2012-13, we had 500 visits to our drop-in, answered 5,000 calls on our listening line, met thousands of sex workers in their workplaces, and accompanied almost 250 sex workers to health, legal, and social services.
The opinions that we have around the effects of the laws are really based on what we see on a day-to-day basis. I'm a street outreach worker. I'm often working until midnight on the main strolls where sex workers are working. We can really see the effects of the laws as they play out on sex workers. We talk to them on a daily basis.
The work that we do is important in the context of criminalization especially because sex workers face so much isolation and stigma and fear of outing themselves because of their fear of losing their children, losing their apartments. A lot of the accompaniments that we do are legal accompaniments because of that, because of criminalization and also because of the situations that people are facing because of their work being criminalized. A lot of the calls we get are around people who are afraid of being arrested.
We operate on principles of harm reduction, which is extremely important for us. There is a lot of talk about money going toward just exiting programs. Often there are sex workers who want to leave the sex industry, who should be supported. We often help people to write their resumés and things like that, but often also people just need basic legal information and help with youth protective services, just to understand the laws better, to have education around, say, hepatitis C or HIV prevention. There are many different needs that sex workers have beyond just the idea of exiting, and it's very important for us to be able to provide all of those.
Many sex workers will eventually go on to do other things, but Bill C-36 really does seem to be saying, “Get out of the sex industry or you'll make your work more dangerous, or potentially be arrested.” It does not actually provide other viable options at the same time. Our communities have diverse backgrounds and lives and working conditions, and there are many different needs that sex workers face. None of these are addressed by Bill C-36.
The Supreme Court of Canada struck down many provisions that criminalized the sex trade because the laws had the unintended consequence of endangering the lives of sex workers. That is why these laws were struck down. The decision was seen by many sex workers as a human rights victory because it was found that sex workers should not have to be unduly exposed to danger because of the criminal laws surrounding their work. Originally these laws took place in the name of combatting public nuisance. Now we are really seeing a re-creation, with many similar laws and going even further. Now it's under the name of protecting vulnerable communities, but these same laws that were used to combat public nuisance are really being brought back in to apply to sex workers again.
Living in a legal vacuum is dangerous and the danger is quantifiable. We know that for people living in a legal vacuum who are criminalized, the rates of murder and violence toward sex workers is abhorrent in Canada. The Supreme Court did find this directly related to the laws, so the laws are very important to sex workers' lives.
It's fine for any member of Parliament, any person living in Canada, to have the right to their own personal opinion on the sex industry and the morality of the sex industry, and whether or not we think it should exist and what we think it means, but imposing morality at the cost of human lives is not something that is acceptable.
What is the cost of passing laws trying to abolish the sex industry? The cost is extremely dangerous. Even if we look at trying to abolish what we see as a social harm, there are actual physical harms to people's physical safety and their actual lives are endangered by these same laws that try to abolish the sex industry.
We can look to Sweden and Norway, countries that have brought in what people often call the Nordic model, where the purchase of sexual services has been criminalized. The National Council for Crime Prevention, the Swedish National Board of Health and Social Welfare, and the Swedish National Police Board have reported that sex industry activity has not dwindled but has actually shifted venues in order to evade police detection, and has actually increased the dangers faced by sex workers.
There is more in the brief, so I won't focus too much on this. You can actually see that in Norway, violence towards sex workers has actually increased. Evidence shows that sex workers who are homeless or substance-dependent are actually more dependent now on individual clients. Here in Canada, though, we actually already have a lot of evidence that shows us what happens when we criminalize sex workers working on the street and also when we criminalize the purchase of sex.
Emily mentioned that the police in Ottawa for a while now have actually not been criminalizing sex workers on the streets. That same thing has been true in Vancouver, as was just documented. It's also been true, from what I've been seeing, in Montreal. We've seen a lot fewer arrests of sex workers working on the streets, but the client sweeps haven't stopped and police posing undercover hasn't stopped. We also see that violence has not stopped in this way. This model has already been imposed and applied. The police have already had this power and have been using it. It hasn't been working.
First, I just want to talk specifically about the law recriminalizing sex workers who work on the street in a public place where there could be minors, which is anywhere. This one is very scary. As I was saying, sex workers who have been working on the street this entire time have lately actually had a break from the fear of arrest, the fear of prison, and the fear of losing their children. For many women I've been talking to, they are terrified of this coming back and of having to all of a sudden face this threat again.
I really think that many people know very well what the dangers are of criminalizing sex workers on the street, but I think less attention has been paid to just the ability of criminalizing client-worker interactions. These have unambiguously been shown to endanger sex workers' lives and safety. Two different reports commissioned by the Canadian justice ministry, in 1989 and in 1994, really showed the direct link between the criminalization of sex workers' negotiations and ability to screen clients. They showed that this caused displacement and increased violence towards sex workers.
Even when I go out on a street work shift on, say, a Thursday night, when the police are extremely present, that keeps clients away. Sex workers just end up moving to alleys and to other parts of the city where there are fewer peers and other people around. They're still trying to seek clients, but this is becoming more and more difficult. We know that this kind of isolation is really putting people in danger.
In Montreal our bad clients and aggressors list receives more reports of violent incidents directly after the police do large-scale client sweeps. Over a three-month period during the massive client sweeps in 2001, Stella documented a threefold rise in violent incidents and a fivefold rise in incidents with a deadly weapon.
In Vancouver, where there is one of the most mediatized amounts of violence towards sex workers, the Vancouver Police Department had actually already only focused on arresting clients. A report that came out from the British Medical Journal Open and the Pivot Legal Society also found that sex workers were still exposed to danger, again because of this reduced screening time when they had to move to darker areas.
It's just that the displacement that comes from criminalizing client and sex worker negotiations, even if it's just on the side of the client, does put sex workers in danger. We really need to look at that more than the idea of what it means to criminalize the johns. If criminalizing the johns means that people are having to place themselves in danger, then we need to re-evaluate the point of that law. Justice Wally Oppal also reaffirms the harms caused by this criminalization in the report from the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry .
As well, because women of colour, indigenous women, and those who are substance-dependent are overrepresented at the street level, that does mean that these harms would be levelled at these groups at a larger rate than for other groups in society. That's something that we also need to think of—the most marginalized people and how they'll be affected by the laws.
Emily already discussed really well the harmful effects of Bill C-36 on sex workers who work indoors, but I do just want to mention, on this idea that still places where sex workers work indoors, like massage parlours and escort agencies, the ability for sex workers to be able to negotiate with their clients and the ability for sex workers to have condoms on site in these places. If these indoor locations are still criminalized, and are still trying to purposely avoid law enforcement because condoms can be used as evidence and things like this, we are really still putting sex workers at risk with this part of the law.
Again, the way that sex workers share their bad date list often is online. The safe practice of escorts to actually get the personal information from their client would be extremely difficult.
I have a quote by a sex worker we interviewed for a project called Stella Deboutte, which we haven't released yet, who says, “Because clients are scared and nervous, I think I lose business. One reason I work alone is that clients are often more afraid of arrest when we work in pairs, which essentially would make us more safe. But because the client has fears, I feel as though I have to kind of accommodate those fears and that those win out over my safety, essentially.”
What would a more positive law reform look like? I think we can see that these criminal laws are not the way to address the sex trade. They're really re-endangering sex workers, who have already been placed in undue danger for decades now and who really deserve something better. We already have laws against exploitation, robbery, extortion, bodily harm. Importantly, there are also specific criminal laws and laws in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act on trafficking. UN Women has put out a statement specifically saying that if you treat sex work and trafficking as the same thing, instead of treating them as separate kinds of abuses, then you're putting sex workers at danger of human rights risks and trafficking victims are not being helped.
Can I have one more minute?