Monday, February 25, 2019

Sex worker rights groups mark Canada’s Human Trafficking Awareness Day with scathing response to Justice Committee Report: Warns of harms to sex workers

Press Release from the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform

February 22, 2019– To mark February 22nd, Canada’s Human Trafficking Awareness Day, sex worker rights groups across the country are highlighting the harms of anti-human trafficking efforts in response to the report from the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights released December 2018, Moving Forward in the Fight Against Human Trafficking in Canada. 

The final recommendations from the Committee’s report ignore the evidence provided by sex worker rights groups on the harmful impacts of anti-human trafficking efforts and fail to recognize sex workers as the primary targets of anti-human trafficking initiatives, and therefore as important stakeholders in Canada’s human trafficking response.

While the Committee explicitly states that it “does not take any position regarding the legalization or decriminalization of prostitution or the relationship between the sex industry and human trafficking as this is beyond the scope of this study,” their failure to concretely distinguish between sex work and human trafficking and to position itself on the human rights of sex workers has resulted in a series of recommendations that will lead to human rights violations against sex workers.

Throughout the consultation and across the country, sex worker rights groups and our allies provided clear, consistent data and submissions that demonstrated how anti-human trafficking discourse, policy and policing has caused — and continues to cause — human rights violations against people working in the sex industry.

Sex worker rights groups were also clear to distinguish human trafficking from sex work not only in practice and in the language used to accurately reflect people’s experiences, but in policy recommendations as well.

When sex work is conflated with human trafficking, sex workers and the people they work with are indiscriminately targeted for surveillance and investigation.

Sex workers experience this over-policing as antagonistic and as a result often do not report to or seek out law enforcement if they need to.

Sex workers may experience many types of violence and exploitation, but whether or not this is related to trafficking, none are adequately addressed through current policy and practice.

Sex work-specific criminal and immigration prohibitions are barriers to meaningfully addressing human trafficking.

While sex work and human trafficking are profoundly different, they are conflated in legislation, policy and practice.

Addressing human trafficking thus requires a review of both criminal and immigration laws and the ways in which human trafficking laws are currently being enforced in a way that threatens sex workers’ safety, security and agency.

See our full response and recommendations for a human rights-based approach to human trafficking at:
Contact our email for further comment:

Monday, January 28, 2019

Introducing Classic Classifieds - Canada’s first and only adult oriented classified ads website

Introducing Classic Classifieds...

Canada’s first and only adult oriented classified ads website.

Category content includes a marketplace to buy, sell, and trade items, property rental listings, restaurants, entertainment and events listings, services as well as the personal aspect connecting adults.

Our goal is to shift the stigmas surrounding the word adult, evolving it to a higher level of social acceptance.


Taboo Naughty but Nice Sex show Feb 8-10 at the Vancouver convention center where the CC team will answer questions and demo the site.

To celebrate CC’s launch, entertainment will be provided by Dj Jenny Jones Feb 8, Dj

MYNXY Feb 9, and Dj AWood Feb 10.

Classic Classifieds will also host a raffle for prizes:

•    1st 65” Samsung 4K smart TV

•    2nd original canvas print featuring DJ MYNXY by Moe Sherwood

•    3rd Photoshoot session with Bruce Dyer.

Drawing for Raffle Prizes: Feb 23 midnight (at the official launch Party)

Official Launch Party: 

False Creek Yacht Club Feb 23. Entertainment provided by Dj Leanne, Dj Patrick Kelly, Dj Fastmolly, Dj Dezyman, along with a Burlesque performance by Chastity Twist.

For more information, press only:

For more information on Classic Classifieds:

Please share widely!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes (1981-1987)

By Andy Sorfleet

The 1970s: Dawn of a Modern Movement

In 1977 a Toronto stripper, Margaret Spore (also known as Baba Yaga) founded “Better End All Vicious Erotic Repression” (BEAVER), inspired by San Francisco's “Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics” (COYOTE), founded in 1973. BEAVER membership was mainly strippers and getting prostitutes to join proved difficult. Nonetheless, BEAVER brought sex workers' rights perspectives to the public for the first time in Canada.

COYOTE founder, Margo St. James, speaking at Wages for Housework
protest against violence against women, San Francisco, May 9, 1977.

On February 7, 1978, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Hutt v. The Queen, that in order for conviction of soliciting in a public place, the soliciting must be “pressing and persistent.” The case involved a Vancouver police officer in plain clothes, driving an unmarked vehicle.

Even if the word "solicit" were given the widest possible definition, there was, until the time the automobile door was closed, no demonstration that the intention of the appellant was to make herself available for prostitution. It would be ridiculous and abhorrent to say that every female pedestrian who requests a free ride in an automobile is soliciting.
“Prostitute Bill causes controversy in
Canada” ~ India Today, April 30, 1979
Whether or not a car was a public or private place was not before the court, and so they ruled as if a car was a public place. In the end, Debra Hutt was acquitted on the dictionary definition of “soliciting” — “to accost” or “to confront,” “to importune”:

The appellant did not enter the officer’s car uninvited. The officer returned her smile and he admitted … the reason he immediately returned the smile was to encourage her to solicit him. The appellant’s conversation with the officer demonstrated nothing more than that she was available for prostitution. There was nothing pressing or persistent as was required.

Eager to build alliances, BEAVER joined with some sympathetic feminist lawyers. The lawyers were offended by the name BEAVER, however. In late 1979, BEAVER became the Coalition Against Street Harassment (CASH). CASH brought the public’s attention to the violence prostitutes faced on the street because of hostile laws and attitudes.

The 1980s: Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes


Following the Hutt decision, which made the soliciting law unenforceable, controversy over street prostitution escalated. Street prostitution flourished in Vancouver's West End, and the city was called the "Prostitution Capital of North America" in the media. There were reports of sex workers and pimps coming up from the U.S. Citizen groups started taking things into their own hands. Local West End resident, Gordon Price founded "Concerned Residents of the West End" (CROWE).

Canada's earliest prostitutes' rights group—at least in modern times—was perhaps, Vancouver's Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes (ASP). Sometime in early 1981, local prostitute activist (and mom of two) Sally deQuadros approached Vancouver Rape Relief seeking to educate them about violence against sex workers and find ways to work together to end it. Vancouver Rape Relief was a socialist feminist collective in the early rape-crisis-centre movement founded in 1973. The Rape Relief collective and Sally agreed to form an alliance and Sally joined the collective. A small committee of three people was struck that would become the Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes. This committee would work to educate the feminist collective as a whole on the issue of prostitution.

In response to pressure from CROWE, the City of Vancouver adopted a West End Traffic Plan in August 1981 and began installing concrete traffic diversions and additional street lighting to impede the flow of sex-trade customers. In October of 1981, CROWE organized a day-long conference at the West End Community Centre attended by social planners, police and politicians to address the "prostitution problem." The Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes made their first public appearance at the community conference.

In December 1981, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled (in two Vancouver cases R. v. Whitter and R. v. Galjot) that not only does soliciting mean “pressing and persistent” (Hutt v. The Queen) but, that “pressing and persistent” refers to the practice of repeatedly soliciting the same person.

As a result of this ruling, police forces in major cities stopped enforcing the soliciting law altogether, claiming that their hands had been tied by the Supreme Court. Police, using a community-policing model, advised citizens to form residents’ associations for the purpose of reporting neighbourhood crime which could then be used to pressure politicians and governments to address the street crimes and nuisance associated with street prostitution. Calgary City Council was the first to enact an anti-loitering bylaw to use to target street prostitutes.


By early 1982, Montréal, Niagara Falls and Halifax had followed Calgary's lead, with their own municipal loitering bylaws to address these residents groups' complaints. In April that year, Vancouver City Council passed the "street activities" bylaw that imposed fines from $350 to $2,000 for purchasing, attempting to purchase, selling or attempting to sell, sex. The city collected $28,000 in fines in the first six months.

Sally learned that Margo St. James (founder of COYOTE) was visiting family in nearby Bellingham, Washington. The nascent committee (Sally, Lee and Eileen) drove across the border to meet Margo, and also to meet filmmakers Janis Cole and Holly Dale who were doing research for a film on prostitution in major cities throughout Canada and the United States. (Janis Cole and Holly Dale released their film, "Hookers on Davie" on April 5, 1984.) Margo encouraged Sally to stick with the feminists. The committee's membership was subsequently changed by the collective, and Sally was instead joined by Joni Miller, and Marie Arrington who felt that Margo's tactics glamorized prostitution.

Margo St. James, COYOTE founder.
September 10 1980. Photo: Chronicle/John O'Hara
Sex workers together with lawyers challenged City of Vancouver's anti-prostitution bylaw as unconstitutional. In September 1982, B.C. provincial court judge David Moffett upheld the Vancouver bylaw and cited Alberta's Appeal Court earlier ruling on Calgary's bylaw:
"The buying and selling of a prostitute's services on the streets of Vancouver has been prohibited by an elected body in our democratic society for the sole purpose of remedying a nuisance 'the need to protect citizens who use the streets from the irritation and embarrassment of being unwilling participants in the [sex] market.'"


By 1983, Sally and Marie were going out on street patrol to meet local Vancouver women and began distributing Canada's first "bad trick sheet"—a list of descriptions of assailants and of their cars—which they published in their newsletter called "Whoreganizer." ASP held weekly meetings and encouraged safety measures such as a using buddy system and recording licence plate numbers. With up to 150 prostitutes working in the area at any time, membership in ASP swelled. Working collectively, sex workers remained independent and managed to maintain a "pimp-free" zone.

In January 1983, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled (Westindorp  v. The Queen) that City of Calgary By-Law 9022 was unconstitutional:
The by-law is ultra vires as invading the exclusive federal power in relation to the criminal law. …To remain on a street for the purpose of prostitution or to approach another for that purpose was so patently an attempt to control or punish prostitution as to be beyond question.
 This made any such municipal bylaws—including Vancouver's—all illegal.

Hookers on Davie

Filmmakers Janice Cole and Holly Dale came to Vancouver and worked closely with ASP. After spending two months on Davie Street talking with sex workers, the filmmakers were able to gain their trust and confidence. Sex workers agreed to wear radio microphones and were filmed by a hidden camera in a parked van, while they worked the corner, and openly negotiated with clients. They also spoke candidly about their experiences during breaks at a local restaurant.

CROWE submitted a request for the federal government to amend the Criminal Code. The police claimed they needed the changes to deal with the concentration of street prostitutes in the area. Price, a gay resident of the West End and a spokesperson for CROWE, told Vancouver's gay magazine Angles that:
Street prostitution is incompatible with a residential street. It causes disturbances, restricts people's right to use the street and attracts violence. The social fabric of the neighbourhood is displaced; banks redline the area in terms of potential loans and mortgages.
On April 20, 1983, members of ASP marched along Broadway Street and up to Vancouver City Hall to protest CROWE's request for a new soliciting law. ASP member, Michelle carried a sign which said, "Harcourt is our pimp" (referring to the city's fines, Mike Harcourt was Vancouver's mayor) and made a speech. They handed out leaflets and chanted "Hookers unite! Fight for your rights." (You can view footage of the protest at

Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes on Broadway, April 20, 1983.
Film still from Hookers On Davie, by Janis Cole and Holly Dale.

Neighbourhood Residents Incite National Controversy

More anti-prostitution residents' groups came out in support of the Criminal Code amendment including Allied Concerned Residents On Street Solicitation (ACROSS). In June 1983, Vancouverite Barbara Brett of ACROSS told a public meeting on prostitution in Toronto that the prostitutes had been using commercial streets in Vancouver but that a police crackdown drove them into the residential areas. The effect of police actions has been to drive the prostitutes onto the streets.

First Protest, Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes
April 20, 1983. Photo: Macneill, Vancouver Sun
On June 23, 1983, Ottawa Deputy Police Chief Thomas Flanigan, chairman of the law amendments committee of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), told the Globe and Mail that, without removal or alteration of the “pressing and persistent” restrictions, “our hands are still tied in enforcing the law.” According to Metro Toronto Police Chief Jack Ackroyd: "The CACP have been asking the government since 1978 to do something about a law that is almost, virtually unenforceable.”

The prostitution debate drew a lot of controversy in Parliament. In an attempt to move the debate out of the House of Commons, Liberal Justice Minister Mark MacGuigan appointed a seven-member Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution to tour the country to determine if a consensus could be reached on prostitution law reform. The committee sought public views on three options—criminalization, legalization or decriminalization. Called the "Fraser Commission," the committee was chaired by lawyer, Paul Fraser. ASP prepared a report for the Fraser Commission (submitted January 1984). To quote the Alliance's brief: "We're not criminals, we're poor women trying to earn a living."

Sent by the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, Marie went to a conference at the Northwest Centre Against Sexual Assault—a U.S. network of rape-crisis centres. There Marie met Kathleen Barry. She brought home Barry's book, Female Sexual Slavery (1979) which opened the large debate about prostitution within the Vancouver Rape Relief collective. Sally and Marie were critical of Barry's analysis that prostitution reduces women to commodities for market exchange and is the foundation of women's oppression, socially-normalized. By 1984, Sally and Marie had quit the Vancouver Rape Relief collective, and took the Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes out on their own.

International Socialist Influences

The now-independent ASP became affiliated with "Wages for Housework." The International Wages for Housework Campaign was founded in Italy, by the International Feminist Collective, part of an emerging Autonomous Marxist movement, Operaismo. The Italian Operaismo (workerist) movement contended that the sphere of capitalism had expanded beyond the factory on to society as a whole, and proposed a guaranteed income or citizen's wage.

Based on the revolutionary principle that women's unpaid housework under capitalism should be remunerated, Wages for Housework also became involved in organizing domestic workers as well as prostitutes. The English Collective of Prostitutes was founded in 1975.* In the U.S., the U.S. Prostitutes Collective (USPROS) in San Francisco was founded in 1982, and "No Bad Women Just Bad Laws" was founded by Ruth Taylor Todasco in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1981, with chapters in Boston, Massachusetts, New Haven, Connecticut, and Portland Oregon.

For more insight on Wages for Housework's feminist application of Marxist philosophy, see: The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community (1975) by co-founders Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James. (Selma James was married to C.L.R. James, a Marxist humanist originally from Trinidad, who co-founded the Trotskyist Johnson-Forest Tendency of the Socialist Workers Party.) Italian-American, feminist scholar Silvia Federici, who also co-founded the original group in Italy, created Wages for Housework chapters in the U.S.

Wages for Housework Committee, International Women's Day, NYC, 1977
(Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute / Bettye Lane)

Shame the Johns 



On May 25, 1984, CROWE started a "Shame the Johns" campaign. Shame-the-Johns tactics included photographing, writing down licence plate numbers and postering this information on neighbourhood poles and billboards. Their campaign quickly turned into picketing and verbally harassing sex workers. Shame the Johns also provided B.C. Attorney General Brian Smith with 40 affidavits complaining of loitering, littering, fighting, screaming, use of insults or obscenities and public sex.

On June 8, Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes held their own counter demonstration protesting CROWE's harassment.

Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes counter-pickets the
Shame the Johns protest, Friday night, June 8, 1984.

On June 11, 1984, B.C. Attorney General Smith, now armed with CROWE affidavits, filed an application for an injunction that named 30 people as prostitutes and "public nuisances." A week after copies of the application for the injunction appeared on street lamps, a large protest of sex workers and supporters descended on the West End with whistles and noise-makers, proclaiming themselves the thirty-first "public nuisance."

“Demonstrators protesting effort to clear prostitutes
from the West End tied up traffic with a half-hour parade
Friday night. Police described the march as ‘peaceful.’”
Vancouver Sun, June 9, 1984

Then on June 19, sex workers peacefully migrated out of the West End's residential area to a nearly deserted ill-lit commercial district east of Granville Street, in the hope of negotiating the withdrawal of the writ for injunction. On June 20, 12 members of ASP presented themselves at the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral in the middle of the afternoon service and began a four-day occupation. They were welcomed by Archbishop Douglas Hambridge, who invited ASP spokeswoman Sally de Quadros to address the congregation and explain the prostitutes' need for protection from police harassment. Residents of the West End had complained of prostitutes patrolling the Georgia Street sidewalk adjacent to the cathedral. Sally deQuadros said she chose the cathedral because of the tradition that churches serve as sanctuaries.

On July 4, 1984, B.C. Justice McEachern granted B.C. Attorney General Smith the injunction (A.G.B.C. v. Couillard), to be served on anyone on the street "apparently" for the purpose of prostitution or any form of "carnal copulation." The "Quiet Zone" injunction gave the B.C. Attorney General Smith leave to extend the order to any part of the City of Vancouver. Police served the injunction to stop soliciting to more than 300 Vancouver sex workers. Those served with the injunction could later be charged with breaking a court order (and if convicted, serve up to two years in jail) if the police saw them so much as "crooking a finger, stopping guys in cars, waving a car down or hitch-hiking."
"If we make any observation of soliciting for companionship, they'll be charged. It doesn't have to be for money." ~ Inspector John Lucy, head of Vancouver's vice squad

In December 1984, the Attorney General of Nova Scotia applied to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court for a similar injunction to restrain the public nuisance caused by prostitutes in the City of Halifax. The application was refused on the basis that the province was trying to control by civil procedure a matter that fell within criminal and hence federal jurisdiction. The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal also dismissed the application as ultra vires in March 1985 (A.G.N.S. v Beaver 1985).


In March 1985, ASP started the "Hookers' Defense Fund," to pay for appeals, copies of transcripts, etc. and to raise money to help women who had been incarcerated and who needed to send their children to the care of family members.

The federal Liberals lost the election of September 4, 1984. Canada's new Progressive Conservative government was now headed by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney when the Liberal's Fraser Commission released its report in April 1985. The Special Committee held 22 public hearings and received 575 submissions. Their report stated that the law at that time was failing to achieve its objective of reducing prostitution, or of even controlling it within manageable limits. “Moreover it operates in a way which victimizes and dehumanizes prostitutes.” It was the first official government report to make a connection between the country’s prostitution laws and violence against prostitutes. The committee also recommended small-scale brothels be considered, and they strongly urged there be more robust social programs, including assistance for women who want to exit the sex industry.

In response to the Fraser Commission's recommendations, the Conservative government introduced Bill C-49 to replace Canada's old soliciting law in October. The law was passed December 28, 1985. The new "communicating law" stated that:
 “Every person who, in a public place or open to public view, stops or attempts to stop any motor vehicle, blocks any pedestrian traffic going into or out of any building, stops or attempts to stop any person or in any manner communicates or attempts to communicate with any person for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or of obtaining the sexual services of a prostitute, is guilty of an offence punishable on a summary conviction.
Prostitute confronts man with
"Make Mount Pleasant a
Hooker Free Zone" sign.
May 1986.
Peter Battistoni, Vancouver Sun


On Saturday, January 18, 1986, street demonstrations across Canada called for the review and repeal of Bill C-49. ASP organized "wave-ins," to show support for prostitutes with more than 100 supporters. ("Waving" could be considered "communicating" and result in arrest.) There were protests in Toronto, Calgary, Montréal and Ottawa. By February 19, 1986, 117 women and 57 men had been arrested in Vancouver; 180 women and 53 men in Toronto; and 22 women in Calgary.

Expo '86

The 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication (May 2 to October 13) served as extra motivation for amplified policing efforts to expel sex workers from Vancouver's downtown.

In April 1986, B.C. Attorney General Smith—now armed with the new "communicating" law—instructed prosecutors to ask the courts to impose area restrictions on accused prostitutes and clients both as a condition of bail and upon conviction. As a result, more than 300 people sentenced in the province between April and September were subject to area restrictions.

ASP noted increased police violence towards sex workers, and attempts to evade police had driven women out of the West End. According to Arrington, the women no longer have time to decide if a potential customer is a cop, or maybe violent. The women are also no longer able to work in groups, which gives them some safety, but are working alone trying to avoid the police. "I'm doing a lot of crisis calls in the middle of the night," said Arrington.

May 1986 saw residents and sex workers facing off in the streets again as protests erupted in Vancouver neighbourhoods such as Mount Pleasant, Strathcona, Kensington-Cedar Cottage and Grandview-Woodlands.

By September 1986, Sally deQuadros and Marie Arrington had split, and Marie had founded a new organization, "Prostitutes and Other Women for Equal Rights" (POWER) and continued to produce and distribute bad trick sheets.

Sex worker Michele Lee McLean challenged her charge of "communicating for the purpose" under the Canada's constitution, arguing that the law was vague, uncertain, that it limited freedom, was inconsistently worded in the two official languages and attempted to control traffic which is a provincial jurisdiction.

Several lower provincial courts ruled that C-49 infringed on freedom of association and freedom of expression and therefore was of no force (because it violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms). Court challenges in Nova Scotia, Alberta and Manitoba led to conflicting interpretations of the new law. The Manitoba government asked the Supreme Court of Canada to consider whether prohibitions on communicating and operating bawdy houses violated constitutional rights for freedom of expression and the right to life, liberty and security. The Supreme Court of Canada finally ruled that the communicating law (s.195.1 of the Criminal Code) was within reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society (R v Skinner, 1990).

Work Safe

In September 1986, ASP published its first safe sex pamphlet, with both English and French, in collaboration with Montréal General Hospital and Health and Welfare Canada.


In April 1987, amendments to B.C.'s Health Act (Bill 34) were introduced by Minister of Health Peter Dueck that enabled Medical Officers of Health to order HIV-positive individuals, whose sexual practices were considered “unsafe,” into “isolation, modified isolation, or complete quarantine.” The legislation was met with well-organized protests at the Vancouver Art Gallery organized by the Vancouver Persons With AIDS Society, the Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes (led by Jamie Lee Hamilton) and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. This would be the last public appearance of ASP. In the end, the bill never passed the legislature.

* CORRECTION: An earlier version stated that the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) was founded by Selma James, and that U.S. Prostitutes Collective (USPROS) was founded by Silvia Federici. These errors have been corrected. For more information on the the ECP and also on USPROS see: Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry edited by Frederique Delacoste, "Part 3 – United We Stand. Divided We Die: Sex Workers Organized." Thank you to the attentive reader who pointed out this out. I apologize for this error. ~A.S.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Keep Your Laws Off Our Bawdies!

Canada set to repeal Acts of Indecency

By Andy Sorfleet 


Supper time on Monday, I received a report from my brilliant activist friend (and sex worker) in Ottawa, who was at the House of Commons: I'm here now. Parliament just passed Bill C-75 and repealed Canada’s bawdy-house laws!” There was a moment of disbelief.

On December 3, 2018, the third reading of Bill C-75 passed in the House of Commons (after an amendment from the NDP) repealed Criminal Code section Bawdy House for Purposes of Indecent Acts completely. This historic moment would remove Canada’s last archaic law against prostitution, used to target gay bathhouses in the 1970s and ‘80s resulting in hundreds of arrests.

Toronto Gay Bathhouse Raids Riot, February 6, 1981
Bill C-75 is now on its way to the Senate (where it may be subject to further amendments) before being passed into law. The huge omnibus bill, which aims to modernize the Criminal Code and streamline the court system, has been subject to much criticism from both community activists and pundits alike. Some of these criticisms include:
Second Reading of Bill C-75 back in March 2018 only amended the bawdy-house provisions in the Criminal Code and did not repeal it, which meant that conviction records under the law could not be expunged. Activists prepared a joint statement and asked sex-work organizations to sign on. (Bill C-75: Joint Statement on the repeal of Criminal Code laws used against LGBTQ2S+ people and sex workers)

The Liberal government did not want to fully repeal Canada's bawdy-house laws. It was only due to pressure from the gay and lesbian historians group, a network of queer, trans, sex-worker and HIV groups, and NDP MP for Victoria, Murray Rankin's motion that Bill C-75 was amended to fully repeal sections 210, 211 (transporting to a common bawdy house) and the Bawdy House heading, as well as the Vagrancy Act, from the Criminal Code.

Keeping a Brothel is Still Illegal!

Just to be clear, this does not mean keeping a brothel is now legal in Canada. This has no effect on the new 2014 Criminal Code laws (under section 286) enacted by the Harper government's Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA).

This may not seem like big sex-work news. After all, the Supreme Court of Canada Bedford decision struck down the bawdy-house section on prostitution in 2013, along with the communicating and living on the avails laws. However, PCEPA did NOT repeal the bawdy-house section, which included offences for indecent acts, used against gay bathhouses, swingers, sex clubs etc., and anywhere else more than two persons are present.


Sex Worker's Fight Against Bawdy-House Laws

Sex workers' fight against Canada's bawdy-house laws is as old as Canada itself. Following Confederation in 1867, the newly created federal government passed The Vagrancy Act which made the following liable to arrest: “common prostitutes; keepers of bawdy houses and houses of ill-fame; frequenters of such houses; and all persons who support themselves in whole or in part by the avails of prostitution.

A common bawdy house was defined as: “a house, room, set of rooms or place of any kind for purposes of prostitution.” The bawdy-house section was repealed and a new one enacted in 1907 with the same terms but with the addition at the end, of the words “or occupied or resorted to by one or more persons.” In 1917, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code added to the bawdy-house section “or for the practice of acts of indecency.

In 1939, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that single persons using their own premises for prostitution were indeed keeping common bawdy houses. The Supreme Court Justices in the case of The King v. Betty Cohen stated that the Criminal Code section 225, added in 1907, “clearly cover the circumstances in the present case where there was not an isolated act of fornication but a habitual occupation of the room for the purposes of prostitution.

In 1967, the Supreme Court of Canada heard a case where the appellant, Patricia Patterson, was convicted of keeping a common bawdy house. The Supreme Court acquitted her, and had this to say:

There was no evidence in the record that the home had ever been used for the purpose of prostitution or the practice of acts of indecency. It had no such reputation nor was there any evidence of undue traffic to or from the premises.
Chris Bearchell speaking at a crowd of 1,000 or more.
Toronto, February 6, 1981. Film still courtesy: Nancy Nicol

The arrests were the result of an undercover police sting where the officer propositioned Ms Patterson by telephone, asking her to procure another girl, and to make arrangements for a suitable place to entertain him and three other undercover officers. Money exchanged hands and once the girls had removed some of their clothing, they were arrested. As a result of the Supreme Court aquittal, from then on police had to prove “habitual use.” (Read Patterson v. The Queen.)

Following the gay bathhouse riots in Toronto in 1981, a committee was formed to fight Canada's bawdy-house laws. The Right To Privacy Committee decided to challenge not only the “indecent acts” section of the bawdy-house law, but the bawdy-house law in its entirety, according to an article in The Body Politic by Chris Bearchell, “Making Allies Among Indecent Activists”:

With the bawdy-house laws, police have hit upon a formula that works for gay men, hookers and swingers. And they're using it extensively, quite possibly to create the sense that the law is being enforced impartially. It is affecting hundreds of individuals in dozens of cities. In many of these cases, people were charged with acts of indecency as well as for prostitution-related offences.

In subsequent court challenges in the years that followed however (such as R. v. Skinner, 1990), the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the bawdy-house law, until the prostitution section under bawdy-house law was struck down in 2013 in Canada v. Bedford.


Sex Workers Celebrate!

This is cause for a celebration! This historic moment could see the last of Canada’s archaic colonial laws prohibiting prostitution finally removed from the Criminal Code of Canada. Thank you amazing activists who made this happen! A big shout out to the gay and lesbian historians group who spearheaded this win, and to all the other organizations that took part.

Unicorn, entrance to the Peace Tower, Ottawa 2001. Photo: Andy Sorfleet

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Red Umbrella March Celebrates 6th Year with Historic Steam-Era Tour

By Andy Sorfleet

June 9, 2018 marked the sixth year of Vancouver's Red Umbrella March! This year's theme celebrated 130 years of resistance with a history tour through Gastown and the Red Light Districts from Vancouver's steam era, 1888-1915.

DeeJay and Chili Bean (holding SWUAV banner) and Triple-X's Kerry Porth (front left) and Andy Sorfleet (with bullhorn) lead the Red Umbrella March through Gastown. Vancouver, June 9, 2018.  Photo: Elaine Ayres.
 The march began at Victory Square, where organizers were met by the press as well as celebrities from Vancouver's sex industry — porn stars, companions, tantrikas, streetwalkers, dancers and activists — along with their friends and families. The first 50 people who showed up wearing red or with a red umbrella received a free copy of a special souvenir history booklet created for the event which featured archival photographs, a tour map, historic portraits of Vancouver’s Victorian era madams and ladies of evening. The booklet also recounts the origins of the "Red Umbrellas March" which began in Venice in 2001.

Vancouver's First Illuminated Sign!
A result of Vancouver's first liquor bylaw
requiring an light over the door.
The Stag & Pheasant, Water & Abbott St 1888.
City of Vancouver Archives

The first stop was at Cambie and Pender streets, once a "restricted district" called Dupont Street where houses of prostitution were allowed to operate. (Nothing official, of course.) That is until a planned railway station made it imperative that City Council have them moved by police.

The march then headed down to Water Street to the area close to where Birdie Stewart kept Vancouver's first brothel, according to court arrest records from 1886.

On the corner of Water and Abbott streets the steam-era Vancouver tour made note of the arrival of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) spurring City Council's first bylaw in 1886 to license and regulate liquor sales at saloons and hotels. Madams who ran houses nearby were the next target of the WCTU.

The parade of red umbrellas stopped near Chinatown to acknowledge Shanghai Alley and Canton Alley where many ladies were forced to move to after the crackdown on the Dupont restricted district. There were as many as 105 brothels in Chinatown in 1906 (usually single women operating out of a room).

Trilby Thorne
(Arrested April 27th, 1904.)
The re-enacted "Court Parade" then marched to Old City Hall and commemorated the ladies who defiantly marched to pay their house-of-prostitution fines and at the same time advertise their talents to attract that afternoon's customers.

The marchers congregated at Main and Hastings where they held up photos of some of the madams and ladies of the evening along with protest signs. The photographs — enlarged and printed  on placards — were discovered in old mugshot books at the Vancouver Police Museum. From there the marchers commemorated the city’s second "restricted district" on Harris Street, which was obliterated by the construction of the first Georgia Street viaduct in 1913.

Alice Bernard's Place
514 Alexander, built as a brothel
in 1912.
Down Main Street at Alexander Street the final "restricted district" (before it was closed at the start of the Great War in 1914) could be viewed, including two of Vancouver's original brothels — still standing today — Alice Bernard's place at 514 Alexander and Dolly Darlington's at 500 Alexander (now operated as supportive housing by Atira Women's Resource Society).

The last stop on the history tour was at the apex of the overpass into CRAB park. The area below the overpass was once called, "The Rancherie," where Indigenous workers for the Hastings Mill had their cedar dwellings. The Rancherie was condemned by the City health inspector, its residents displaced, and their homes and belongings burned down in the winter of 1894.

Once at CRAB park, the group gathered for the annual photo, enjoyed beverages,  feasted on watermelons and oranges, and celebrated with new friends.

At 6 p.m. some gathered again at the theatre at the Carnegie Centre for the Red Umbrella Movie Night, to watch the award-nominated documentary, No Human Involved, which draws attention to the death from torture and neglect of inmate Marcia Powell in an Arizona prison. Marcia was sent there for the misdemeanor of soliciting. A big thank you to Terence for helping organize the event as part of the UBC Humanities 101 program "Documentaries for Thinkers Series."

6th Annual Vancouver Red Umbrella March for Sex Work Solidarity
Saturday, June 9, 2018 at Create Real Accessible Beach (CRAB) beach at Portside Park, Downtown Eastside, Vancouver. Photo: Esther Shannon
The organizers wish to thank the private donors for making this event extra special, along with everyone who took time to celebrate the vibrant history that is sex workers' rights in Vancouver. The parade of solidarity got unprecedented coverage in the Vancouver Sun! (Read "Red Umbrella March celebrates history of Vancouver sex workers," by Harrison Mooney.)

Thank you volunteers for making the event run so smoothly. This year's march was the largest ever, with just over 200 participants at the peak. Thank you again this year to the courteous and professional escorts from Vancouver Police for keeping participants safe while on the road in traffic. Red Umbrella March partners in organizing: Triple-X Workers' Solidarity Association of B.C., Sex Workers United Against Violence, Pivot Legal Society, PACE Society, B.C. Coalition of Experiential Communities, FIRST (Feminists for Sex Work Decriminalization) and SWAN Society.

 Join us next year, Saturday June 8!

The 7th Annual Vancouver Red Umbrella March for Sex Work Solidarity plans to celebrate sex worker activists of the 1980s! Participants will reenact one of Canada's first modern-day prostitutes' protests and march down Davie Street just as the Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes did on June 8, 1984. Be immersed in the spirit and energy of the 1980s! Dress up! Dress down! Have fun! You never know, there might even be a party after. ;^) Want to volunteer and help make the day a big success? Follow us on Twitter @XXXWorkers for details.

Canada's 1st Modern-Day Protest: Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes
Broadway Street Vancouver, April 20, 1983.

Protests followed a B.C. court injunction to move the sex workers out of Vancouver's West End.
Film still from Hookers on Davie (1984)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

How I feel about becoming a sex worker

Guest Post by Hallelujah Annie

I considered doing sensual massage and escorting in the past...many times.

All those times, I was desperate.

It's true. Sex work is an option many of us choose when we're desperate...regardless of our gender.

On more than one occasion, I've gone so far as to set up a website and start grooming customers; learning everything I could from the hos who came before me.

Something or other stopped me each time.
I was not new to the biz. I did other sex industry gigs that didn't involve sexual contact with my customers.

Nude modeling. Stripper. VIP dancer. Private shows in the homes of customers I trusted. Stags. Square jobs too.

But I had fears about doing contact sex work...

First there were the complicated logistics. Where would I work? Out-call is so scary.

I was literally scared at the thought of showing up to random men's homes or hotels. I feared how ashamed my family would be if I got killed doing sex work.

Or what if they didn't hurt me, but they filmed me and released it on the Internet? That shit is eternal.

I obviously couldn't work in my home. Fear of a predator finding out where I live or cops busting me in my home prevented me from even considering it.

I've heard horror stories. Mothers losing their children and even one whose son was arrested because he was over 18 “living off the avails.”

My insecurities played into it. My body had changed enough since my exotic dancer days that I would put my first session off as long as possible.

The truth is, I was not ready to touch men's penises all those times in the past.

By the Grace of God, each time that I almost made the leap, something happened that stopped me.

I got the job I applied for. I got into subsidized housing. My sex worker friends helped me find jobs. SOMETHING saved me last minute.

I never touched a man's penis in all those years for money. Until now.

This time is different...

I am not desperate. 

I am not scared.

I am not insecure about my body. 

This time, I am ready. (I saw my first client last night.)

This time I'm excited to do my part to help heal the penis at a time.

How do I feel about this new career path?

Well, in all honesty, I am relieved as fuck.

I've missed working in the sex industry. It is the place that made me who I am today.

It is the place where I grew up. I became a strong, confident woman alongside incredible, inspiring fellow entertainers.

I am relieved because the square world pays a woman my age shit. The hours suck. The expectations are high.

You're forced to plan your life around their schedule rather than your own (difficult with children).  

And there is no loyalty.

My sex worker friends are fucking loyal.

I am relieved because now, not only will I be able to make ends meet but I will be able to pay debts down, go on holidays, save money, and invest. Doors are opening financially.

I'm relieved because I love helping people. I love that my hands can bring comfort and pleasure to men starved for touch.

I love that my work will mean something.

I'm relieved because I'll be able to drive for my child's field trip and not stress about the four birthday presents I'm buying this month for other people's children.

I'm relieved to feel sexy again. Dressing up. Hair and make-up. Sexy under-pieces. High heels. I feel sexy again!

You know what I don't feel?

I don't feel bad about myself.

I don't feel ashamed.

I don't feel like I'm doing anything wrong.

I don't feel pressured into it.

I don't feel exploited. (I'm the one doing the hustling here.)


I feel empowered.

About the Author

Hallelujah Annie is a mature, fit, Caucasian woman. She offers discreet, professional services in her own space in Vancouver BC. She also custom writes sexual fantasies for her fans on her blog at Pay her to write YOUR fantasy! Follow her on Instagram: @hallelujah.annie and on Twitter @hallelujahannie

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Busting Sex Work Stigma: You Can't Catch HIV from Money

By Andrew Sorfleet

How do you determine who is at high risk for HIV infection?

According to Health Canada’s July 2016 safety brief on Truvada for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, “exchange of sex for commodities (e.g. money, food, shelter, drugs)” is a factor that “may help identify a person at high risk of HIV infection.1

In October 2016, funded by a grant from Elton John AIDS Foundation, Triple-X in partnership with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, organized and hosted a national consultation and invited 23 organizations from 10 provinces and territories who provide advocacy or services for sex workers.

Fifty women, men and trans people from across Canada that work with sex workers met in Toronto. The purpose of this national consultation was to give participants the opportunity to educate themselves, explore and grapple as a group with the implications of PrEP on the sex industry. PrEP (HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis) is the idea that a person could take a pill once a day and be protected from catching HIV, not unlike the birth-control pill which protects from unwanted pregnancy.

The "PrEP in the Context of Sex Work" meeting was held in response to the intention to make PrEP accessible to sex workers, because sex workers are considered at high risk for HIV infection. But, where did this idea come from?

Safe Sex Professionals

For 30 years now, sex worker activists have stated that: “Prostitutes are Safe Sex Professionals.” Sex workers are best placed in society to provide hands-on HIV prevention education and demonstration, with the very large and invisible portion of the public who are clients. What is annoying about this “key population” approach is that sex workers are not given any professional respect by HIV research that targets prostitution. It ignores the fact that sex workers should be a priority for HIV and STI prevention education and funding, not because sex work is a risk factor for HIV transmission, but because, to quote Valerie Scott in 1989:

"Whores are safe sex pros. We’re the ones who put the condoms on the guys. We’re the ones who do the education. And what do we get for it? At conferences like this all we get is shit on. ‘Prostitutes are spreading AIDS.’ That’s bullshit! As I said the other day, if that were true, half the government would be dead already.

Valerie Scott, Canadian Organization for the Rights of
Prostitutes at the 5th International Conference
on AIDS, Montreal, July 1989.

(Our Bodies Our Business video c. 2016 George Stamos)

Sex work is most often defined in HIV research to include ambiguous transactions, such as trading sex for commodities, a place to sleep, meals, etc. What can't be distinguished with this definition is whether perhaps the risks for HIV are poverty and desperation, and not sex work as an occupation at all. Sex workers after all, need to protect their sexual health to be able to work. Like this 1990 education poster from Prostitutes Association of South Australia says:

It’s in his interests to protect his assets. You can’t catch the virus from a credit card.

Prostitutes Association of South Australia
(PASA), c.1990. 

Courtesy of Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

Truvada PrEP Approved

On July 16, 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced their approval of Truvada for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Truvada was already approved for many years as an HIV treatment medication. Now, it could also be used as a prevention medication. Truvada’s safety and efficacy for PrEP were demonstrated in two large, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials, according to U.S. FDA press release:

The iPrEx trial evaluated Truvada in 2,499 HIV-negative men or transgender women who have sex with men and with evidence of high risk behavior for HIV infection, such as inconsistent or no condom use during sex with a partner of positive or unknown HIV status, a high number of sex partners, and exchange of sex for commodities.”2

February 2015, Health Canada approved Truvada for HIV PrEP in Canada. Once approved, regional health authorities and national advocacy groups began drafting guidelines for prescribing Truvada as PrEP, an important step towards having it listed for public access — free for those at high risk of HIV infection, paid for by government.3

“High Risk” = Sex Work Stigma

The B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS research had already released guidelines for Truvada PrEP in 2014:

Before starting PrEP, confirm that the patient is at ongoing high risk for acquiring HIV infection. ...this will usually consist of having one or more of the following.

Among the list was “involvement in commercial sex work,” and “having sexual partners who are MSM (men who have sex with men) or use injection drugs or who are involved in commercial sex work.”4

In the United States, state governments also released guidelines for prescribing PrEP and assessing high risk of HIV infection. The New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for example (Summary Statement on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis to Prevent HIV Infection, October 2015):

Providers need to obtain a thorough sexual and drug use history and regularly discuss risk-taking behaviors with their patients to assess candidacy for PrEP, encourage safer-sex practices and safer injection techniques (if applicable), and assist in the decision of when to use PrEP and when to discontinue use.

In a table labelled “Potential Candidates for PrEP,” “Individuals engaging in transactional sex, such as sex for money, drugs, or housing,” are listed. However, all other candidates such as MSM and IDU (people who inject drugs) must ALSO be engaged in “high-risk behaviour.” This requirement, however is not listed for sex-worker candidates.5

At the 2016 Canadian Association of HIV Researchers (CAHR) conference in Winnipeg, CANPrEP — an ad hoc committee of HIV prevention professionals, doctors and researchers, supported by the Canadian HIV Trials Network funded by the federal government through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research — presented draft guidelines for prescribing Truvada as PrEP. These guidelines also mentioned “sex trade workers” as one of the groups with a “significant risk of having transmissible HIV.”6

Triple-Xers Andy Sorfleet and Kerry Porth
at The Forks in Winnipeg for the 2016
annual CAHR conference.
 Photo: Shawna Ferris

Sex Workers Push Back

During their presentation at CAHR, it became apparent that CANPrEP researchers had failed to consult sex workers when drafting their proposed guidelines. In response to this, delegates from seven organizations from across Canada who work with sex workers drafted an eight-page letter:

To suggest that sex workers are a population at higher risk for HIV infection and transmission assumes that professional sexual services are not performed safely in an occupational setting. This is a gross generalization. You have provided no evidence or references for this.

The letter goes on to say:

To focus guidelines for assessing risk on populations rather than activity is in its own way stigmatizing. To quote the ‘Principles and Beliefs,’ Maggie’s Constitution, Toronto Prostitutes’ Community Service Project, 1993:

There are no high risk groups, only high risk practices. AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are not spread by sex work; they are spread by unsafe sex and needle sharing.”7

According to the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN), in a July 2012 brief titled “Sex Worker HIV Risk:”

Establishing the prevalence of HIV among sex workers is challenging because they are a hard-to-reach population. Estimates range from 1% to 60%.

Of 11 studies reviewed, only two addressed women working in indoor settings. Four studies assessed street youth specifically ("involved in survival sex"), three included only female drug users, one recruited Aboriginal women. OHTN were involved in developing the CanPreP guidelines. Their Rapid Response brief postulates:

There are three main categories of risk for HIV infection among commercial sex workers in Canada: high risk sex or sex with high risk partners, illicit drug use, and unstable living and working environments. Other risk factors include young age, tattooing or body piercing, and a history of sexual abuse.

The OHTN "Sex Worker HIV Risk" brief then states:

Little is known about these issues in Canada and other high-income countries. In the Canadian context, injection drug use among sex workers and heterosexual transmission to clients and then to their sexual networks is contributing to the HIV epidemic.”8

“High Risk?” Or “Key Population?”

The UNAIDS Key Population Atlas is divided into five categories: Sex Workers, Men Who Have Sex With Men, People Who Inject Drugs, Transgender People, and Prisoners. This website/app gives you UNAIDS statistics on HIV prevalence by country for each “key population.” One of which is “sex workers.” There’s a drop-down menu where you can choose statistics for population size estimate, condom use, knowledge of HIV status, and more. “Condom use” is defined as “Percentage of sex workers reporting the use of condom with their most recent client.”

UNAIDS Key Population Atlas for HIV Statistics

How intrusive would public health research need to be to collect that data from sex workers?

Currently, this data is mined from pre-existing research and numbers are calculated using meta-analysis software. There is a wealth of data from decades of concentration of HIV research in high HIV prevalence countries such as in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia Pacific. However, in countries where HIV prevalence rates are low, there is little HIV prevalence research on sex workers, which includes knowing the size of the sex-worker population in a given region. And where prostitution is illegal, operating clandestinely, estimating population sizes is challenging.

The UNAIDS Key Population Atlas legend uses grey to indicate “no data.” When you select “sex workers” and “HIV prevalence” you will see there is no data for most of North America, as well as most of Europe and the Middle East.

Lack of Research = Flawed Statistics

In July 2014, in conjunction with the 20th International AIDS Conference held in Melbourne, the Lancet published a special issue on Sex Work and HIV. The second page is an infographic that states that 0.8% of the global general population has HIV. In comparison, 11.8% of female sex workers, 14% of male sex workers, and 27.3% of transgender women sex workers globally have HIV.

“Fake Stats”?
It’s curious how these global statistics were calculated given that there are not even population size estimates for sex workers in almost half of the world. What is also misleading, is that countries where sex workers have a high HIV prevalence rate tend to be countries with a very high rate overall. In a region where HIV is very low, you are much less likely to ever be exposed. Comparing an average rate for sex workers in high HIV prevalence countries to a global average is completely out of context.

Sex workers are central to African HIV epidemics,” the opening editorial states, “more than 50% of sex workers living with HIV are all in sub-Saharan Africa. 92% of all HIV/AIDS deaths attributed to sex work occur among African women.” The editorial goes on to speculate that:

With heightened risks of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, sex workers face substantial barriers in accessing prevention, treatment, and care services. Why? Because of stigma, discrimination, and criminalisation in the societies in which they live. These social, legal, and economic injustices contribute to their high risk of acquiring HIV. Often driven underground by fear, sex workers encounter or face the direct risk of violence and abuse daily. They remain underserved by the global HIV response.”9

Another article in the special issue on HIV and Sex Work titled “Global epidemiology of HIV among female sex workers,” explains more the origins of the global sex worker statistic:

Worldwide, sex workers are disproportionately affected by the HIV pandemic. ... a review of HIV burden in female sex workers (FSWs) in 50 low-income and middle-income countries reported an overall HIV prevalence of 11·8% with a pooled odds of HIV infection of 13·5 compared with the general population of women of reproductive age.

In many high-income countries and regions, such as Canada, the USA, and Europe, epidemics that initially escalated in people who inject drugs in the mid-1990s shifted to FSWs. In settings such as Russia and central and eastern Europe, the scarce data available suggests emerging or established epidemics among FSWs who inject drugs.”10

These conclusions from that review, published in the Lancet March 2012, were drawn from:

102 selected articles and surveillance reports from 2007 to 2011 … representing 99,878 female sex workers in 50 countries. In 26 countries with medium and high background HIV prevalence, 30·7% of sex workers were HIV-positive and the odds ratio for infection was 11·6.”11

This statistic still has currency today. According to the World Health Organisation webpage on HIV and Sex Workers (January 28, 2018):

Globally female sex workers are 13.5% more likely to be living with HIV.

HIV Research? Or Invasion of Privacy?

This 2017 slideshow from AIDS Data Hub, “Review in Slides: Female Sex Workers,” shows HIV statistics for sex workers for the WHO global region, Asia-Pacific. UNAIDS statistics includes research data not only on population size estimations and HIV prevalence rates for sex workers but also:
  • sexually transmitted infection prevalence
  • proportion of FSW who reported condom use at last sex
  • proportion of sex workers under 25 years of age
  • average duration in the profession of selling sex
  • average number of clients (last week, last month)
  • proportion of FSW who reported consistent condom use with their clients
  • proportion of FSW who inject drugs
  • proportion of female sex workers who have been forced to have sex in the last year
  • proportion of FSW with comprehensive HIV knowledge.12

Meanwhile in Canada

Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) and other national and international research foundations will prioritize funds for research that can provide data for UNAIDS Key Population HIV statistics. This data is necessary to measure progress on the 90-90-90 Goal to End AIDS by 2030 (Global AIDS Response Progress and Global AIDS Monitoring). Organizations that provide support services for sex workers will be pressured through funding to participate in research on their clients. These numbers will set priorities for HIV programming in the provinces/territories.

Attempts to gather sex-worker data on HIV prevalence are underway in Canada. In 2015 here in British Columbia, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) partnered with the Pacific AIDS Network (PAN), the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BCCfE) and other key provincial stakeholders and contracted the Centre for Global Public Health (University of Manitoba) to develop size estimates for priority populations in B.C.:

It is well understood that a few key populations in British Columbia bear a disproportionately high burden of HIV and hepatitis C compared to the general population. These key populations include gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM), people who use injection drugs (PWID), and heterosexuals who engage in high-risk behaviours (i.e., sex work).

In order for HCV and HIV services to determine if their programs are adequately serving these key populations, they need reliable estimates of key population sizes, ideally in their local jurisdiction. However, these estimates are difficult to get because many of these populations are hard to reach or hidden due to stigma, or occur too infrequently to be measured through the usual methods (i.e. censuses).”13

Triple-X was asked to participate in this population estimate project, but we politely declined, stating that involvement in a project with the provincial health authority at this time would undermine our efforts to gain trust and recruit members. Which is absolutely true.

In the final report, this “Cautionary Note” was my contribution, during our correspondence:

A key informant remarked that ‘counting’ SW may perpetuate the stigma and discrimination faced by SW as being more impacted by HIV than the general population. It was noted that risk for HIV infection is not inherent in sex work. Sex work is different from other social-sexual behaviours, because for the most part, sex work is performed in the context of employment for income generation.

The section goes on to state:

In fact, a SW study conducted in Victoria (n=201 adult SW aged ≥ 18 years, including 160 female, 36 male and 5 transgender individuals) has shown that condom use with clients among SW exceeds 90%, indicating that professional sexual services are performed safely in an occupational setting. However, there are individuals engaging in survival sex work or transactional sex in informal settings who may not identify as sex workers. These individuals may be faced with other issues such as poverty, violence (including intimate partner violence) and drug addiction that increase their risk for HIV/HCV acquisition. Therefore, for the purpose of HIV/HCV programming, a clear definition of a priority population based on behaviour and context that impose risk, rather than a general identification with a group, is needed.

In the following section however, “Supplementary Information on Sex Work as a Potential Risk Factor for HIV Acquisition,” there are sex work statistics gathered by the BCCDC on people who have tested positive for HIV. It states:

Historically, it has been assumed that sex work plays an important role in the heterosexual and same-sex transmission of HIV. ...the project team requested the BCCDC Surveillance Team to perform an analysis on new HIV diagnoses among men and women in BC from 2006-2015 to determine what proportion of these cases reported sex work as a potential risk factor. We found that the number of women diagnosed with HIV and who reported sex work declined from 22 and 26 individuals in 2006 and 2007 to only 2 and 1 individual in 2014 and 2015. Injection drug use was also reported by 33% — 100% of these women over the same period.”14

The BCCDC (the provincial health authority) questions people who test HIV-positive about whether sex work was a risk factor in their infection. The report also notes that 100% of those who reported sex work also reported injection drug use.

#SWPrEP 2016 Report

To report back on the national consultation in Toronto, Triple-X and DLSPH produced a book: #SWPrEP: HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis and Sex Work in Canada 2016. The book was launched at the annual CAHR conference in Montreal, April 4, 2017. The book contains the transcripts of all the presentations, as well as the discussions that ensued between sex workers and those who provide services for sex workers. #SWPrEP participants were clear about some things they wanted to see in the report, and the Facilitator’s Summary (p. 135) highlights the top-ten concerns coming out of the consultation.

Among those concerns, participants did not want PrEP side effects played down. They wanted PrEP to be presented within the spectrum of HIV prevention and for more and equal promotion of condom use. They wanted educational presentations from healthcare professionals as well as from PrEP critics.

Furthermore, sex workers and sex work advocates were concerned that this new HIV prevention drug could result in elevated risks for sex workers, including new pressures from market competition to provide services without condoms if there is an expectation that sex workers should be on PrEP.

In addition, “#SWPrEP,” a seven-minute video that teases out the issues discussed at the consultation was released.

On June 11, 2017, as part of the 5th Annual Red Umbrella March, Triple-X and PACE hosted an afternoon discussion to present the #SWPrEP report and screen the #SWPrEP video for the consultation participants from Vancouver as well as for anyone else who was interested in the topic of sex work and PrEP.

The results of the national consultation were widely well received. By the end of November 2017, the website recorded 51,000 downloads of the #SWPrEP book since the time of its release in March. The Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE) reported that “Conversations That Matter — Sex Workers & PrEP” (posted May 16, 2017) was the 8th most read blog post of 2017.

#SWPrEP: Why Does It Matter?

Truvada will not be the only HIV prevention product being sold to governments for people at high risk. There new ARV pills, injectables, and vaginal rings and gels.

There are also HIV vaccines going into clinical trial phase. The drug company Johnson & Johnson has designed a vaccine to treat all strains of HIV, which has already proven to be 100% effective at achieving immunity against the virus after a trial of 350 volunteers.

For this first large trial, the most at-risk people in the population will receive the vaccination and will include 2,600 young women (18-35 years) from five different African nations.”15

AVAC ARV-Based Prevention Pipeline

There are also new ultra-sensitive HIV spit-testing technologies being developed for on-the-spot testing. In a research study released January 22, 2018, this new HIV Oral Fluids (OF) Test:

could be broadly deployed to screen at-risk populations using OF in many settings, including those ... where needles are inconvenient (pediatrics) or unsafe (prisons).”16

Such broad deployment could include on-the-spot testing of sex workers in the workplace.

Sex Workers’ Rights are Labour Rights

There is a history of governments and employers trying to force medical treatments on workers in the name of public health and safety. One notable and relevant dispute is here in B.C. between the provincial health authority and the B.C. Nurses Union.

In November 2017, health authorities started to remind members of their obligation to receive the flu vaccine. As per the policy, health care workers must be vaccinated against seasonal influenza or wear a mask at all times during the declared flu season. The policy has been under dispute since it was introduced in 2012. BCNU has always opposed mandatory flu vaccinations:

Nurses and other healthcare workers should have the right to decide whether to be vaccinated against influenza, based on their understanding of the current evidence and in discussion with their own family physician or other care provider.”17

BCNU filed an industry-wide application dispute (IWAD) last fall that has since been referred to arbitration.

In another recent labour decision in B.C., United Steel Workers (USW) won an arbitration January 29, 2018 that puts an end to random drug testing by Teck Resources at its unionized coal mines in the Elk Valley. Teck began random testing employees in December 2012. The arbitrator completely rejected the idea that some theoretical, but non-existent safety risk justifies the intrusion of random testing when there is no evidence of workplace problems.

USW District 3 Director Stephen Hunt lauded the decision as a “significant victory for not only Steelworkers, but all workers.

The safety of workers is paramount and we fight for it every day,” says Hunt. “Random testing is a distraction that invades privacy and does nothing to keep workers and communities safe.”18

#SWPrEP: Policy Outcomes

On November 27, 2017, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published “The Canadian Guidelines on HIV Pre-exposure Prophylaxis and Non-Occupational Post Exposure Prophylaxis.”

In Table 1: “Categories of risk that a person has transmissible HIV infection,” substantial risk is assigned to "HIV status unknown, but from a population with high HIV prevalence compared with the general population (e.g., men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs).

The guidelines go on to say:

National data on HIV incidence among sex workers and their clients are scarce, perhaps in part because sex work is criminalized in Canada; as such, this guideline should be applied to these individuals based on the presence of other risk factors.”19

In a December 28, 2017 press release, the B.C. Government Ministry of Health announced new free access to PrEP and expanded PEP for people at risk as of January 1, 2018.

Effective Jan. 1, 2018, British Columbians at high risk of HIV infection will be able to receive pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily oral antiretroviral medication that prevents new HIV infection, at no cost. ...People at risk include men and transwomen who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, and people who have sex with individuals living with HIV.”20 

No mention of involvement in commercial sex.

PrEP will be made available through the B.C. Centre for Excellence’s HIV Drug Treatment research program, which is funded by the Ministry of Health through the B.C. PharmaCare program. People interested in accessing PrEP should discuss their personal risks with their health-care provider. PrEP is not to be confused with PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) where anti-retroviral therapy is given immediately after a possible exposure to HIV to prevent becoming infected. The B.C. Ministry of Health is also expanding the existing free PEP program to include coverage for non-occupational exposure.

Conclusions: Sex Workers and HIV Risks

Making the universal claim that "sex workers are more likely to catch HIV" perpetuates the “sex worker as disease vector” stigma. Sex workers are safe sex professionals!

A recently published study (November 2017), shows that HIV risk is associated with poverty not sex work. “Risk factors for HIV infection among female sex workers in Bangui, Central African Republic” (a country with high overall HIV prevalence of 4.9%) recruited 345 women to examine HIV risk factors for six different categories of female sex workers. “Two groups were the ‘official’ professional FSW” working in hotels and night clubs and “four groups of ‘clandestine’ non-professional FSW” including street and market vendors, girls, students and housewives involved in occasional transactional sex. The study concluded:

Our observations highlight the high level of vulnerability for HIV acquisition of both poor professional and non-professional ‘street vendor’ FSW categories. These categories should be particularly taken into account when designing specific prevention programs for STIs/HIV control purposes.”21

Every community where ever, and whatever circumstances deserves HIV prevention health care that is distinct and tailored to its individual needs. Sex workers are best placed in society to provide hands-on HIV prevention education and demonstration with the very large and invisible portion of the public who are clients.

Give sex workers the respect we deserve as Safe Sex Professionals.

  1. “Safety Brief: Truvada for pre-exposure prophylaxis to reduce the risk of HIV-1 infection in adults at high risk — recommendations to support the appropriate use.” Health Product Infowatch, July 2016 p.4-5 http://triple-
  2. “FDA approves first drug for reducing the risk of sexually acquired HIV infection,” News Release, July 16, 2012
  3. “Did Health Canada just approve Truvada as PrEP?,” Xtra!, February 27, 2015
  4. “Guidance for the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for the prevention of HIV acquisition in British Columbia,” B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS research, 2015
  5. “New York State Summary Statement on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis to Prevent HIV Infection,” New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 14, 2015
  6. Canadian HIV Pre-exposure Prophylaxis and Non-Occupational Post Exposure Prophylaxis DRAFT Guidelines – Executive Summary, May 12, 2016
  7. Letter to Kevin Pendergraft, Ad Hoc Committee on Canadian Guidelines for HIV PrEP and nPEP c/o CIHR Canadian HIV Trials Network, Re: Canadian Guidelines for HIV PrEP and nPEP Draft Guidelines, May 31, 2016.
  8. "Sex Worker HIV Risk" Rapid Review #58: July 2012, Ontario HIV Treatment Network
  9. "Bringing sex workers to the centre of the HIV response," the Lancet, July 22, 2014
  10. “Global epidemiology of HIV among female sex workers: influence of structural determinants,” the Lancet, July 22, 2014
  11. Baral S, Beyrer C, Muessig K, et al. “Burden of HIV among female sex workers in low-income and middle-income countries: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Lancet Infect Dis 2012; 12: 538–49.
  12. “Review in Slides: Female Sex Workers,” AIDS Data Hub for Asia-Pacific, December 2017
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  14. Estimation of Key Population Size of People who Use Injection Drugs (PWID), Men who Have Sex with Men (MSM) and Sex Workers (SW) who are At Risk of Acquiring HIV and Hepatitis C in the Five Health Regions of the Province of British Columbia: Final Report, October 5, 2016. Submitted to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and the Pacific AIDS Network by The Centre for Global Public Health, University of Manitoba.
  15. “The fight against HIV/AIDS just made a monumental breakthrough with this vaccine,” Gay Times, September 27, 2017
  16. “Antibody detection by agglutination–PCR (ADAP) enables early diagnosis of HIV infection by oral fluid analysis,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 22, 2018
  17. “Position Statement: Influenza Control Policy,” B.C. Nurses Union, March 2015
  18. Steelworkers Arbitration Victory Ends Random Drug and Alcohol Testing At Teck’s Elk Valley Unionized Mines, Media Release, January 29, 2018, United Steel Workers
  19. “The Canadian Guidelines on HIV Pre-exposure Prophylaxis and Non-Occupational Post Exposure Prophylaxis,” Canadian Medical Association Journal, November 27, 2017
  20. “Preventative medication will protect people at risk of HIV,” BC Gov News, December 28, 2017
  21. “Risk factors for HIV infection among female sex workers in Bangui, Central African Republic,” PLOS One, November 6, 2017