Activists Discuss Toronto Pan Am Games’ Impact on Sex Workers

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North America & Caribbean Regional Correspondent
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Despite repeated debunkings of the link between large sporting events and trafficking, hysteria inevitably persists in the run up to every major sport event. With Toronto’s Pan Am Games scheduled to take place in July, church groups have already begun promoting the idea that the city will see an explosion of sex trafficking cases as a result.

Rather than ascribing to this popular idea, activists in Toronto have begun discussions on how to respond to the impact that it has on sex worker communities when anti-trafficking crusades lead to increased police presence and punitive measures.

On Tuesday, the 24th of March, at an event called “Sex, Shelter and the Pan Am Games” hosted by community organisation PrideHouse TO, --which works to make sporting events more inclusive and hosts LGBTQ athletes -- activists came together to take a deeper look at how sex workers and street communities are impacted by large sporting events and how they might positively benefit from such events.

“When the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, a mega multi-sporting event, come to Toronto this summer,” wrote PrideHouse TO at the Facebook page for the event, “how will our most marginalized communities be impacted? This evening’s conversation will aim to take a deeper look at the ways in which sex working and street-involved communities experience the Games. We know folks in these communities often experience greater rates of violence, harassment and ticketing and incarceration by police that can be heightened during major events. We also know that folks in these communities may benefit from such events. Whether positive or negative, their experiences are often silenced and rendered invisible.”

While the event was just a preliminary discussion, NOW Toronto reports that several ideas were floated on how to make the Games more sex-worker inclusive, such as designating PrideHouseTO’s pavilion at The 519 Community Centre as a safe space for sex workers; hosting information events and workshops for sex workers during the Games, and advocacy for more affordable housing and shelter spaces for those who are displaced by the Games.

“With the international spotlight on Toronto in a way it never has been before,” writes NOW Toronto, “the Pan Am Games could showcase a Disney-fied, corporate-approved image of the city for the throngs of tourists and television spectators.

“But wouldn’t it be astonishing if the image projected across the Americas was one of Toronto the free, Toronto the human rights champion, Toronto the base of ongoing resistance to Canada’s cruel anti-sex worker laws?”

NOW Toronto also spoke to Lux, a former activist with NSWP member group Maggie’s – The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project, who was skeptical of the notion that the Pan Am games would lead to an increase in trafficking: “People say there’s going to be busloads of women and children being trafficked in for the games.” Lux said. “That’s not going to happen. Why would you do that during the games when there’s going to be more police? It doesn’t make any sense. These things are used as platforms to further anti-sex work agendas.”