Asian Sex Workers Facing Arrests and Violence in Canada

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North America and Caribbean Regional Correspondent

Asian sex worker Tammy Le was found dead on the 23rd of January in an apparent murder, according to NSWP member organisation Butterfly – Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network. Her death is the latest in a series of murders of Asian sex workers over the past two years in the Hamilton and Mississauga region of Ontario, Canada. The previous two victims were Jiali Zhang in 2013 and Evelyn Bumatay Castillo in 2014. A 31st of January press release from Butterfly states that violence against Asian sex workers is a direct result of Canada’s recent anti-sex work laws and increased stigma.

Canada’s new anti-sex work laws are called the Protecting Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA). They came into effect in December 2014. PCEPA re-introduced anti-sex work laws found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada. It also added new provisions against advertising sexual services.

PCEPA also included millions of dollars in grants to “end prostitution” which the Canadian government conflates with human trafficking. Butterfly’s press release explains,

Much of this government funding has been allocated to police and law enforcement and used to conduct periodic investigations and raids on sex work establishments in the name of anti-trafficking. Asian sex workers are often the targets of these investigations and are subjected to surveillance, arrest, harassment, detainment and deportation.

More information on the harms of conflating sex work with trafficking can be found in GAATW’s Collateral Damage report on the NSWP website. Another resource on sex work and trafficking can be found here on NSWP’s website.

While PCEPA is supposed to only target traffickers and clients of sex workers, many sex workers continue to be arrested under the new laws. Butterfly reports an increase in arrests of Asian sex workers since December 2015. Six of Butterfly’s members have been arrest, detained, or deported during that time. Butterfly says that these arrests and deportations isolate sex workers. Migrant sex workers are particularly vulnerable as they face deportation under the current laws.

Butterfly calls on members of the public to increase awareness of the harms of anti-trafficking laws. With the recent election of a new Prime Minister in Canada, it is hoped that PCEPA may be revoked. Canada’s recently elected Minister of Justice  Jody Wilson-Raybould has promised to consult sex workers on the creation of any new laws regulating sex work. More information on the Minister of Justice’s promises can be found in this NSWP news article.

Butterfly’s press release concludes,

We honour and remember – Tammy Le, and the other workers who have survived and lost their lives to violent ends. May they live on in our hearts and provide us with great strength and integrity as we stand up for human dignity and the right for all sex workers to live free from violence, racism, and discrimination.

For more information on the work of Butterfly, check out NSWP’s member profile. Their website can also be found here.