On the 11th of June, Canadian sex workers and their allies are mobilising in a National Day of Action. In June of 2013, as a response to Bedford v. Canada and the lack of sex worker representation during the debates around anti-sex work legislation being introduced, sex workers, sex worker rights groups and their allies across the country came together to raise awareness around the need for evidence-based sex work law reform.
Since the introduction of anti-sex work laws in Canada in December 2014, sex workers and allies continue to organise collective actions in June. This year they are being held across Canada in Toronto, Montreal, Saint John’s and Vancouver.
In Montréal, Stella, l’amie de Maimie, began its social media campaign Contre l’exploitation, Contre la prohibition: pour les droits des travailleuses du sexe, pour le droit de travail (Against Exploitation, Against Prohibition: for the rights of sex workers, for the right to work) on the 8th of June.
This year, the National Day of Action coincides with the Montréal Grand Prix. Stella is centring their efforts around this sporting event because anti-sex work campaigners often label many major sporting events as a site of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. For more information about trafficking and sporting events, please read GAATW’s “The Cost of a Rumour” available here.
As Stella says, “Every year the Grand Prix also brings a wave of panic and unfounded and exaggerated statements about trafficking, sexual exploitation and minors. The past few years has equally brought an increase in police repression and surveillance against people working in the sex industry and sex industry clients.” This attention puts sex workers in precarious situations and at risk of violence as they “adopt strategies and practices that counter security measures”. Their campaign features workers with sex work positive messages and questions about “the cost of a rumour” written on their bodies. See below for examples.
In keeping with The National Day of Action’s message, the campaign brings attention to the realities and impacts of repression and criminal prohibition of sex work. The campaign’s Facebook page was shut down within three hours, forcing organisers to recreate the images with workers’ bare nipples covered. As Stella says, “As with all the work we have done over the past 21 years, this campaign highlights the need to fight against abusive working conditions, rather than sex work itself.”
Across the country in Vancouver, the theme every year is a red umbrella march, hosted by the Triple X Workers Solidarity Association, the BC Coalition of Experiential Communities, PACE Society, SWAN Vancouver Society, Pivot Legal Society and Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV).
“This is our fourth year,” says Triple X president Andrew Sorfleet, “and the public event of marching in the street, brightly dressed with red umbrellas is a popular success.” Each year Triple X highlights an aspect of solidarity to inspire the public in a show of allyship, with this year’s theme being Freedom to Associate is Our Right! Sorfleet says, “The freedom to associate is a right granted to all citizens by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada's new anti-prostitution laws violate sex workers' freedom to even stand in the street together if it encourages buying sex” and notes that, “marching with us shows Canada that when sex workers' freedom to gather together is infringed upon, it affects all citizens.”
In Toronto, Maggie’s, Sex Professionals of Canada, The Migrant Sex Workers Project, Butterfly and Sistering are hosting an event called Sex Workers Unite! No Bad Laws! The event opens with the Indigenous Sex Workers Action Project Drumming Group, followed by a smudging ceremony and Wanda Whitebird and sex worker performances, storytelling and speakers.
In Saint John’s, Safe Harbour Outreach Project (S.H.O.P.) asks that the public join them on social media using #SexWorkNDA “to show support and solidarity for sex workers across Canada and to demand decriminalisation of sex work now!”
Stella says, “Police repression, whether targeted specifically at sex workers or at clients is one of the principle factors that put sex workers at risk of violence.” As has been witnessed by sex workers universally, a repressive state prevents sex workers from reclaiming justice, dignity and respect.
To support Canadian sex workers in their actions:
@MaggiesToronto and https://www.facebook.com/events/526319477554562/
Post and Tweet messages from their Twitter @amiesdestella using the following hashtags: #F1 #GrandPrixMtl #sexwork #cdnpoli #nesoyezpascomplice #sexworkersrights and tag the following people and organisations: @grcqc @ListT_ALR @phcouillard @ValleeStephanie @ManonMasse_QS @amirkhadir @FrancoiseDavid @francoislegault @martineouellet
Participate through social media by retweeting and reposting their messages on the 11th of June, as well as following their actions: #SexWorkNDA #RedUmbrellaDay
Or re-tweet their messages found at the following organisations who are hosting actions:
Sex Professionals of Canada: @SPOCsexworkers
Migrant Sex Workers Project: @MigrantSexWork
Triple X Solidarity Association of BC: @XXXWorkers
SWAN Vancouver: @SWAN_Vancouver
Sex Workers of the Downtown Eastside United Against Violence: @SWUAV_Vancouver
PACE Society: @PaceSociety
Pivot Legal Society: @pivotlegal
Safe Harbour Outreach Project: @sexworkoutreach