Rss

Open Letter in Support of Sex Workers Who Were Arrested

TO ADD YOUR NAME TO THE OPEN LETTER, PLEASE SIGN IN THE COMMENT SECTION BELOW, OR EMAIL sault.on.redumbrellacampaign@gmail.com .

Thank you for all the support!  It has been so amazing!

Open Letter in Support of the 9 Sex Workers who were Arrested:

A call to Stop the Arrests and end ongoing media harassment in S.S.M, ON

Background:

On September 28th 2008, sex workers and allies celebrated Judge Himel’s landmark ruling that would effectively decriminalize sex work.  The Superior Court of Ontario struck down three sex worker related laws in the Canadian Criminal Code (CCC) (s. 210 ‘Common bawdy house’; s. 212 (1)(j) ‘Living on the avails’; and s. 213 (1)(c) ‘Communicatingfor the purposes of prostitution’). We were optimistic about the direction that the Ontario Courts and sex worker laws were taking.  Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel ruled that these laws violate the right to liberty and security that is guaranteed in Section 7 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Himel exposed that harm done to sex workers outweighs any harm done to the community in respect of these laws.

On March 26, 2012 the Ontario Court of Appeal revisited Himel’s decision and struck down the bawdy house provisions, deeming them unconstitutional. At this time, the court also amended the living on the avails provisions to ensure that they apply only to those who do so “in circumstances of exploitation”. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that, Section 213, communicating for the purposes of prostitution, ‘does not violate the prostitute’s rights and is a reasonable limit on the right to expression’. This means street based prostitution, where ‘prostitutes’ solicit business in public, still remains effectively illegal. Ultimately, this represents only a partial victory for the sex worker’s rights movement as the amendments leave the most vulnerable workers at risk. Sex workers’ safety is at risk with the combination of uncertainty regarding ‘prostitution laws’ and Stephen Harper’s tough-on-crime policy of using the prison system to drive social policy. Street based sex work represents a small percentage of sex work (research in Canada shows between 10% to 20%) but it is these folks who have been facing disproportionate criminal sanctions, with distinct and long standing historical implications for racialized and Indigenous communities. This criminalization continually displaces people from their supportive networks and forces workers into hasty negotiations with prospective clients, often in more dangerous and secluded areas. In practice, it also means being unable to report assault rape or theft to the police—clear evidence of second-class citizenship. It has been a legal whirlwind in the past few years and the fight for the rights of sex workers continues.  The next step in the process is the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) and to challenge the communicating law (s.213) (the most enforced prostitution related offence). We will likely find out this fall whether the Federal government’s appeal on the Constitutional challenge will be heard before the SCC.

Arlene: I am co-writing this letter as a concerned woman that is a naturally gifted product of Sault Ste Marie.  I was born in the Sault into a working poor family and left home at a young age.  I was a street involved youth and left my community as a young teenager out of survival.  I found myself politicized in this time in my life as I was directly affected Mike Harris’ neo conservative agenda that waged a war on the poor. As a young politicized adult I returned to my home community in search of stability and was encouraged by a mentor that sponsored me through a feminist based community organization Sault Ste. Marie District Women for Women to return to University. Little did they know that sponsoring my education was like loading a weapon that now had a cause to aim its direction.  Since my return to my home community in 2001, I have been actively involved in local anti-poverty issues, including those of sex workers and drug user’s rights.  I am currently working in Toronto’s downtown as a harm reduction worker and activist who works alongside street involved populations including those engaged in sex work.

Joni: Born and raised in the Sault and area, I worked locally as an outcall based sex worker in my late teens and into my early twenties. Doing so allowed me, as a single mother, to secure a more optimal standard of living for my son and I—a relief in the face of the shitty Harris days and dealing with ‘Ontario Works’. I also experienced police violence and systemic discrimination during this time, further intensified by hierarchies among sex workers and a struggle for legitimacy and control playing out amongst different actors in the city. In the face of this, I am thankful for the wonderful relationships, laughter and support I’ve shared in with my coworkers and many of my clients along the way. I make no apologies for my candidness. Having obtained BSW and MSW degrees since, I’ve worked in mental health and harm reduction outreach (in the Sault and Toronto) for the last several years, as well as doing community based research and public education on prostitution policy in Canada, sex worker activisms and barriers to social service delivery. As a current PhD candidate in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University and an active member of SWAG, my sex work research continues. The Sault and the people and places I love there are never far from my mind though.

Urgent issues:

It was after Arlene’s recent visit home to Sault Ste. Marie, ON (on August 18th, 2012) that I first heard of the arrests of 9local women who were charged under this outstanding and highly contested area of prostitution policy contained in theCriminal Code. In reviewing the media coverage, we were shocked and disturbed to see that the women’s full names and home addresses had been published. Reportedly fuelled by community complaints about ‘aggressive solicitation’ and ‘women residents’ being mistaken for “prostitutes” in the long stigmatized Albert and Gore Street neighborhood (where the main stroll is located), the arrests and articles continued. An all time low coming when one of the women was scoped out and rearrested by an undercover officer in the same neighborhood, with local media republishing not only her name and address, but also the ‘nitty gritty’ of her alleged offers of sexual services and attempts to negotiate safer sex (this in a relatively isolated Northern community of 75,000 people). It has become a full-out police and media witch-hunt. We are very concerned about the safety of these community members, and the street sex working community at large. Major violations of sex workers’ rights and privacy have been committed without any public outcry! Together, and with the backing of the Kingston Sex Workers Action Group (SWAG), we write this letter in solidarity with several other concerned individuals and organizations—locally, provincially and globally. We are drawing attention to the safety and the human rights violations that were made against the 9 women arrested in mid-August, 2012. Namely, calling attention to the criminalization, scapegoating and media dissection of these 9 women who are now under a microscope. This is a letter to the community of Sault Ste Marie asking for solidarity and support of these 9 women and all other sex workers within the community. It is also a letter demanding that these arrests be put to a STOP!

Our demands are:

  •    That a citywide moratorium be put into effect to halt the arrests of sex workers in Sault Ste Marie, ON, including but not limited to solicitation based offenses. We request that this moratorium be kept in place until the aforementioned status of the Federal appeal is known, and counter Constitutional challenges heard and adjudicated upon before the Supreme Court of Canada (namely the communicating law).
  • This is also a call out to the media to stop putting these workers in further jeopardy by publishing personal  information.  You are putting lives at risk!
  • We are demanding that Sault Ste Marie Police Services put an end to leaking arrests and the personal information of those arrested.
  • Community based consultation and considerations on social impacts are a must and need to be inclusive of sex workers at every level.  Nothing about us without us!
  • We are calling for a red umbrella campaign©.  We invite Sault area residents, City officials and service providers to participate in a district wide Red Umbrella Campaign. Wear a red umbrella as a sign of care and respect for the rights of the 9 Sault Ste Marie women who were arrested mid-August, and out of recognition of the well being of individuals with lived experience (past or present).

In support of this open letter and proposed moratorium regarding the rights and safety of sex workers in S.S.M., ON

Put forth on Monday September 3rd, 2012 by SWAG (Kingston) and its allied Authors (A.J. Pitts & J. Aikens). Released to public and media on September 10th, 2012.

 


© The red umbrella began its history as an emblem for sex worker solidarity in Italy back in 2001. It is also the official symbol used to mark ‘International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers’, which is celebrated annually on December 17th. You can download a red umbrella and gain access to informational resources by visiting SWAG’s website at http://swagkingston.com. Wear a red umbrella button as a sign of care and respect for the rights and well being of individuals with lived experience (past or present) (buttons ready for distribution in the Sault in a couple of weeks!). Be a part of the conversation—we need you! sault.on.redumbrellacampaign@gmail.com



© The red umbrella began its history as an emblem for sex worker solidarity in Italy back in 2001. It is also the official symbol used to mark ‘International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers’, which is celebrated annually on December 17th. You can download a red umbrella and gain access to informational resources by visiting SWAG’s website at http://swagkingston.com. Wear a red umbrella button as a sign of care and respect for the rights and well being of individuals with lived experience (past or present) (buttons ready for distribution in the Sault in a couple of weeks!). Be a part of the conversation—we need you! sault.on.redumbrellacampaign@gmail.com

 

Stop the Arrests (2)

Like This Post? Share It

Previous Post

Next Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.