Open Letter in Support of Sex Workers Who Were Arrested


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


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 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!

© 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 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!


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Comments (106)

  1. Everyone loves it whenever people come together and share ideas.
    Great blog, continue the good work!

  2. zhexuejia

    Hello,zhexuejia!,just wanted to tell you,I enjoyed this post. It was inspiring. Keep on posting!

  3. Arlene i think this is fantastic! i lived in the very small town Midland,Ontario for just over a decade and ppl have no idea…or maybe just don’t want to.believe sex work does indeed take place in these small towns…but because its so “taboo ” the pros are made to feel ashamed and with no rights or protection….keep up the great work!

  4. Thanks for the article. Great.

  5. Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you
    writing this post and also the rest of the website is also very good.

  6. Elena

    Really liked what you had to say in your post, Open Letter in Support of Sex Workers Who Were Arrested | Sex Workers Action Group Kingston, thanks for the good read!
    — Elena

  7. Kim Smith

    We need to stop the arrest of these sex trade workers and concentrate on the violence and oppression that these women face.

  8. Anonymous

    Need to stop arrest of sex trade workers and concentrate on the violence and oppression these women face.

  9. Scooby

    Very quietly, working on the issue. Taking the long way around. Call me Arlene.

  10. Mikkato Lee

    Sex work is real work, add my name to the list.

  11. [...] In an open letter, SWAG asks Sault Ste Marie police to take part in a community consultation on the issue. The group also calls on residents to show solidarity with sex workers by joining the Red Umbrella Campaign’s local Take Back the Night march on Sept 20. [...]

  12. iStop criminalization of sex work! It helps nobody…

  13. Kate Gibson

    Small town Police Chief out of control. So dangerous. The women he is targeting are fully entitled to the same protections as the rest of us. Apparently he knows nothing about privacy laws.

  14. This should not even be an issue nowadays with the way society is. Look at all the advertizing geared towards teens, its all sexually based to hit that target demo graph of raging hormones. But its o.k. to use sex to sell perfume, clothing, cars and electronics…etc but not to put food on the table for you and your kid(s). Is that the smell of hypocrisy I’m stepping in? Yup, sure as shit, except you can wipe the shit off your shoes, not the hypocrisy off your conscience. And why, being the oldest profession in the world, is this still an issue when we have laws we can put into place to help promote the safety of these workers almost immediately? Thats what the sex-trade workers are really missing out on: our ability to make it safer for all parties concerned. Wake up and smell my underwear. Or just waking up will suffice. C’mon people, we should be looking out for one another, not pointing fingers at a profession you obviously dont understand if your finger is pointing too.

  15. Heather Jarvis

    I and SlutWalk Toronto support the demands and efforts of Sex Workers Action Group (SWAG) Kingston in demanding the release of the 9 women who were arrested in August for soliciting, more awareness and support of sex workers including the voices and leadership of sex workers, and an end to the criminalization of people working in the sex industry. We hope you all have support and care around you.

  16. Leanne Schnurr

    Sex work is real work. Please add my name to the list.

  17. War on police terror. War on police-backed public smear campaigns against sex workers. War on laws and legality. War on class society. Vengeance for all imprisoned by our enemies. Freedom to the 9 arrested in Kingston!

  18. Ariane Berlin

    Decriminalize now! Stop the arrests and media coverage that violates sex workers human rights!
    Please add my name to your open letter.

    in solidarity
    Ariane, Member of BUFAS advisory board, Berlin/Germany

  19. Krissy Summers


  20. Voskre Naumoska Ilieva

    Please add my name to the letter.

  21. Amanda chapman

    I live in sault ste Marie, on Albert street and have never had an issue with any of these women and they get picked up right infront of my house. these women have just as much rights as everyone else. They are endangering the lives of those women and there families not to mention publicly humiliating them. This needs to stop now .

  22. trish lenz

    please add my name to the open letter calling for an end to the discrimination and criminalization of sex workers in Sault St Marie. i am appalled, saddened and enraged by the actions of local police and disapproving community members in Sault St Marie – together, we should all be able to work collaboratively to address community safety issues, while respecting the safety, privacy, dignity and right to work of sex workers. i stand in solidarity with your group and sex workers everywhere, as we struggle to build a society that is inclusive towards all individuals and acknowledges each individual’s humanity, dignity, and right to self determination. trish lenz.

    • christina diamonte

      It should be decriminalized all over the US I work on the west coast I hear its not as bad out here as it is on the east coast but we arent hurting anybody so whats the big deal??

      Stay Safe Ladies, No Matter Where You Are!

    • Sex work is work. It is an economic option for many female, male and trans persons in sex work. People in sex work demand that the criminalization of sex work be stopped immediately. Stop the moral criminalization. NOW.

  23. sex workers are not criminals

  24. Sex workers aren’t criminals! STOP THE ARRESTS NOW!

  25. While I think its irresponsible for the media to publish the names and addresses of the arrested sex workers, and I agree that sex workers deserve rights, but I do not agree with sex work in PUBLIC. No other citizens have rights to adult activities in PUBLIC.
    Coyote supports the rights of indoor sex work between consenting adults, yet we still advocate for the street workers, as far as the police harassment, lack of police protection, confiscating condoms, and the media putting these women at risk by publishing their names and addresses. We don’t even do this to child molesters.

  26. Desde la Mesa de Concertacion LTGB y TS de Lima Metropolitana, expresamos nuestra solidaridad y estos abusos ya no tienen que repetirse Nunca Mas.

    Miguel Angel Saurin.

  27. Decriminalize NOW! Sex work is a Service Industry based upon compassion and caring. Those professionals who provide pleasure are contributing to national health and well being.

  28. The persecution must stop. We are protesting this from all over the world.

  29. Sexworkers rights are human rights!
    Wishing you and everyone energy to keep on turning this reality.

  30. Jess K

    Please add my name.

  31. Petra Timmermans

    Please add my name to this initiative in support of sex workers in Sault Ste. Marie. Sex Work is work, sex workers are workers and should not be targets of violence, state or otherwise. Human and labour rights and respect will go so much further to eliminating the wrongs associated with prostitution than targeted policing and criminalisation can ever hope to.

  32. Treena Orchard

    PLEASE add my name. Sex workers are [overwhelmingly] women whose rights, safety, and humanity must be acknowledged!

  33. Sally Armstrong

    Please add my name to your open letter “Stop the Arrests Now!”.

  34. POWER (Prostitutes of Ottawa Work Educate and Resist) is standing in solidarity with the sex workers of Sault St-Marie. Stop the criminalization of sex work. The criminalization, stigmatization and marginalization of sex workers contributes to the violence they face.

  35. Rogue S

    To arrest sex workers for a profession that’s arguably the oldest in exsistence is shameful act of any governing group. Get with the program and accept sex work as a respected profession.

  36. KrazyKieka

    Add my name!

  37. Jacelyn Partridge

    Please add my name to the letter! Sex Work is work and this should never have happened to those workers!!

  38. Please add my name to your open letter “Stop the Arrests Now!”.

    As if arrests weren’t bad enough, naming and shaming sex workers is utterly unacceptable. Stop the arrests now – and while you’re at it, stop the media, too, from destroying these women’s lives.

    Matthias Lehmann
    Independent Researcher
    Research Project Korea
    Seoul, September 8th, 2012

  39. Andrew Innes

    Please add my name to the list. How awful that these sex workers rights have been violated, especially in light the Supreme Court of Canada questioning the constitutionality of prostitution laws. Sex work is real work!!!

  40. mae victoria

    stop criminalizing sex work.

  41. Patricia Cartwright

    Please add my name and my husband’s name, Stan Burdick, to the list. Thank you

  42. The Transhaven/E-Just Violence Response Initiative strongly condemns the actions of the Sault Ste. Marie police. In itself, sex worker harassment and arrest is a pointless endeavor. publishing the names and addresses of those arrested is unconscionable. You have now exposed nine women to great risk of violence, sexual assault, and perhaps murder; by taking away the privacy of their home, one of the few “safe” spaces in their lives. This action is not only dehumanizing, but patently reckless. We stand firmly with these nine women, and with SWAG, in demanding redress for this grievance.

    Claire Louise Swinford
    Program Coordinator,
    Violence Response Initiative
    St. Louis, MO.

  43. C Greenberg

    Sex is power. Those agencies currently in charge of lawmaking and heavyhanding everything they can get their gorilla knuckles around are trying to bully these hard working individuals…. thats all it is.. bullying and control! How much longer will this ridiculous behaviour be tolerated? Posting names and addresses? Are you insane? I thought vigilantiism was illegal…. do you have any idea what you may have done to those women? Idiots! It’s a viable, marketable and ‘in demand’ profession and should be treated much more humanely…. and respectfully! THese women are humans first and should not be treated like throw away dogs, step into THIS century and open your eyes…. and please…. add my name….

  44. Andrew Ethan Hunt -

    Please add my name to the list. Criminalization of sex workers is criminal!

  45. Estera Brudek

    Stop the criminalization of sex workers!

  46. Please add our name to your open letter “Stop the Arrests Now!”.

  47. Maslova Irina

    Please add my name to your open letter “Stop the Arrests Now!”.

  48. please add my name to the letter. These arrests and abuse of privacy rights should stop.

  49. Lubica Tornoczyova

    Lot of support and energy to fight against criminalisation.

  50. Karen Neko

    Release our friends and give a public apology for publishing their names and addresses. Sex workers’ rights are human rights.

  51. malika

    Quelle tristesse! Je crois que la police et les médias doivent être puni. Is there not limit to media and poilce forces abuse. Women my sense of injustice goes out to you I hope our solidarity may bring you back some feeling of justice or at least the belief that many stand behind and believe that you have the RIGHT TO WORK SAFELY.

  52. The AIDS Committee of Ottawa supports the 9 women who have been arrested and the efforts of SWAG to resist the criminalization and persecution of sex workers in Sault Ste. Marie. We demand the immediate release of all arrested. The criminalization and stigmatization of sex workers are acts of violence that put people’s lives in danger. This is unacceptable.

    In solidarity,

  53. chrystal

    I agree, this must stop!!!!!! Please add my name!!

  54. Our advisory group of folks with lived experience are absolutely saddened and enraged to hear that these women have been arrested and that their alleged “crimes” and home addresses have been published publicly. Outrageous! Please add us to the list of names of people who stand behind these women in absolute support of their right to safety and privacy. Please include us in any activities around sex workers’ rights, advocacy and activism. We will be wearing our red umbrellas with pride! xoxox Solidarity xoxox

  55. Cathy Orlando

    In Sweden prostution is legal. However it is illegal to buy sexual services as well as pimping, procuring and brothels are illegal. The criminalisation of the purchase, but not selling, of sex was unique when first enacted in 1999, but since then Norway and Iceland have adopted similar legislation, both in 2009.

    These laws have been found to be very effective tools in reducing the number of sex slaves and protecting women.

    I think the Swedish model something Canada should look at .

    Cathy Orlando

  56. The Women and HIV/AIDS Community Development program of the AIDS Committee of Durham Region supports the efforts of Sex Workers Action Group Kingston to resist the criminalisation and persecution of sex workers in Sault Ste. Marie, demands immediate release of all arrested, and further demands that the addresses of any persons arrested in that city not be published in any media–anywhere.



  58. Bangirana Godfrey


    Programs Officer
    Kaana Foundation for Outreach Programs
    P.O.BOX 818

  59. Modeste MAMBO AMISI

    It is true that in DRCongo sex worker is considered as immoral as the LGBTI as signs of the end according to the Bible. We Strongly believes that sex work we do must be considered one work and we must have the same rights as other work.

    We support you, because that is the only defense we have. We are part of this petition.

  60. Kerrry Van Daele

    please add my name to the list as a member of w4sj and an advocate for all womyn and children I find this so appalling

  61. Aura-Lee

    Please add my name to the open letter.

  62. Please add my name to your open letter “Stop the Arrests Now!”.
    The police actions against sex workers must STOP now!

  63. Heather Clements

    Please add me to the list

  64. Stephanie Butler

    Please add my name. I’ll also see about passing this around to my colleagues, I know at least one (if not more) who care about this issue and would most likely want to sign on. If I can be of help in any other way, let me know :)

  65. Amanda Hohmann

    I’m ashamed of my community’s handling of this… please add my name to your letter and my support to your cause!!

  66. annie wilson

    I support the 9 women arrested and demand their immediate release. please add my name to the list.

  67. Kelli Dorsey

    Please sign on Different Avenues

  68. Jayson Tower

    I can only echo what else has been said!

  69. Carol de la Haye

    How about arresting and publicizing the names and home addresses of violent pimps, and abusive johns, instead, NOT women/men whose work, while perhaps less common and socially acceptable than most, nevertheless fulfills a need as old as human history itself. If it’s consensual and hurts no one, what’s the problem?


    La Organizacion Tamaulipas Diversidad VIHDA Trans A.C. estamos en contra de la criminalizacion que sufren nuestras compañeras trabajadoras sexuales donde se violan sus derechos de igualdad y de garantías individuales basta de violencia

  71. mike leadbeater

    u got my support

  72. Jocelyn Samek

    This is such shameful police conduct. Please add my name.

  73. Ali Pearson

    Please add my name to the letter.

  74. Please add us at PEERS Victoria to this. Shame on them!

  75. Please continue your efforts in your work to protect those working in the sex trade. Violence against this group is epidemic and we strongly condemn the systematic abuse of publishing names and addresses for those accused.

  76. admin

    Thank you everyone for your support – the response has been very heartwarming and energizing! Please keep passing on the information – we have until Monday to gather as many names/organizations as possible. To add your name people can leave a comment here, can email or can add a message to the SWAG facebook page Folks can also contact me by phone if they prefer 613-545-3698.
    In Solidarity!

  77. Please add Stepping Stone from Halifax to the list. This has happened here as well in the past and places former and current sex workers in great harm. We are with you in solidarity and will continue to get the word out.

  78. lisa Widdifield

    I support your work.
    thank you for raising awareness about the sex trade and the i am appalled that names and addressed would be published. shame.

  79. Nataliia Isaieva

    Stop the criminalization of sex workers!

  80. Alison Clancey

    Please add my name.

  81. Borce Bozinov

    Please add me name: Borce Bozinov as well as the sex workers’ organization STAR from Macedonia. STOP arrest us sex workers, arrest violence, NOW!

  82. Cassandra Warren

    Please add my name, Cassandra Warren, to the open letter. Keep up the great work and let me know how I can support further in the future.

    • Carolyn Watson

      Please add my name! Shame on The Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. Police!! These are people and they have the right to work, breath, and live just like anyone else!!!!!!! STOP THE ARRESTS!!!!!

  83. Ron Couchman

    Please add my name, Ron Couchman, as well as the organization Men for Equality and Non-Violence to the open letter. The criminalization of sex workers is bad enough as it is without the media becoming a lynch mob. How about they post a list of people who willingly broke environmental laws, or tax evasion etc??

    • Dalvin David

      Champions for Change Guyana,condemns the arrest of Sex Workers in Kingston, and calls for a full investigation into to such discriminatory acts by your local administration, and to repeal all laws criminalizing sex work in Canada.

  84. Lisa Figge

    Please add my name to your open letter “Stop the Arrests Now!”.

    Thank you.

  85. Ash Hunkin

    Criminalizing and shaming sex workers causes violence. I want my streets to be safe from “aggressive solicitation” by abolitionists.

  86. Madalena Santos

    Stop the criminalization of sex workers!

  87. Add us to the list of women that condemn the Sault Police

  88. Venus Envy Ottawa supports the 9 women who have been arrested and the efforts of Sex Workers Action Group Kingston. We demand a stop to arrests and criminalization of sex workers in Sault Ste. Marie.

  89. Claudyne Chevrier

    Please add my name to the list!

  90. Taiva Tegler

    Criminalization of sex work and the attacks on sex workers by police is brutal abhorrent. This has to stop. I support sex workers and their safety at all costs.

  91. Shameless Magazine supports the 9 women who have been arrested and the efforts of Sex Workers Action Group Kingston. We demand a stop to arrests and criminalization of sex workers in Sault Ste. Marie.

    In solidarity,
    Shameless Magazine

  92. Pam Teufel

    Please add my name to your open letter “Stop the Arrests Now!”.

    Thank you.

  93. Kingston Coalition Against Poverty supports the efforts of Sex Workers Action Group Kingston to resist the criminalisation and persecution of sex workers in Sault Ste. Marie and demands immediate release of all arrested.

  94. LCIH supports the 9 women who have been exploited further by the actions of justice partners in their home city! Equality rights are women’s rights!
    In Solidarity,
    Lanark County Interval House

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