Recently I was asked to do an interview for CBC French television on sexual activity during the Pan Am games. Perhaps they thought I would be prescient about any increase. The reporter was also planning to interview someone from a local sex workers’ support and advocacy group. As we were chatting, I thought back to a blog I had written about the proposed law (https://springtalkssex.wordpress.com/2015/01/08/sex-work-march-3-2014/) and how its implementation might change as the games approached.
“Let the games begin” is the slogan of this year’s Toronto condom campaign, coinciding with Pan Am activities. Toronto Public Health recognizes, of course, that there will be fun with those games. People like to party and they want to remind both Torontonians and visitors to party safely. But the games also mean increased job opportunities, even for me and the two bands I play with. So one might think the same would hold true for sex workers.
Because if we start from the premise that sex work is work, then their working conditions need to be taken into consideration. Unfortunately, sex work has not officially been deemed as such because prostitution has not been decriminalized.
So this is where it becomes tricky. The new law is no better – and even somewhat worse – than the old one. The Supreme Court ruling was meant to protect sex workers; but they are, in fact more vulnerable than ever. In terms of implementation, the Ontario Premier said, “The position we’re taking is that we’ll follow the rule of law, the law that’s in place… but I have asked the attorney general to look at the potential of unconstitutionality and to give us some options in terms of what we might do going forward.”
One would have to be privy to the word on the street to find out if, indeed, Toronto police are currently implementing the new law; and whether or not they are planning sweeps to coincide with the games. This is a real concern. I remember the sweeps that took my clients off the streets when I was doing the condom distribution rounds for Public Health. Some of them would go through the jails’ revolving doors. Eventually they would all drift back to the same turf.
According to a Canadian Press story (http://www.thecanadianpress.com/english/online/OnlineFullStory.aspx?filename=DOR-MNN-CP.df9da924d2514239b4b88e1cad355044.CPKEY2008111303&newsitemid=32635815&languageid=1)
“Police in Vancouver made some efforts to curb street prostitution and petty crime before the Winter Games two years earlier. The executive director of Maggie’s, a Toronto organization run by and for sex workers, says fears over potential trafficking during sports competitions are typically overblown and sometimes serve as excuses to round up local and foreign sex workers.”
A study (http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/12/763) examining the impact of the Vancouver Olympics suggests there was no significant influx of sex workers or reports of a spike in trafficking there. There was less demand for their services, possibly due to the difficulty in meeting clients.
Regarding the trafficking issue, Butterfly, (http://wearestrut.org/our-work/the-migrant-sex-worker-gathering/) an organization supporting migrant sex workers, insists that racialized and migrant sex workers are especially vulnerable because of their immigration status, language barriers and race. They blame the federal government’s change of immigration policy in recent years, which restricts some of the migrant work that can be done legally in Canada. The end result is they sometimes look for work underground – like sex work. The organization insists that one should not assume that all migrant sex workers are being trafficked.
So will there be increased sexual activity during the games? Most likely, but it may not be increased paid activity. Some visitors may hook up with people they meet at events, clubs and bars; and some may attempt to avoid being charged for purchasing sexual services in the street by hastily negotiating their hook-up, putting sex workers at increased risk.
In the meantime, the relationship between sex workers and the local police will certainly be put to the test. Let the games begin.
The Canadian law:
Migrant sex workers and trafficking: