Sex workers appalled by new prostitution laws, others say ‘good first step’ - APTN NewsAPTN News

Sex workers appalled by new prostitution laws, others say ‘good first step’

By Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
Before a client can visit Vanessa D’Alessio they have to pass her security checks.

That means providing a reference from another sex worker and often their full employment record.

She does so for her own safety.

It’s worked for five years and allows her do a job she chooses to do.

D’Alessio worries that will change with the new prostitution laws announced Wednesday by the Harper government after the Supreme Court overturned the former prostitution laws six months ago.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the new laws will protect the “victim” sex workers, and go after the “pervert” clients. 

And for the first time prostitution would become illegal in Canada. 

“If a client is worried about arrest or fine, he is much less willing to provide that kind of information,” said D’Alessio, 25, who works in the Toronto area. “This will mean I have to take more risks on seeing men I have not thoroughly screened. I am very afraid of this kind of legal environment.”

It’s a model widely known as the Nordic model, based on its use in the Scandinavian countries.

“We will criminalize those who are fueling and perpetrating the demand for this dangerous activity, the purchasers of sexual services as well as those who advertise the sale of sexual services of others in print, media or online, in other words the pimps, the perpetrators and the purchasers of sex,” said MacKay.

But sex workers, like D’Alessio, do not see themselves as victims and don’t want the government to legislate their choices.

“I’m so appalled that I’m now considered ‘exploited’, need to ‘exit’ and that my clients are ‘perverts’. It’s awful,” said another sex worker who wanted more time to read the bill before commenting further.

On the flip side, there are critics who see prostitution the same way as MacKay, as violence against women.

Bridget Perrier is one of those people.

She’ll shout it from the steps of the Supreme Court, and, in fact, has done just that.

“We need to look at it, not as a morality issue for them, but that it’s a lack of choice for women so little girls don’t inspire to service a multitude of different men,” said Perrier, an Indigenous woman who operates Sex Trade 101 in Toronto that tries to free women from sex work. “This is not a healthy choice … I applaud Peter MacKay. He’s standing up as a man and saying this isn’t right for our women.”

Perrier’s story is well known – she was forced into prostitution at 12 and fought her way out. 

On top of going after clients, sex trade workers can still be charged if police determine they are offering services in public spaces where a person under 18 is expected to be, but the “public place” isn’t exactly defined.

“It will put heavy emphasis in place on fines for those who purchase sexual services in a public place such as schools, parks, pools, malls, churches, religious institutions or residential streets for that matter,” said MacKay, who added later that sex workers would be charged as well.

That is alarming to D’Alessio.

“It puts me in harms way, but more than anything it puts marginalized workers more at risk,” said D’Alessio. “Street-based workers won’t be able to discuss with their clients services, prices, safer sex regulations and more safety issues … So to limit where they can work because of some moralistic idea of public space immediately jeopardizes their safety. Not to mention a space where those under 18 ‘might’ be present … So, everywhere?”

Under the proposed bill it would also be illegal to advertise online or in newspapers for “others”.

That could mean a massage parlour that employ sex workers.