By Angel Sumka (they/she). Angel is a certified Sex Educator & Sex Coach. They volunteer with ASPECC, and serve on the board of ANSWERS. Angel has engaged in various forms of sex work themselves, from exotic dancing to pro-domme work. They are currently working on a Masters of Counselling Degree with Yorkville U.
Congratulations to all of the individuals and organizations that participated in the meeting, shared their powerful voices, and were able to sway the council!
Edmonton City Council hosted a virtual and in house meeting, during which one of the agenda items was the proposal to phase out the sex-work licensing that allows Body-Rub businesses to operate. Dozens of researchers, sex workers, body rub business owners and advocates came out to speak on this very important topics, several of our members (including myself) spoke about our experiences and added our voices to those urging the city to reconsider their plan to phase it out.
Some background information:
Sex work has never actually been illegal in Canada, and refers to when an person chooses for themselves to exchange sexual services for money or goods. Sex work is not the same as sex trafficking, which refer to when someone is coerced or otherwise forced into sexual activity for which the trafficker financially benefits.
While sex work is not illegal, per se, there are many laws around sex work that make it challenging (if not impossible) for sex workers to work safely. These laws were challenged in court some years back, in the Supreme Court of Canada (R. v Bedford, 2013). The Supreme Court ruled that the laws surrounding sex work are unconstitutional, and granted the government one year to draft new laws.
Unfortunately, the Courts did not give the government any guidelines to follow in writing new legislation, which led the Harper Government to draft and then legislate Bill C 36. This bill, in my biased opinion, ignored the court’s directive to create legislation in line with the Charter. It makes advertising a criminal offense, and criminalizes bawdy houses, and persons purchasing sex. You can read more here: https://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/governments-have-failed-canadas-sex-workers-and-theyre-running-out-of-patience/
Edmonton requires that sex workers and body rub owners take a course designed to reduce exploitation, provide safer sex information, and ensure that sex workers know their rights and where to access help. Some issues with this system were brought up at the meeting, in that this system still criminalizes clients, it penalizes persons who do not get a license (which in turn impacts people who are already facing many barriers in society, such as poverty, marginalization due to race or sexuality, etc). It also causes a problem for Registered Massage Therapists, in that folks approaching them for services might mistakenly assume they also provide sexual services.
What was glaringly clear, however, as person after person spoke up, was the overwhelming need for sex workers to have that continued support from the city. That the education program attached to the licensing was valued, and that having places sex workers can work out of, legally and openly, has dramatically reduced the violence and stigma many sex workers experience.
The current program is not, of course, perfect. It still stigmatizes ‘johns’, and there is a strong need for changes that permit our current sex work businesses to operate without disguising their services as massage. Hopefully another challenge to the supreme court will happen, and the laws will change to be more in favour of human rights and safety, rather than stigmatization and shame based on personal moral judgements.
R. v Bedford 2013 https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/13389/index.do