Bill C-36 wont help sex workers

I am a woman of colour from Curve Lake reservation in Ontario. I am also a trans woman and have been a street sex worker for 25 years.

For many years I was homeless. I had no other option but to do sex work to survive. It was where I found community with people dealing with the same discrimination as me.

Some work the street because they are poor and dont have the money to pay for things like a phone, computer or space to work out of.

For others, like single mothers on social assistance, welfare is not sufficient. Ontario Works provides $718 a month, but the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom in Toronto is about $1,000. Single parents who are sex-working to support their families do not want to work at home, where their children live, so some work on the street.

A lot of trans women like me cant find normal jobs. Recently, a trans woman said to me about these new laws: Now how am I going to pay my rent, go to college or transition so I can get another job?

Another 50-year-old woman whos been a sex worker for her whole adult life and comes where I work at Maggies in Toronto for safer sex supplies, asked me: Whos going to hire me? Its all Ive ever done. Am I going to have to go on welfare now?

As a sex worker and a frontline outreach worker, I have seen all these situations first hand.

Bill C-36 wont help sex workers, including those who have no other choices.

When there is more policing and surveillance, sex workers become isolated from people providing essential services. These services include education about safer sex, safer work areas, the law, policing and community support.

The street-based community is a community of its own. It can be close-knit we educate each other because we need each other. Bill C-36 will change that because people will be more fearful of sharing information.

We will have to take whatever clients we can and wont be able to screen for safety. Marginalized groups like people of colour, trans women, aboriginal women and two-spirited women are more likely to be street-based, and they will face extreme criminalization under this bill.

With the internet, much of the sex industry moved indoors. Criminalizing advertising, however, will now force these workers back out onto the street. This puts them at risk, because indoor workers dont have any knowledge of street safety.

Together, all of this will increase violence, murder and HIV/AIDS.

My recommendations:

The $20 million being promised by the government to get workers out of the sex trade should be used to offer direct support to sex workers that is not dependent on them leaving the industry, which many of us cant or dont want to do.

We need laws that allow us to work and make our own choices. We need sex-worker-positive agencies that empower us about safety, health and well-being.

The Supreme Court decision should be respected. They saw the necessity of decriminalization for all sex workers, whether theyre in it by choice or because of economic circumstances.

Right now, if we face violence, we cant call the police. I have never been able to call police for help, even after I was sexually assaulted. At the time, Id been through mandatory diversion programs after an arrest for prostitution, and knew I faced incarceration if my sex work was discovered. So, I did not call police. Bill C-36 would not have helped me then, and it wont help me now.

Monica Forrester is a staff worker at Maggies: Toronto Sex Workers Action Project. This is a condensed and edited version of her submission to the Justice Committee on Bill C-36, the federal governments new anti-prostitution law. She was the only indigenous sex worker the committee heard from. | @nowtoronto

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