Sex workers and allies organize Red Umbrella marches against Conservative government attacks on their livelihood

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      On Saturday (June 13), people are being encouraged to look sexy for a very serious protest.

      The annual Red Umbrella marches will take place across the country to raise awareness about the life-or-death consequences of the Conservative government criminalizing the sale of sex.

      The Vancouver demonstration begins at 2:30 with speeches on the Robson Street side of the Vancouver Art Gallery. At 3 p.m., participants will walk from there through the Downtown Eastside, where dozens of sex workers have gone missing and been murdered.

      If you don't want to wear skimpy clothes, you can also support the cause by wearing red and/or carrying a red umbrella, which has long been a symbol of safety for sex workers.

      As a result of legislation introduced by Justice Minister Peter MacKay, anybody, including a spouse, is prohibited from receiving a "material benefit" from sexual services. In addition, clients are vulnerable to prosecution for paying for sexual services.

      Incredibly, MacKay didn't even define what constitutes a sexual service, creating uncertainty within the industry.

      Red Umbrella Marches are being held across Canada.
      Charlie Smith

      The Vancouver demonstration is being organized by Triple-X Workers' Solidarity Association of B.C., Downtown Eastside Sex Workers Against Violence, Pivot Legal Society, PACE Society, B.C. Coalition of Experiential Communities, and FIRST: Feminists Advocating for the Decriminalization of Sex Work.

      "To even discuss obtaining sexual services with anyone in any place—including on the telephone or Internet—is now a crime, leaving our clients vulnerable to police entrapment stings," the groups say in a news release.

      Working conditions are protected by legislation in most occupations. However, those in the sex trade say the government is actually making it more dangerous for them to make a living.

      They insist that the law violates sex workers' charter rights, including freedom of association and freedom of expression. And they maintain that this will drive the sex trade underground, providing greater opportunities for predators.

      It's one reason why some have referred to MacKay's legislation as the Willie Pickton law.

      The legislation was introduced after the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled that three prostitution-related laws were unconstitutional. That's because they violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms' guarantees of freedom of expression and security of the person.

      Groups advocating on behalf of sex workers say that the new law creates even more dangerous conditions because unlike in the past, the sale of sex is now illegal.

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      9 Comments

      Former Escort

      Jun 12, 2015 at 2:18pm

      How delusional to believe that criminalizing johns somehow harms women who sell sex. It is time that Canada DID criminalize the purchase of sex so as to create a societal shift and recognize women as true equals. Prostitution is nothing more than a gendered practice based solely upon socio-economic inequality. You cannot be a "liberated" prostitute as the entire practice of prostitution is oppressive, and exists to keep women out of the main economic sectors. What women should be fighting for is more affordable childcare, more economic opportunities and equality in regards to wage, etc.
      I sold myself to (mainly married) johns for close to a decade in very high-end brothels and never once was it liberating. You cannot "reclaim" or "own" your position as a subordinate to the opposite sex - it's like trying to reclaim the word bitch.
      I feel sad for these women who do not speak for the majority of prostituted individuals, but rather speak from a place of privilege.
      You make zero contributions to a healthy society by encouraging women to feel liberated while selling their body to males who essentially own most of society's assets - all the while taking money away from their family unit to cause harm and trauma on a marginalized sector of the population.

      Shame on anyone who supports prostitution by either buying sex or freely selling it by choice. You are toxic and clearly have no compassion or true intelligence as to the nature of the beast.

      Current Escort

      Jun 13, 2015 at 9:13am

      I am sorry that your experience in the sex industry was so negative. That, however, is not the experience of all sex workers. And we do not 'sell our body,' we sell a service to men AND women. And yes, criminializing clients does make it unsafe for sex workers, especially marginalized workers, because it makes screening more difficult. A sex worker under the current laws is less likely to be able to obtain a client's real name, and less likely to have time to ask relevant questions. They will be put in a position of having to make snap decisions about clients and go off to be alone with them before they are certain of their safety. Whether you agree ideologically with sex work or not, let's make sure that the laws support people in that profession.

      Sensual Solutions Canada

      Jun 13, 2015 at 1:03pm

      So proud of the women and men today who protest Canada's newest step backwards. The passing of Bill C-36 has not ended the issue of sex work whatsoever. In fact, it has fueled the fire to the point where laws will be broken and lives will be lost. Sexual services have not been defined by the gov't. Sex work covers a broad spectrum - what about sexological bodywork, somatic bodywork, eslan massage - all legally allowed to touch genitals - what about sex surrogates who are educated in the USA and work in Canada with sex or "relationship" therapists - what about adults living with disabilities who cannot access their bodies and would like assistance (they are now criminals?) - what about human trafficking and pimping? (What about marriage?) There are too many components of sex work to pack it all under prostitution. But it is those brave women who stand for all of us today. Who owns our bodies? Shame the Johns? Pffft - Shame the gov't. Do we really want a law that is named the #willypicktonlaw? Come on Canada we can do better. So proud of those who are in red today to help all of us find a better solution. #shamethegovt #freethegenitals

      Anonymous

      Jun 13, 2015 at 1:24pm

      Former Sex worker - I'm glad you're out but don't pontificate. Don't speak for others or define what 'choice' looks like for them. Don't attempt to address a complex issue with absolutes - for that is a blatant sign of low intelligence. The groups that have organized this event and countless others who tirelessly advocate for the basic human rights of all those engaged in sex work are in essence fighting for you too - at one time. Have some respect.

      James not Jon

      Jun 13, 2015 at 3:38pm

      If men were able to sell their bodies for sex and make a living there'd be a Starfucks on every block.

      gear316

      Jun 13, 2015 at 8:12pm

      To the former escort: From my in interviewing sex workers in the Downtown Eastside and Woodlands, most sex workers are against C36. So if you think it's just privileged sex workers who are against C36, you may in for a rude awakening.

      David D

      Jun 15, 2015 at 5:54pm

      Great stuff 'former escort' -- all the cliches and you even managed to include the giveaway term 'prostituted'. I don't believe for a moment you sold 'yourself' for ten years or indeed sexual services either.

      As for your enthusiasm for criminalisation, how has that been working out in the US for the last century or so?

      Former Escort

      Jun 29, 2015 at 9:16pm

      To current escort:
      Screening is essentially irrelevant as the act of prostitution is dangerous in and of itself. What difference does it make if a man provides his legal name or occupation, or a reference from another provider who didn't experience violence from him? Does that determine whether he ends up strangling a sex provider in his apartment or an incall that she invites him to? No, it doesn't.
      Why don't real estate agents or saleswomen need to screen their clients? Why do sex providers often need bodyguards/drivers and operate under an alias?
      I'll tell you why. It's because power and fantasy are factors in prostitution and people become angry, obsessive... You name it.
      I have experienced it all first hand. Sick things that left me with trauma.
      Fact - about 75% of women exiting prostituion do so with PTSD. Is that the same stat for women changing careers in other sectors I wonder?! Obviously not.

      Prostitution is nothing more than paid rape.

      Kenneth Cole-Rees

      Jul 10, 2015 at 8:55am

      "Sex worker rights groups” who oppose the Nordic model are reprehensible. They claim to represent all sex workers, when they basically represent high-end escorts and independent prostitutes... not pimped-out prostitutes that suffer daily from exploitation. Sex worker rights groups that call for full legalization thus profit, in many cases off the backs of those that are truly exploited: They are driving up overall demand for prostitution by lobbying for full legalization to improve their profits.