Vancouver city council to consider recommendations aimed at increasing safety for sex workers
Vancouver city staff are recommending that council approve three grants next week stemming from the B.C. missing-women inquiry and a Vancouver task force.
The $100,600 in funding from the Edgewater Social Responsibility Reserve would support Battered Women’s Support Services, the Vancouver school board, and PLEA Community Services of B.C.
The grants would support a service-delivery model to help people transition from sex work to alternative employment.
In addition, the money would fund the prevention of child and youth sexual exploitation, and build capacity for nonprofit agencies working with children and youth at risk, according to a staff report.
The city is also in the process of hiring two people in response to missing-women inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal’s recommendation that two community-based liaison positions be filled by people with experience in the "survival sex trade".
Staff say they have received feedback that making experience in the survival sex trade a requirement may hinder people from applying—and that work experience directly involving populations affected could also satisfy the requirements of the work.
Sex-trade advocate Jamie Lee Hamilton expressed concerns about this job description. She wants the city to ensure that both employees have direct experience in the sex trade, and that one position be filled by someone who is aboriginal.
“That was the whole intent of the Wally Oppal commission of inquiry is that there needs to be trust specifically built up with the community, and that the best way to foster that trust is to have people that had been directly involved in the sex trade,” Hamilton told the Straight by phone.
Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang said the wording was based on feedback from the city’s task force on sex work and sexual exploitation. He added that it was meant to ensure candidates with relevant experience weren’t excluded.
“It’s about finding the person who’s the best fit…so this way it broadened it up and made sure everybody had the opportunity who had experience and interest to be able to apply,” Jang said in an interview.
The recommendations going before city council next week also call for a series of bylaw changes, including requiring that any business with a minimum employee age requirement maintain a current list of employee names, dates of birth, and B.C. driver's licence number to be made available to the police chief or inspector upon request.
Hamilton is worried that this proposed change could be frightening for some people, and could have “the opposite consequence” of pushing indoor sex work further underground.
She’s also opposed to a proposed amendment of License By-law No. 4450 to require businesses to have a minimum of two staff present at all times while the business is open to the public, and to ensure that no locking devices are installed on any interior rooms of the business premises.
“Most people involved would prefer the locking devices on inner doors,” said Hamilton, who is a member of the city's task force on sex work. “The city claims it’s for safety, but you could put some other measures in for safety, such as a buzzer inside the room.”
Jang said the intention of the latter change is to ensure that no one is trapped. He noted the recommendations are intended to help enhance health and safety, to prevent children from being drawn into the sex trade, and to help people who wish to exit the sex trade.
“They’re very proactive steps we can take in order to really increase the health of everybody in our city, our neighbourhood and the sex-trade workers themselves,” he said.
“Now we’re targeting a lot of these at our survival sex trade workers. These are the ones who have no choice but to sell their bodies, or are forced into it in order to work off a debt, or they’ve just been duped. So that's our focus.”
The city will also repeal a 1923 bylaw that states a manager must not allow “a prostitute or person of evil repute” to enter a club.
The staff report will be considered by council at a city finance and services committee meeting on December 18.