Federal government refuses to fund sex worker co-op

A sex-workers’ rights advocate is frustrated that no federal help has been forthcoming for Canada’s first sex-worker cooperative.

Susan Davis, cofounder of the West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals, explained that her group wasn’t seeking funding from the Co-operatives Secretariat to start a brothel. The group submitted a proposal to Ottawa in June 2008

With a proposed budget of $194,247, the co-op intended to start enterprises like catering, publishing, consulting, and arts production as early as the first quarter of 2009. One co-op objective is to provide workers with skills that they can use if they choose to leave the sex trade.

However, Davis related that she and her colleagues recently received word that the Harper government will not support the project.

“That’s how much of a priority we are for the federal government,” Davis told the Straight.

She noted that the co-op’s businesses would have helped a number of sex workers during the 2010 Olympics. According to Davis, who works as an escort, sex professionals don’t expect to earn money during the Games because of increased police enforcement of prostitution laws. She added that many of the people who visit Vancouver during the Olympics will be families, rather than sex consumers. As well, the construction boom in the Vancouver region, which Davis pointed out has been good for sex workers, is practically over.

The co-op has plans for a sex-work museum, walking tours, and art sales during the Olympics.

The refusal of the federal government to fund the co-op isn’t going to deter Davis’s group from pushing forward. “We’re going to raise the money ourselves,” she said.

The group recently launched a Web site (www.wccsip.ca/) to draw attention to its activities.

Davis said that sex workers are hoping the profession’s mostly male clientele will contribute financially.

A December 2006 report by the House of Commons subcommittee on solicitation laws noted that it is difficult to determine the extent of prostitution activity in Canada.

Professor Richard Poulin of the University of Ottawa’s sociology and anthropology department was one of the experts who appeared before the subcommittee. He testified that 10 to 15 percent of men in North America buy sexual services.