Vancouver's best-known sex-trade activist, Jamie Lee Hamilton, is promising to create an international controversy if the city creates no-go zones for sex-trade workers. No-go zones were mentioned in a new community-based report on the sex trade, which was unveiled at the Vancouver Public Library's Central Branch on June 4.
"I, for one, will make this an international issue when they're talking no-go zones," Hamilton told the Georgia Straight. "We already had a no-go zone with the 1984 West End injunction."
Hamilton said that in the early 1980s, she was street soliciting on Davie Street and felt she was part of a "cultural community" of sex workers. But a group of West End residents, including future city councillor Gordon Price, complained about the impact of the sex trade on the neighbourhood. The attorney general of the day, Brian Smith, obtained a court injunction, moving the sex trade south of Seymour Street.
Hamilton said she ended up working in industrial areas of Mount Pleasant. Others moved to the Downtown Eastside. "The message was sent out to the predators that it was open season," Hamilton said, drawing a link between the 1984 injunction and the waves upon waves of sex-trade workers who later went missing on the Downtown Eastside.
Susan Davis, a veteran sex worker and spokesperson for the BC Coalition of Experiential Women, told the audience at the library that no-go zones and a proposed "code of conduct" are ways of communicating to sex workers what behaviours are not acceptable to the rest of the community. She said people in neighbourhoods don't want to see sex workers "all sketched out" beside schools, for example.
"So if you opt to turn a trick in a school ground, there is a condom there," Davis said. "Somebody is going to be upset."
The Living in Community project steering committee includes representatives of neighbourhood associations, sex workers, the police, the aboriginal community, Vancouver Coastal Health, and the Hastings North Business Improvement Association. Its report includes 27 recommended actions, ranging from the creation of a sex workers cooperative to developing a standardized curriculum in the school system to prevent sexual exploitation of youth.
"For instance, 'no-go zones', where sex work activity would be disallowed, such as in schools and parks, could be established," the report states. "The process of developing these guidelines would provide an opportunity to educate sex workers about their impacts on the community, and residents and businesses about how to better communicate with sex workers. This process would be undertaken on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis to ensure guidelines are specific to the needs of each individual community."
Amanda Bonella, a former sex worker, told the Georgia Straight that she strongly supports the report's call for a sex workers cooperative, which would provide safe indoor workspaces, a code of conduct, education, and training for the most vulnerable sex workers.
"I really like the idea of there being a cooperative where women can work," Bonella said. "That's a really good idea. People should be able to make a living safely. Safety should be the first priority, and then deal with other issues."
David Bornman is an East Vancouver pastor with a long history of involvement in community issues, including an unsuccessful fight to keep slot machines out of Hastings Park. In a phone interview with the Straight, he likened a sex workers cooperative to a brothel, which is illegal under the Criminal Code.
"I would definitely oppose it," he said. "I can tell you that."
Vancouver Police inspector Scott Thompson told the audience at the library that police must enforce laws currently in place. "I think it's imperative, as we have been doing, to put safety first as opposed to nuisance being the first issue," he said. "Certainly there is a history to this [dealing with nuisance issues], but I think our enforcement in the more recent past has been very much focused on safety."