B.C. sex workers' association says federal law kills membership drives

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      Andrew Sorfleet has a long history of advocacy for sex workers.

      He spent about 10 years as an organizer with the Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver. Then he, along with other sex workers, created the Committee to Unite Prostitutes, but they felt that it didn’t have sufficient legitimacy because it wasn’t registered.

      So in 2012, they formed the Triple-X Workers’ Solidarity Association of B.C.

      “I believe we became the very first labour-oriented registered sex-worker organization in Canada,” Sorfleet recently told the Straight by phone.

      They modelled their organization on the Union of B.C. Performers, which also represents members who sometimes compete with one another for work.

      Triple-X has a board of directors, including a treasurer and secretary, and Sorfleet is its president.

      Their goals include combatting discrimination against Triple-X members and increasing their pay. The organization also aims to enhance Triple-X workers’ job satisfaction and advocate for better jobs in the sex industry.

      It’s open to anyone in the sex industry who has received financial remuneration for sexual stimulation within the previous six months. “That can involve touch or no touch,” Sorfleet said.

      Triple-X obtained a certification of registration of trademarks from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. According to Sorfleet, this means the group can license its trademark to members after it creates standards—i.e., education and a test— to provide “protection appropriate to the service”.

      “They could use this in their advertising,” Sorfleet said. “That would tell clients and anyone else who’s poking around that these people belong to a professional association or a union and that their services are provided safely.”

      But the former Conservative government got in the way of Triple-X’s efforts to organize sex workers and help them make decisions about how to improve their lives.

      As justice minister in 2014, Peter MacKay introduced amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada to clamp down on the sex industry through the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.

      It outlawed the advertising or purchase of sexual services, even if this was between consenting adults. And it imposed severe restrictions on obtaining material benefits from the sale of sexual services.

      “It means we are prohibited from collecting annual membership dues and we’re prohibited from recruiting new members because we would most definitely be counselling and encouraging people to work in the sex industry,” Sorfleet said. “So it stands right in the way of sex workers being able to form their own association.”

      That, he declared, is unconstitutional because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of association.

      “I would not be afraid to go to court on this,” Sorfleet said. “I believe we would win.”

      However, he acknowledged that constitutional cases can drag on for many years. And that's why he would prefer Justice Minister David Lametti to amend Section 286(2) of the Criminal Code to ensure that his organization’s constitutional rights are respected.