At yesterday's Red Umbrella march in Vancouver, a former sex worker condemned federal legislation that criminalizes clients.
Sheryl Kiselbach, the violence-prevention coordinator at the PACE Society, said that she and other current and former sex workers in the crowd have "dated" doctors, police officers, lawyers, judges, and MLAs.
Kiselbach didn't name names, and instead emphasized the importance of supporting current sex workers who face greater dangers because of legislation passed last year by the Conservative government.
"We need to help them stay safe and we need to support them," she said.
The red umbrella has long been a symbol of sex workers' safety, which explains the name of yesterday's protest.
Kiselbach told the crowd on the south side of the Vancouver Art Gallery that she became a plaintiff in a charter challenge against prostitution laws because she didn't want sex workers to suffer the same injustices that she endured.
"The laws did not protect me when I reported many violent crimes, including attempted murder," she said. "Instead, I was treated with contempt, ridicule, discounted, and dismissed. I was treated as a criminal—as though I deserved to be treated this way."
The new legislation makes it illegal for anyone linked to a sex worker to benefit from any payment for sexual services. Kiselbach said it simply replicates problems inherent in former laws that were struck down in 2013 by the Supreme Court of Canada.
"It reinforces whorephobia and the idea that prostitution is a social ill and a form of men's violence against women," she stated. "Under the guise of protecting women and children in this country, the new bill is irrational and undermines our constitutional rights."
She delivered some of her most scathing comments against evangelical Christians who have made it their mission to rescue women from the sex trade.
"They have nothing to teach us, but will only discriminate, shame, and judge us," she declared. "We don't want your rescue, nor do we need it. We are not lost animals."
In addition, Kiselbach claimed that lawmakers completely discounted sex workers in crafting the new legislation. She maintained that sex workers were not looked upon or valued as human beings.
"They did not accept that we were experts in our own experience," she added. "They didn't view sex or the selling of sex as necessary, like any other occupation, but as dirty and immoral, and actually stated that no one would choose to do it."
Kiselbach claimed that the intent of the Conservative government's legislation is to do away with the sex trade.
"How could anyone in their right mind even consider that you could abolish prostitution?" she asked. "This bill lacks insight, totally disregards evidence-based research, and is a deliberate and unrealistic attempt to abolish prostitution."