City of Vancouver unveils West End Sex Workers Memorial

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      The West End sex worker community will not be forgotten, thanks to the efforts of Vancouver activists.

      A memorial located at the corner of Jervis and Pendrell streets, in front of St. Paul's Anglican Church, was unveiled on September 16.

      The West End Sex Workers Memorial consists of a Victorian-style lamp post with a red lightbulb. The four sides of the base feature inscriptions that state "Dedicated to a diverse community of sex workers", "In memory of their ongoing struggles for equality", "People who lived and worked here from mid-1960s-1984", and "Today, we commemorate and honour their lives".

      A politically active sex-worker community developed in the West End in the '60s, '70s, and '80s that developed their own harm-reduction strategies and marches.

      However, a street-activities bylaw and groups, such as Concerned Residents of the West End and Shame the Johns, drove sex workers out of the area and broke up their community.

      Consequently, many sex workers moved eastward, including to the Downtown Eastside. As a result, many workers went missing, with some becoming vulnerable to serial killer Robert William Pickton.

      In 2008, sex-worker advocate Jamie Lee Hamilton and UBC professor Becki Ross formed the West End Sex Workers Memorial Committee. For the past two years, the committee worked with the City of Vancouver and St. Pauls' Anglican Church to create a memorial.

      Municipal funding for the memorial, $28,000, represents the total amount in fines levied against sex workers under the city's street activities bylaw of 1982.

      In an official apology, the City of Vancouver stated that it "acknowledges these actions displaced sex workers, creating additional conditions of vulnerability, stigma and harm as well as moved sex work to other neighbourhoods."

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.