By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News/Twitter: @MalloryClarkson
“The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.”
That was part of the message Nikki Thomas, executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC), shared with room full of people during a sex worker forum Friday morning (June 8).
“There’s no reason the government should be able to tell me why I should have sex, what reasons I should have sex for, when I can have sex, who I can have sex with (and) where I have sex,” she said.
While there were a few speakers at the conference, which was held at the Goodwill Industries third floor conference room on Horton Street, Thomas also used her segment to talk about rulings made by judges from both the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal for Ontario regarding prostitution laws.
“What happened with the laws was the Ontario Court of Appeal decided to remove prostitution from section 2.10, which is the bawdy house law,” she said. Further, the court also revised wording of the living on the avails of prostitution clause by adding a requirement that exploitation must be involved.
In short, this means sex workers should be able to legally bring their business indoors and pay staff for things like protection, as well.
“Then, by a two-to-three majority, they ruled the law against public communication for solicitation was constitutional,” Thomas said of the ruling that took place in March.
Those decisions was based on an earlier appeal of Superior Court judge Susan Himel, who stated that all three provisions were unconstitutional and should be struck down.
Thomas is an advocate in Ontario who promotes healthy and safe working conditions for those involved in sex work. She began working as an escort at 26 and has been in the sex trade for nearly five years.
Thomas said she was disappointed in the court of appeal’s decision. Taking it one step further, she argued total decriminalization should take place for independent workers within the sex trade.
She stressed the crux of the constitutional challenge is that sex workers are forced to choose between their own safety and breaking the law. One of the ultimate goals, Thomas said, was to eliminate violence against women and sex workers.
“I think that’s something that we should all strive towards, but I don’t think the laws on the books have done a god damned thing to stop it,” she said. “The laws have a million things to make our jobs less safe.”
Thomas added only when the general public respects sex work as work, without passing judgment, can they truly expect to be free from violence.
Jessica Dansforth, Native Youth Sexual Health Network executive director, and Angie Murie, Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, were also presenting at the event on Friday.
While Dansforth spoke on self-determination and anti-colonialism, she also touched on the aforementioned rulings.
“Efforts to end violence against people in the sex industry should actually be based on accountability mechanisms that focus on harms, so things like rape, physical violence or extortion,” she said.
Dansforth stressed Canadian law, the criminal “injustice” system and mainstream society, as a whole, siphon people through institutions that are then supposed to then “deal with them.”
“It’s undoubtedly a cycle that needs to be stopped,” she said. “I think the way you can do that is through understanding and just simply questioning what you’re doing in your agency or organization.
“Is it about saving people or supporting them? Saving people has not worked.”