Sex workers in Montreal say federal laws put them in danger as police continue to investigate Mile End crime πŸ’₯πŸ‘©πŸ‘©πŸ’₯

MONTREAL —
β€œAm I going to be next?”

It’s a question on Melina May’s mind since the alleged murder of a woman in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood last month.

Police are still undecided on the details of the crime, which saw a man and a woman dead in a residence on Nov. 4. Investigators are looking at it as a possible murder-suicide, during which the man would’ve killed the woman before taking his own life.

Journalists have since reported the woman was a sex worker, and that her alleged killer was a client known to be violent. Sex workers’ advocates say he had been black-listed among those in the business – many of whom reportedly refused to see him.

A customer black-list is one way sex workers protect themselves from danger. There are other ways, too. May, a sex worker herself and member of Montreal’s Sex Work Autonomous Committee, asks for references and application forms from new customers.

She says sex workers need to protect themselves. While it’s difficult to pinpoint rates of violence against sex workers, May says she’s constantly aware of the dangers, and that she’s still shaken by the murder of 22-year-old MarylΓ¨ne Levesque, killed by a convicted murderer let out on day parole in January.

Despite being at a greater risk, sex workers face significant barriers when it comes to getting help from police, advocates say.

β€œThey just don’t have the privilege to go to the police,” she said.

May says it’s hard to call for help when most aspects of your industry are considered criminal by the federal government.

In 2014, the Harper government passed a piece of legislation which redefined how sex workers would be treated under Canada’s Criminal Code as a response to a supreme court ruling asking it to better protect sex workers.

β€œThe prohibitions at issue do not merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate. They go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution,” read the ruling.

In response, the government passed the 2014 Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.

Its most influential provision, advocates say, is that while it did not make sex work illegal, it made it impossible to legally pay for it or advertise it.

A 2014 legislative summary calls sex work a β€œde facto illegal activity,” continuing to read β€œthe act of prostitution can no longer be practised without at least one of the individuals involved committing a crime.”

Advocates say those limitations mean sex workers are forced to use underground channels to communicate, organize, and protect themselves.

The Act’s preamble reads that the purpose of the law is to respond to β€œthe risks of violence posed to those who engage in it.”

In reality, sex workers say, it puts them in greater danger.

ONE IN THREE SEX WORKERS WON’T GO TO POLICE: STUDY

Nearly one-third of sex workers who are in danger won’t call 911, out of a fear of interacting with police, according to a recent national study from the Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity. Researchers also found Indigenous sex workers were twice as likely to report not being able to call 911.

β€œGoing to police means being outed, which can lead to all kinds of consequences,” said Sandra Wesley, executive director of Stella, an advocacy group run by and for sex workers.

Those consequences include β€œbeing evicted from our housing, having our money seized, having people around us … be arrested as third parties,” she said.

β€œThere are so many consequences to reporting any kind of violence that it’s not worth it,” said Wesley. β€œIt can be more violent to go to the police than to just stay silent,” said May.

The result is a patchwork safety net of individual precaution and black lists keeping to keep sex workers out of violent situations. Oftentimes, it’s not enough, say advocates.

What’s more, they say, is that if a sex worker is independent, they might not know a client is black-listed. If they desperately need the money, they might take them anyways.

β€œThe Department of Justice Canada continues to monitor the impact of former Bill C-36, including relevant Canadian case law and research,” wrote a statement from Ian McLeod, a spokesperson for Canada’s justice ministry.

McLeod told CTV News the ministry is actively monitoring the impacts of sex work laws in other countries, β€œincluding decriminalization.”

Sex workers in Montreal say federal laws put them in danger as police continue to investigate Mile End crime

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