Panelists Katie Nelson and Jerry Gabriel discuss Homa Hoodfar’s detention in Iran, Stella’s campaign against the abolition of sex work and various topics from the news of the week. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha


Katie Nelson: Concordia student

Jerry Gabriel: FTB contributor


*Homa Hoodfar Report by Hannah Besseau

*Stella Interview by Enzo Sabbagha

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

The Montreal Grand Prix is always noisy. First, there are the rather loud Formula 1 engines revving on Ile Notre-Dame at the event itself on Sunday. Then there are the street parties all weekend on a blocked off Crescent and more recently lower Saint-Laurent as well. And, of course, there are the protests.

As in previous years, people will be out in force against the hyper-capitalism intrinsic to the event. One of the things many protesters argue the F1 promotes, including those who put together this Critical Mass event, is sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

Montreal-based sex workers’ rights organization Stella is, of course, also against sexual exploitation and human trafficking, but feels that during the Grand Prix, sex work is unfortunately conflated with trafficking in quite a bit of the protest messaging. They have launched a social media poster campaign to counter this perception.

In a press release, they argue that:

“(The Grand Prix) brings with it exaggerated and unfounded claims of an increase in human trafficking, and youth and sexual exploitation. In more recent years it has also resulted in increased police repression and surveillance of people working in the sex industry and our clients. Amidst this flurry of attention, sex workers in Montreal are placed at greater risk of violence as they undertake working practices to avoid police detection, that put our security at risk.”

– Stella press release

This evokes a similar style to that used by Femen’s Grand Prix protests: topless women with messages written on their bodies. What’s different with Stella’s campaign is that the women’s faces and nipples are covered and the messages are against the criminalization of sex work, a.k.a. prohibition.

(* Ed’s note: We mentioned Femen just so it was clear that this campaign wasn’t at all the same as that group’s stunt at last year’s Grand Prix, but Stella made quite a good and correct point: “Is it our campaign that is reminiscent of Femen’s or is it Femen who appropriates our culture and fails to recognize the work of all the sex workers who have been pioneers of toplessness and of using breasts to subvert patriarchy?”)

Will this campaign help change the messaging of anti-Grand Prix protests? Given some of the comments already on event pages that argue against lumping sex work in with exploitation and trafficking, it’s possible that it could tip the balance by giving those comments a unified voice.

Will this campaign get lost in the shuffle? Given the huge amount of attention paid to the Grand Prix as well as the multitude of divergent protests, that is possible as well.

One thing is for sure: the Grand Prix will be at least a little louder this year.

You can read more about the Stella campaign on their site and Facebook page

Last winter, history was made in Canada when, after years of lobbying, the Supreme Court struck down three major aspects of sex work laws in Canada, making them void. This was a unique occurrence, where the Supreme Court gave legislators one year to come up with new legislation. This opportunity for change meant that Canada could lead the way with sex work reform, crafting a new model that could make the lives of sex workers less marginalized and overall safer.

While some applauded the strike down, groups like STELLA based in Montreal, and Concordia University’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute, acted as an intervener on the case. Others like the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), took a firm stance against the ruling, stating that such a ruling failed to protect Indigenous women who are already marginalized by society.

Now, the Conservative government has tabled a bill that would target – in Minister Peter MacKay’s words – “pimps and johns” in an effort to criminalize the purchasing of sex work. However this has received criticism from groups that say this will actually make it harder for sex work to be practiced safely.

The name itself is unsavoury – “The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act”– a bill that itself seems concentrated on taking the agency away from sex workers, by deeming them “exploited persons.” Even after tabling the bill, MacKay referred to sex work as a “degrading activity,” that will “always have inherent danger.”

Under the proposed bill, the buying of sexual services, as well as the profiting from others, will be deemed illegal. Additionally, it will also be illegal for services to be advertised in areas where children could be present, something that those who oppose the bill say would force those involved with sex work into less populated and more dangerous areas.

Another part of the act makes it illegal for print or online advertising of services, something that Christine Wilson points out in a Globe and Mail editorial, makes it so sex workers cannot work from home or bawdy houses, areas that can be made secure and vetted beforehand and thus making it more unsafe for sex workers.

Across the board the feedback from the proposed bill appears to be negative. Sex workers and organizations that work to fight for their rights have come out against the bill. The consensus is the bill, while not totally criminalizing sex work, would make it hard for sex workers to work in a safe, secure environment.

By pushing Bill C-36 forward, the Conservative government is ignoring the chance to actually positively reform the laws regarding sex work in Canada, and instead pushes forward a bill that actually endangers the lives of sex workers. MacKay, and other members of the government, should actually take the advice of the workers they are supposedly seeking to protect, and formulate laws in consultation with groups like STELLA, or Maggie’s in Toronto, to form new legislation that would actually be beneficial for sex workers across Canada.