Vancouver prostitutes say consulting business would pay for brothel

Published Wednesday December 17th, 2008



VANCOUVER, B.C. – A group of prostitutes has moved a step closer in their efforts to open a brothel so women involved in selling sex in the Downtown Eastside can get off the violent streets.


Sue Davis, a prostitute who has been a driving force behind the goal of opening a brothel, said proceeds from a consulting business launched Wednesday by the West Coast Co-operative of Sex Industry Professionals will enable the group to eventually open a brothel.


“Everybody is going to go crazy and think it’s the brothel (that’s opening),” she said, adding that won’t happen until several commercial enterprises have been developed to help longtime prostitutes find alternatives to working the streets.


The sex workers’ co-operative hopes to open a brothel in time for the 2010 Olympics and envisions a site similar to the plethora of massage parlours that now operate essentially as fronts for paid sex.


Their alternative work initiatives include the arts, publishing, catering and consulting.


Davis said a client and worker would rent a room for a sum that’s privately arranged between them at the site and that money would go towards its operating costs.


“If younger women are worth protecting (by working off-street) why aren’t the girls in the east end allowed to be in those environments?” Davis said.


“People in Vancouver agree that something different needs to be tried,” she said. “Business owners, residents and neighbourhoods that are impacted by sex work are tired of having to deal with all these issues.”


Davis has already been involved in consulting work.


She has voluntarily spoken to many Vancouver police officers at police headquarters about how to deal with street prostitutes and has been paid $150 an hour to make similar presentations to other groups.


Davis said she wants a broader group of prostitutes to start making presentations and to use skills that some have to raise money for the co-operative through the arts and catering.


She said many prostitutes she knows have artistic and culinary skills.


Two prostitutes have been invited to speak at a conference at the University of Victoria, where they will each be paid $400, Davis said.


While prostitution is legal in Canada, operating a bawdy house is not.


Tamara O’Doherty, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University, wrote her master’s degree thesis on the “off-street sex trade” and the degree of violence the women encounter compared to street workers.


“I found out (violence) just doesn’t happen at the same rate in the off-street community,” O’Doherty said. “That says to me that there are ways people can work in the sex industry safely.”


She said the off-street sex trade – massage parlours, escort agencies and women working out of their homes – makes up 80 to 90 per cent of the industry in Canada.


“We assume that violence is inherent in the act of selling sex and I wanted to find out if that’s true.”


In a related development, O’Doherty and a lawyer who tried to argue in court that the Criminal Code sections dealing with prostitution violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms were disappointed that their case was dismissed earlier this week without a trial.


In a ruling, a B.C. Supreme Court judge said the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society had no standing to argue their case.


The sex workers society wanted the court to strike down the Criminal Code section that makes it an offence to keep a bawdy house. It also wanted the court to strike the section that deals with transporting a person to a bawdy house, as well as the section that deals with soliciting in a public place.


The group said these sections infringe Charter rights including freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, and freedom of association.


Katrina Pacey of the Pivot Legal Society, an advocacy group, said the bawdy house law means the street prostitutes “can’t work indoors and end up working on the streets, which are dangerous.”


The matter had been set for a six-week trial starting in February but the Attorney General of Canada applied to dismiss the action.


“The (Attorney General) submits that there are other reasonable and effective means for the constitutional validity of the impugned sections of the Criminal Code to come before the court and . . . there is currently other litigation underway in Canada in which the same issues are being raised,” Justice William Ehrcke said in his ruling.


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