Statement on arrests of migrant sex workers

Press Release – for Immediate Release

Statement on the RCMP Arrests Related to Migrant Sex Workers
May 12, 2015 — On April 2, 2015, media sources reported that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had disrupted a “Canada-Wide prostitution ring” and that many Asian women were alleged to be victims of human smuggling and sexual exploitation.

We, the undersigned, are groups of Canadian sex work support organizations who provide confidential health, safety, translation, legal, and other services to women in the sex industry. We are deeply concerned about the status and well being of these women, as well as the lack of clear information concerning this operation.

We have tried to contact the RCMP and local police over the last two weeks to obtain information about these women. However, we still have not received any answers or responses from them. We question the reliability of the information reported in the media, and we are concerned about whether these women’s human rights have been respected.

In particular we are concerned about exactly how many women were reached by the RCMP. Were there 500 women, as reported? What is their current status and how many of them are still in Canada? How many of them were deported or left willingly? Did the women have legal representation and translation services independent from the RCMP? Did they receive any services or support from community or sex workers’ organizations?

Migrant women who are sex workers are often the targets of police investigation. The media and police often report on these investigations as “smuggling” or “trafficking”, without explaining the nuances for migrant women — who are working underground and often, because of labour and border restrictions, whose conditions of migration are exploitative but the sex work itself is not. Because sex work is not recognized as work, many migrant women who do sex work find themselves in labour markets that are unregulated, and that leave room for exploitation.

Additionally, labour restrictions on migrant women make it difficult to find work in the sex industry and many depend on relationships to third parties who can be exploitative in unregulated labour markets. The criminalization of migration and sex work only makes people more vulnerable and forces them to work in more exploitative working conditions. Additionally, racialized and migrant communities, especially the Asian community in recent years, are often the targets of enforcement efforts. This intimates that discrimination and racism may also be at work.

We strongly oppose human trafficking as a violation of basic human rights However, we believe that law enforcement raids and rescues are are not the best way to support the victims. Sex workers’ organizations have made great efforts to improve safety and working environments.

Therefore, we urge the RCMP to respond publicly to the questions we have posed and provide information related to the investigations in March and April, 2015. We are still waiting for answers.

Action Putes et Allié.es du Québec (APAQ)
Alison Clancey, Supporting Women’s Alternatives Network (SWAN Vancouver Society)
Amy Lebovitch, Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) (Toronto)
Athena Thiessen, Winnipeg Working Group (Winnipeg)
Brenda Belak, Pivot Legal Society (Vancouver)
Chanelle Gallant, Strut! (Toronto)
Elene Lam, Butterly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network) (Toronto)
Emily Symons, Prostitutes of Ottawa, Gatineau, Work, Educate, Resist (POWER) (Ottawa)
Jean McDonald, Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers’ Action Project (Toronto)
Jenn Clamen, Stella, l’amie de Maimie (Montréal)
James McIntyre, Action Santé Travesti(e)s et Transsexuel(le)s du Québec (Montréal)
Joyce Arthur, FIRST Advocates (Vancouver)
Laura Dilley, PACE Society (Vancouver)
Laura Winters, Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP) (Newfoundland)
Mz. Scream, Big Susie’s (Hamilton)
Prostitutes Involved, Empowered, Cogent, Edmonton (PIECE) (Edmonton)
South Western Ontario Sex Workers (London)
Richard Elliott, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
Rachel Phillips, PEERS Victoria (Victoria)