Sex workers band together

<p>Sex workers at a vigil to remember slain colleagues claimed city police are not taking violence against them seriously.</p>


Rally held to mark day to end violence



David Gonczol/for Metro Ottawa


Samantha Smyth, a former exotic dancer, was one of the leaders of a march and vigil held last night to mark the fifth International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Chanting, “Sex work is work” and carrying red umbrellas, the group marched to Ottawa’s human rights monument to draw attention to sex workers who have suffered violence.

Sex workers at a vigil to remember slain colleagues claimed city police are not taking violence against them seriously.

Dozens of Ottawa’s sex workers marked the fifth annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers last night by carrying red umbrellas through the streets in a march to the city’s human rights monument.

“Here, police are not building bridges, seeking innovative solutions or taking violence against sex workers seriously,” said Chris Bruckert, a former sex trade worker who spoke at the event.

“They say sex workers are criminals. They are not.”

On Sunday, police announced that they laid over 265 criminal charges after 65 people were arrested in a street crime unit pilot project called Street Sweep, which targets street-level crime, including prostitution.

But sex trade workers want changes made, including the decriminalization of sex work, a centre run by and for sex workers and safe and affordable housing.

“The city’s call to clean up the streets segregates sex workers,” said Jina Rodas-Wright, who works with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa. “This approach of stopping, arresting and incarcerating sex workers does not stop prostitution.”

Police, the media and public policy makers suggest that sex workers are the reason for the mess in the streets, she said. But sex workers are not only legitimate workers, “they’re our daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. They are a part of our community.”

“The Ottawa Police Service, the Ministry of Labour and even the Ontario Human Rights Commission refused to uphold my rights as a Canadian citizen because they simply didn’t morally approve of my job,” said Samantha Smyth, of the Exotic Dancers’ Rights Association of Canada, who worked in Ottawa’s licensed strip clubs for eight years.

Yasmin Gardaad stopped at the vigil to show her support yesterday.

“I oppose violence against sex workers,” she said. “Every one should be safe in their line of work.”


  • The event was one of many being held around the world yesterday to raise awareness of violence that is commonly committed against sex workers.

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