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Montréal Sex Workers Speak Out Against Efforts to Shut Down the City’s Massage Parlors

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Politicians in Montreal are trying to use sex workers as “pawns in their next re-election campaign” claims the leader of one sex work organization. Sandra Wesley, the director of Chez Stella is speaking out. She is saying that the proposed measures to close massage parlors will hurt sex workers as opposed to help them.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre is trying to get Bill 121 passed. The bill will grant Montreal more power in areas currently overseen by the provincial government, like social policy and economic development.

Coderre is asking for the power to crack down on businesses where the city has reason to believe criminal offenses are taking place including erotic massage parlors. The bill will allow him to shut down businesses engaging in such activity by revoking their certificates of occupancy.

“If [Coderre’s] going to go after massage parlors, then he’s going after migrant women,” Wesley told CBC Montreal’s Homerun.

massage-parlors

“Preventing us from working indoors, from working together, from setting our working conditions puts us at risk,” she said. “Sex work isn’t going anywhere.”

This reminds us of what happened when Backpage’s adult section was shut down by the US government.

Backpage, a classified advertising website, is ranked the second largest classified ad listing service on the internet after Craigslist. In 2013, Backpage reportedly “netted more than 80% of all revenue from online commercial sex advertising in the United States.”

After a government report was published earlier this year, Backpage removed the adult categories, adding to those pages, “The government has unconstitutionally censored this content.”

Many people in the LGBT community were worried about how this would affect trans women.

“So many do not understand why particularly trans women resort to sex work,” Deja Lynn Alvarez, a trans advocate and activist from Philadelphia told us. “It is not a hobby a lifestyle or a choice. It is a means of survival that comes out of sheer necessity. When your very existence is deemed illegal and immoral by society and the government — it doesn’t leave you many options.”

Wesley understand why some people in the neighborhoods of Montreal may be uncomfortable with the idea of having a massage parlor down the block. But she thinks there is another way than just shutting them down.

She said, “We really believe that there is room for massage parlors and all kinds of other sex work establishments in a city, and it can be compatible with a residential neighborhood.”