The Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP) of St. John’s has joined 25 sex worker advocacy organizations across Canada to call for an end to Operation Northern Spotlight, an annual police attempt to target human trafficking.
SHOP program co-ordinator Heather Jarvis said this operation is putting sex workers in danger and ruining relationships with law enforcement.
During the operation, undercover officers make contact on social media sites commonly used as “escorting” sites and arrange to meet women and men in hotel rooms.
This year’s Operation Northern Spotlight took place Oct. 11-15.
“We heard about this operation before the RNC and the RCMP released the information,” Jarvis said.
“Sex workers who got caught up in the operation came to us and they were traumatized.”
He said sex workers are going to hotel rooms as a safety measure.
“It’s a secure building with lots of people around,” he added.
“And they don’t have to give out their home addresses. We hear from these women and they tell us they will not be using hotel rooms anymore because of operations like this.”
Jarvis told The Telegram that she’s concerned a lot of these women now fear the police, and will not approach them when they are victims of crime.
“Many predators target sex workers because they know they have an antagonistic relationship with law enforcement,” said Jarvis. “And they will be unlikely to report if something goes wrong.”
Joe Gullage is the RNC officer in charge of the intelligence organized crime section. He says the operation is directed to finding those who are exploiting women and men, and those involved in human trafficking.
“We have an obligation to ensure that the people in this industry aren’t being exploited and that they aren’t children,” said Gullage.
“But our number one priority is to ensure the safety of anybody that’s involved in the sex trade.”
Gullage says all of the officers are trained to treat everyone in the sex trade with dignity and respect.
“Times are changing,” said Gullage. “We are listening to concerns and are willing to have a sit down discussion with these advocacy groups about alternative solutions to this issue.”
Jarvis says that SHOP is glad to hear law enforcement is listening, but hopes to see action.
“We are really looking forward to seeing change,” Jarvis said.
“Because this is not what relationship building looks like.”