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Editorial: Lift the ban

["A sex worker stands on a street corner in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside."]
A sex worker is shown on Vancouver’s downtown east side. St. John’s currently has a moratorium in place on massage parlours. Sex worker advocates say lifting the ban could help keep sex workers safe. — File photo

The City of St. John’s is revisiting the issue of sex work and listening to the concerns of people who work in the field, and their advocates.

And that’s good news.

Because people in the sex industry — like workers in other enterprises — need protections to carry out their work safely.

Telegram reporter David Maher’s three-part series in February on sex work in the metro area highlighted the real dangers of the work, particularly when it is forced — in part — by city prohibitions to be carried on in the street.

A moratorium placed on erotic massage parlours in 2015 — after residents complained about the disruption one was causing in a downtown neighbourhood — limits the number of spots available for sex workers who want to get off the street and into a safer workplace.

Some may find the idea of legitimizing sex work morally distasteful.

Some cities with bans or moratoriums in place have seen the sense in lifting them.

The reality is that there is a real and ongoing demand for sexual services in countries and cultures the world over; it isn’t called the world’s oldest profession for nothing.
Whether or not you agree with the industry, it exists, and the people who work in it deserve to be safeguarded by whatever regulations can be put in place.

One of the problems experienced in St. John’s was that licences for massage parlours were tied to particular addresses, rather than the businesses occupying them, and so if an enterprise wanted to move out of one neighbourhood and into another, the licence was not transferable.

Other cities have addressed that issue by issuing licences to businesses or to individual massage parlour attendants, so that if a business wanted to relocate or a worker felt unsafe or exploited at a particular location, they could move on and take their licence with them. Some jurisdictions limit permits to commercial districts.

Some cities with bans or moratoriums in place have seen the sense in lifting them.

Edmonton dissolved its ban in 2016. Coun. Scott McKeen explained the rationale.

“It provides some safety for some vulnerable people,” he said. “There’s been a lot of problems in (Edmonton) with street prostitution. We will never solve this with a bylaw.”

Now, as reported in the Edmonton Sun, it’s mandatory for the city’s “body rub centres” to have approved safety plans and a manager on site at all times.

In St. John’s, a sex worker using the pseudonym Rachel, told The Telegram the city’s moratorium was curtailing sex workers’ ability to make safe choices.

“Give the women a place to work that is safe. That is all we’re asking for,” she said.

More tightly regulated working conditions with transferable licences will keep people off the street and away from many of its perils.

Lifting the massage parlour moratorium is not a magic wand and won’t solve every problem. But it could well prevent injuries — and save lives.

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Give us a safe place to work: St. John’s sex workers

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