Read more about WSTS and our legal action below. We will also be posting more information and updates on our website (https://worksafetwerksafe.com/ ) and our Twitter account (@twerksafe).
Who is WSTS?
WSTS is a peer-led organization based in Toronto, Ontario (Canada) with membership across the province. WSTS are current and former strippers who came together to fight for strippers’ safety, dignity and rights. In solidarity and recognition that some dancers work or have worked in other sex industry jobs, we also aim to use our knowledge and experience to support the advocacy efforts of workers in other sectors of the sex industry, because sex work is real work. We aim to provide our colleagues with legal and other resources they find useful, and to improve working conditions in strip clubs in Ontario.
Why do we need the funds?
The funds raised will go towards court-related costs in a court matter to appeal the Provincial Government’s (Ontario) decision to enact legislation that unilaterally and arbitrarily closed down strip clubs on September 26, 2020, without any consultation as to the resulting effects on strippers. The primary effect includes no relief provided to strippers following the closure. WSTS is seeking to raise $5000 CAD to help fund court fees, legal costs associated with filing a court application (namely, costs related to research), and costs associated with supporting WSTS undertaking this court application.
The lead lawyer on the file, Naomi Sayers, is an Indigenous woman with sex working experience across Canada and extensive experience advocating on these exact issues. Naomi is the lead lawyer and will be in charge of hiring any support staff and working with co-counsel to help keep overall costs low. She is doing this largely on a pro bono basis but will be in charge of paying for court costs associated with our legal action. Her co-counsel, Christopher Folz, has extensive experiencing advocating for vulnerable and marginalized groups, primarily in Ottawa but throughout Ontario too.
What is this appeal about?
On September 25, 2020, the Provincial Government announced regulation to close all strip clubs without consultation and notice to strippers. This unilateral and arbitrary decision has negatively impacted strippers in several ways. It may force some into other different types of sex work they may not feel comfortable or safe providing, in the absence of the supports and safety network that working in a strip club provides. Further, this decision will grossly disproportionately impact racialized and Indigenous strippers who are already negatively impacted by intersecting marginalizing factors. Statistically, these populations are subject to tokenism, racism and colorism in both mainstream employment and in the adult industry, at the same time as facing systemic barriers to education as well as government/community supports and services. This can compound the marginalization of Black women, who are subject to racial quotas (i.e., limitations) in strip clubs across Toronto and Ottawa; in addition to adhering to and reproducing Western beauty norms privileging slim, white, young women. These kinds of practices normalize misogynoir and anti-Black racism.
While the provincial government is helping out other workers/employers during a global pandemic, it shut strippers completely out of the conversation with no recourse or say, when the regulation came into force on September 26, 2020.
Canada’s highest court has already held that a government’s decision to regulate against sex work can violate a sex worker’s section 7 Charter rights or the right to life, liberty or security of person under the Charter. Namely, the Supreme Court of Canada has said:
Under s. 7, the claimant bears the burden of establishing that the law deprives her of life, liberty or security of the person, in a manner that is not connected to the law’s object or in a manner that is grossly disproportionate to the law’s object. The inquiry into the purpose of the law focuses on the nature of the object, not on its efficacy. The inquiry into the impact on life, liberty or security of the person is not quantitative — for example, how many people are negatively impacted — but qualitative. An arbitrary, overbroad, or grossly disproportionate impact on one person suffices to establish a breach of s. 7. (Canada (AG) v Bedford, 2013 SCC 72 at para 127).
The court was clear that it does not matter how much a law or regulation benefits the general population; rather, the harm of the regulation is established if such law or regulation negatively impacts a sex worker’s section 7 Charter rights:
Gross disproportionality under s. 7 of the Charter does not consider the beneficial effects of the law for society. It balances the negative effect on the individual against the purpose of the law, not against societal benefit that might flow from the law. (Canada (AG) v Bedford, 2013 SCC 72 at para 121).
The regulation to close the workplaces without any safety or social support to sex workers as a result of the closures directly and grossly disproportionately impacts strippers’ section 7 Charter rights.
Why is this appeal important, and why should you support it?
We are concerned that our work at strip clubs is being treated differently than workers at other bars. We feel that the decision to enact these provisions to close strip clubs specifically relates to discriminatory and stereotypical assumptions about strippers as vectors of disease. We want to be treated same as other bars and nightclubs. We feel we have been left out of decisions that affect us.
We are not trying to cut corners on COVID-19 safety measures, or argue that strip clubs should be reopened at a time when indoor dining at restaurants has been deemed too high a risk of transmission. Rather, we are seeking to establish a precedent that strippers – and, we hope, by extension, other sex workers working in municipally regulated establishments like erotic massage parlours – should be consulted when provincial regulators move to introduce new public health and occupational health and safety restrictions at our workplaces. We are trying to get the provincial government to realize that we, as workers, are knowledgeable about workplace risks and how to manage them, and that they should respect us enough to consult us in the development of such regulations.
 See first-person narrative written by a Black stripper in Toronto immediately following the passing of the subject regulation: Barbara Sarpong, 2020, “The Ontario government shut down strip clubs. More so, they’ve continued to dehumanize sex workers, like myself”, The Toronto Star, https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2020/10/01/the-ontario-government-shut-down-strip-clubs-more-so-theyve-continued-to-dehumanize-sex-workers-like-myself.html?li_source=LI.
 Bouclin, Suzanne. “Dancers Empowering (Some) Dancers: The Intersections of Race, Class and Gender in Organizing Erotic Labourers.” Race, Gender & Class 13, 3-4 (2006): 98–120. www.jstor.org/stable/41675175; Open access link: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1395311; and Bruckert, Chris. Taking It Off, Putting It On: Women in the Strip Trade. Toronto: Women’s Press (2002).
- Maya McDonald
- Urszula Sitarz
- Leah G Lipsett
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