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A Legal Defense of Sexual Health Rights

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The Nookie is a sexual wellness store located on College Street in Toronto. This small business, which sells safety supplies and medical aids, was operating within the requirements set out by the Reopening Ontario Act and had remained open during lockdown in consultation with two staff members at Ontario’s Stop the Spread business hotline and five health experts at Toronto Public Health. (https://www.thestar.com/business/2020/12/21/toronto-sex-shop-ticketed-for-remaining-open-despite-being-told-its-essential.html)


Despite this, Toronto bylaw officers (one of whom entered the store without a mask) issued a notice for the store to close, a fine for $880, two summons for The Nookie (fine up to $500,000), a summons for The Nookie’s founder, Veronica Kazoleas, and – disturbingly - a summons to one of The Nookie’s sales associates simply because she was there doing her retail job (fine up to $100, 000 and one year in jail).

Unlike some other businesses that have tried to stay open in defiance of safety regulations, The Nookie has every intention to comply with the Reopening Ontario Act, and takes public health very seriously. Every effort has been made to operate legally and responsibly.

However, the City of Toronto has yet to provide any legal explanation as to how The Nookie and its employees are in violation of the provincial legislation they’re enforcing given the business is a retailer of medical supplies/devices/aids amongst other items (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33223960/). In fact, officers took their closure notice so lightly that they were witnessed laughing while they walked away from The Nookie. 


Sexual Health as a Human Right


According the World Health Organization, sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. The impact of sexual health on the overall wellbeing of individuals and societies is internationally recognized and tied to multiple human rights, including the right to health, the right to privacy, the right to education, and the prohibition of discrimination (https://www.who.int/teams/sexual-and-reproductive-health-and-research/key-areas-of-work/sexual-health/defining-sexual-health). 

Sexual health has been an integral part of The Nookie’s mission statement since it was founded in 2017 by Veronica Kazoleas, a former healthcare executive with a Master’s in Psychology (https://torontolife.com/shopping/inside-nookie-incredibly-chic-sex-shop-college/).



The store has doubled as a community space, hosting inclusive events at no charge to the organizers, including a workshop on postpartum sexuality and a panel discussion on sexual health to fundraise for The Canadian Cancer Society. Kazoleas herself regularly gives lectures at academic institutions, and has developed and taught a workshop on Sexuality after Spinal Cord Injury at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute Lyndhurst Centre.  



The fight for sexual health is so important to Veronica that she was preparing to take the the City of Toronto to court to challenge the legality of their conduct. That's when she reached out to major Ontario retailer, Stag Shop

The Stag Shop

The Stag Shop is an Ontario-wide retailer
run by siblings Petra LoBrutto and Marcus Horea. Like The Nookie, Stag Shop sought approval from local health authorities to act as an essential business selling medical and safety supplies. Health units throughout Ontario agreed that their product offerings, ranging from menstrual and vaginal health items to chest binders and prosthetic breast forms, qualified them to remain open during lockdown.

Toronto law enforcement even
visited Stag Shop’s locations in early December and made no efforts to shut them down.  This changed without warning or explanation in late December, when Toronto Bylaw issued notices to close four Toronto locations. Like The Nookie, Stag Shop made every attempt to ensure that they were operating with the approval of health officials and within the guidelines set out by the Reopening Ontario Act


Reopening Ontario Act


Under the Reopening Ontario Act, safety supplies stores and businesses that sell medical devices, aids and/or supplies are essential. Under Canada’s Food and Drugs Act, “medical device” represents “a wide range of health or medical instruments used in the treatment, mitigation, diagnoses or prevention of a disease or abnormal physical condition.”

The products available at both The Nookie and Stag Shop, including Kegel weights, dilators, vibrators, packers, stand-to-pee devices, realistic dildos, harnesses, positioning devices, condoms, dental dams, and lube, cater to a wide range of needs. These devices are used to treat conditions including sex after spinal cord injury, male infertility, recovery after cervical cancer treatment, PTSD, and so much more (https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sex-pleasure-and-sexual-dysfunction/sex-and-pleasure/sex-toys) (https://icord.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/PleasureABLE-Sexual-Device-Manual-for-PWD.pdf)

Even when used solely for pleasure, the health benefits of masturbation during Covid-19 have been recognized by the CDC, Toronto Public Health, and Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. In-store shopping provides expert consultation as well as a discrete, safe, and accessible experience not always available through online shopping or curbside pickup. 



Unfortunately, Toronto officials continue to deny the importance of sexual wellness. Mayor John Tory, when questioned about access to sexual health supplies during Covid-19, commented to CBC that condoms can be purchased anywhere. Eileen De Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, stated in a daily press briefing that people can purchase “actually essential” medical supplies at a pharmacy. Not only is this in contradiction to advice offered by Toronto Public Health but it’s an extremely limited view of sexual health that excludes many LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities (https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/976c-Safer_sex_during_COVID-19.pdf).

This is particularly disappointing coming from Tory, who's publicly proclaimed himself an ally (https://www.cp24.com/news/you-have-a-friend-in-the-mayor-of-toronto-tory-tells-lgbt-community-1.2434105) (https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2016/05/17/toronto-mayor-commits-city-to-transgender-rights.html). 


Our Fight

Sexual health, sexual rights, and sexual freedom are integral to the overall mental and physical wellbeing of a population. Unfortunately, the City of Toronto is wilfully ignoring provincial law and medical literature simply because they don’t like the implication that ‘sex shops’ provide a valuable and essential community service. This unlawful stigmatization of businesses that support sexual health only serves to shame people with legitimate sexual identities and health needs, effectively deterring them from seeking and receiving the products they require and to which they have a right. (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/26410397.2019.1593787)

As disheartening as the city’s behaviour has been, it has provided us with the extraordinary opportunity to have sexual health products recognized as legitimate medical supplies under the Reopening Ontario Act. A legal ruling will serve as a crucial first step in normalizing these supplies, and could help provide a framework for the implementation of further sexual health-related policies, programmes, and services. 

There are significant legal costs associated with this fight, beginning with the defence of The Nookie, its founder, and its staff against the fines and summons already issued. The Stag Shop is also partnering with The Nookie to file a motion that will have a judge interpret the definition of medical supplies as it applies to sexual health products in the Reopening Ontario Act. A large retailer like The Stag Shop working with a small competitor to help secure essential community access is unprecedented in these inequitable times, and The Nookie is extremely grateful for their support. A favourable ruling would enable all businesses within Ontario that sell sexual health products to remain open throughout lockdown in support of their diverse and often marginalized communities. We hope you'll join us. 

We’ll donate any funds not used for legal and administrative fees equally to Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights (https://www.actioncanadashr.org), The 519 (https://www.the519.org/), and the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (https://sexualassaultsupport.ca/about-ocrcc/).

 
How Else Can You Help?

We understand that not everyone can give financially right now. We would be so grateful if you would help by sharing this fundraiser with your networks. You can also make your voice heard by contacting Mayor John Tory and reminding him that sexual health is essential.
 

 More information on the fight can be found here:

https://omny.fm/shows/kelly-cutrara/scientific-breakthroughs-and-essential-sex-shops 

https://globalnews.ca/news/7539938/coronavirus-toronto-sex-shop-stays-open-during-lockdown/ 


More information on sexual wellness is here:

https://www.cbc.ca/life/wellness/how-to-choose-the-right-sex-toys-and-tools-for-you-1.5033157 

https://www.shedoesthecity.com/veronica-kazoleas-of-the-nookie-talks-sex-desire-depression 

https://www.todaysparent.com/family/family-health/what-to-do-if-youre-just-not-into-sex-after-baby/ 

https://www.ellecanada.com/beauty/health-and-fitness/were-living-in-the-golden-age-of-sex-toys 

https://hakawati.fm/podcast/episode/295040-Sex-Myths-Uncovered 

https://www.bftv-docs.com/2018---revulvalution.html 

https://hakawati.fm/podcast/episode/294993-Pleasure-and-Politics-What-drove-a-Social-Psychologist-to-open-a-Sex-Shop

Fundraising team (3)

Veronica Kazoleas
Organizer
Raised $225 from 2 donations
Toronto, ON
Marcus Horea
Team member
Petra Lobrutto
Team member

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