WSTS recently started a legal action in response to the Ontario provincial government’s closure of strip clubs – this post provides some information about what we are doing and why, as well as our first update. More updates to come as things progress. If you’re visiting for an update from our GoFundMe page, feel free to skip to our first update at the bottom of this post.
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.
Strip club closures 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. We have begun to hear that this is already happening. Additionally, as businesses with less municipal oversight in many jurisdictions, escort agencies and massage parlours may not adhere as closely to pandemic safety requirements.
Further, Ontario’s closure of strip clubs will disproportionately impact racialized and Indigenous strippers who are already negatively impacted by intersecting marginalizing factors. 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. Black women are already subject to racial quotas (i.e., limitations) in strip clubs across Toronto and Ottawa, a practice that perpetuates Western beauty norms privileging slim, white, young women and normalizes 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. So in response, we are arguing that our charter rights are being violated. 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,
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.
Why do we need the funds?
The funds raised through our GoFundMe 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. 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 very issues. Naomi is the lead lawyer and is 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 there are costs associated with filing documents, research by law students, and facilitating the attendance of WSTS members at court. Her co-counsel, Christopher Folz, has extensive experiencing advocating for vulnerable and marginalized groups, primarily in Ottawa but throughout Ontario too.
On November 6, 2020, the provincial government released the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020, under which some clubs may be able to reopen if they are in areas with lower COVID-19 infection rates (i.e., if they are in zones designated as yellow or green under the new colour codes). The regulation requires that the person responsible for the establishment must prepare, make available, and post a safety plan that describes all of the safety measures they will take to reopen (e.g., screening, cleaning surfaces, physical distancing, PPE).
In our view, the new regulations do not consider dancers’ perspectives, and we are currently seeking an anonymization order to hopefully include these perspectives in the proceeding, among other things.
If you are returning to work, we would like to hear from you about what it’s like, and how you feel about and what you have observed in terms of safety measures. Please contact us by email at email@example.com – we will receive your emails with discretion and respect.
 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).