Entrapping Sex Workers Cannot Be A Public Health Strategy
Updated: Oct 26
*As part of The Biking Lawyer LLP's sexual violence and police/state violence legal advocacy, we have partnered with Maggie’s Toronto Sex Work Action Project.
Our firm recently learned that sex workers in Ontario are being targeted by COVID-19 Bylaw Officers, claiming to be legitimate customers only to ticket workers when they arrive for their appointments (if this has happened to you, contact us).
COVID-19 or not, sex workers are routinely criminalized and left without assistance. So, while this is nothing new, the inequities perpetuated by COVID-19 add a new, grave dimension to the continued entrapment and marginalization of sex workers by state actors.
Since March 2020, the Government of Ontario has enacted new offences and penalties to limit public and private gatherings in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. These new restrictions have also brought about increased authority for law enforcement officers. In April, the Policing the Pandemic Mapping Project began reporting that Black and Indigenous peoples were being disproportionately fined by law enforcement for COVID-19 related infractions. Unfortunately, in the second wave, this has not changed.
We have collaborated with Maggie’s Toronto to develop a guide to help sex workers navigate COVID-19 restrictions. It includes information such as:
How COVID-19 restrictions vary across Ontario;
Who can enforce COVID-19 restrictions;
What to do, and what not to do, if approached by law enforcement; and,
The steps to fight a COVID-19 ticket.
Criminalization is never an effective public health strategy. The Pandemic does not justify the suspension of fundamental civil liberties.
If you’re approached by an officer concerning a COVID-19 offence, protect yourself by taking the following steps:
If they ask for you to identify yourself, do so. Provide your correct name, contact information and address;
Remain calm, and do not attempt to negotiate with them or explain why you should not be ticketed;
If the Officer tries to engage you further after getting your contact information, ask them: “Am I being detained? Do I need a lawyer?”;
Remove yourself from the area as soon as possible;
If you receive a ticket, take a clear picture of the front and back of the ticket as soon as you can, and put it in a safe place;
As soon as possible, write down a detailed description of the day’s events. Include any circumstances that led you to be ticketed;
Place all the information you collected in a safe space; and,
Seek legal advice.
If you feel you’ve been wrongfully ticketed, harassed or assaulted by law enforcement due to a COVID-19 Offence or otherwise, please call us for a free consultation at 647-725-7751.
For more information on what restrictions apply to your community, visit:
About the author, Deniqua Edwards - Before joining The Biking Lawyer team in November 2020, Deniqua completed her J.D. at the University of Ottawa in 2018 and her B.A. (Hons.) in Legal Studies at Carleton University in 2015. Deniqua is dedicated to progressive legal practice and spent her education advocating for policies reflective of Canada’s international human rights law obligations towards women, low-income communities, racialized and Indigenous peoples. Deniqua interned and articled at a human rights, civil litigation and administrative law firm in Ottawa, and was called to the bar in 2020.
*The cover image was originally designed by Anna Taylor (@taylormade_xox) with additions by Allie Wood (@amplifycollective). All other images borrowed from Maggie's.