On this particular day in June 2006, it was sunny and early in the morning. I was traveling down south for the first time. Alone. Before leaving, I was living with some cousins at the time. I sold what little I owned to help pay for a one-way ticket to London, Ontario. I told my parents that I was going down south but I didn’t tell my parents that I didn’t plan on returning.
I remember hearing the relief in my mom’s voice when I called her for the first time after arriving in London, Ontario. I didn’t call home until after a few weeks of living in London. My mom was relieved to know that I was safe and that I was okay. There are 1000+ murdered Indigenous women who will never make that last call home to let their loved ones know they are okay and there are 1000+ families/friends of missing Indigenous women who can only pray that they will receive that phone call home from their loved one.
This weekend there are multiple gatherings to remember the 1000+ missing and murdered Indigenous women that are occurring across colonial Canada. While everyone is praying for the missing and murdered, I want to remind people that we need to pray for the Indigenous women still living and working in the sex trade.
On Monday October 6, 2014, our current (Conservative) Canadian government is set to vote on Bill C-36, the protection of communities and exploited persons act. This Act is in response to the Bedford decision which was released in December 2013. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled three sections of Canada’s criminal code as unconstitutional. These sections related specifically to the criminal regulation of prostitution: the bawdyhouse law, the communication law and the living on the avails law. The ultimate goal of this Act is to abolish prostitution. Supporters of this Bill argue that it will decriminalize the women and target the perpetrators of violence. However, this argument ignores state and police violence. This is the same violence that is ultimately the source of harm in Indigenous women’s lives and the source of missing and murdered Indigenous women: the state and the police just don’t care. It is also the same violence that the SCC ruled does not negate the state’s role in the violence in the sex workers’ lives.
In approximately two weeks, Canada will be celebrating Persons day. This is the day that white Canadian women won the right to vote. Two of the five women that advocated for the white Canadian women’s right to vote are also the same women who advocated for the criminalization of prostitution and the forced sterilization of Indigenous women. The original prostitution laws were enacted under the Indian Act. These original laws targeted Indigenous women and assumed Indigenous homes (wigwams) to be disorderly.
We see history repeating itself with Bill C-36. When one reviews this Bill in its entirety, one will notice that it doesn’t decriminalize the women. Rather, it criminalizes (outright) the most marginalized and vulnerable women in the sex trade, outdoor sex workers. The supporters of this Bill argue that Indigenous women comprise the majority of outdoor workers. At the same time, they ignore the lived realities of Indigenous women in the trade: they are over-policed and under-protected. The 1000+ missing and murdered Indigenous women is evidence of this over-policing and under-protection.
The Bill’s preamble says that it encourages women in the trade who experience violence to call the police. In theory, that sounds nice. However, in reality, I know it will never be safe for the most marginalized and vulnerable, other Indigenous women, to call the police. I know this from lived experiences as an Indigenous woman who has worked in the sex trade.
The Bill also has a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the Bill assumes that all prostitution is inherently violent, then I can only imagine vulnerability to violence will increase once this Bill is passed. This violence is created when the Bill ignores state and police violence, where Indigenous women are its primary targets. As a result, the Bill creates the environment for violence and exploitation to flourish while at the same time highlighting this violence is the reason the Bill needs to be enacted.
When I moved to London, Ontario, I did so in the context of sex work. Looking back on the decisions I made then, I regret not telling my family that I did not plan on returning to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario after I left. I regret not telling them because going missing and murdered was a possibility. I could have never made that last call home. Yet, I am one of the lucky ones. It is a burden for me to wake up every day knowing that I am here only because I was lucky. When the Bill says that it encourages women who experience violence to call the police, it frustrates me because I know current Indigenous sex workers will never feel safe enough to call the police. It frustrates me because I fear that more Indigenous women will go missing and murdered and people will continue to not care.
As you are praying for the missing and murdered, please don’t forget about Indigenous women still living especially the ones working in the sex trade. With Bill C-36, we will only see more Indigenous women go missing and murdered. Please remember them in your prayers.
Note: Sadly, I fear this Bill will pass without changes. I used to cry almost everyday thinking about the harms this Bill will create. I am done crying. I want to see real change. If you are wondering how you can help, please write to your MP telling them vote against this Bill. This Bill is harmful and it will only cause sex workers to feel more isolated and alienated which will ultimately leave them vulnerable to more violence. You can find out who your MP is here: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo/Compilations/HouseofCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC. You can write an email. It will only take a few minutes.