The following list is a snapshot of the recommendations I make throughout my submission to the pre-Inquiry consultation process:
- The Inquiry should acknowledge the right to self-identify and acknowledge the right to self-determination, especially when it comes to naming one’s own experiences since not everyone will identify as a survivor and the right to name one’s own experiences should be explicit throughout the Inquiry process, including internet and print materials.
- The Inquiry should create safer spaces for Indigenous women who sell or trade sex to tell their stories and should acknowledge their expertise especially when it comes to the violence they have experienced.
- The Inquiry should examine the current prostitution provisions (including recently enacted provisions) and how these provisions contribute to the violence that Indigenous women who sell or trade sex experience. In particular, the Inquiry should examine how these provisions preclude people from creating safety networks or support systems, and how these provisions foster unsafe situations that encourages violence.
- The Inquiry should create safer spaces for Indigenous women who sell or trade sex that respects their privacy and anonymity because of the high risks of criminalization and stigmatization, as outlined by the Supreme Court of Canada, and at the same time, these safer spaces should also recognize the risk of increased harassment from others, including community members or authorities such as policing or child welfare agencies, and accommodate the accessibility needs of all.
- The body conducting and directing the Inquiry should include either a peer-led organization who works directly with Indigenous women currently selling and trading sex or individuals who have lived experience and who are willing to respect these invaluable experiences to sit on the commission.
- The Inquiry should continue to provide the social, cultural and financial support to hear listen to those who come from northern or rural areas and provide feedback from an intersectional perspective.
- The Inquiry should remain alert to the risk of essentializing Indigenous women’s and girls’ roles as primarily familial roles (i.e., mothers or daughters) through Indigenous laws and thus, the Inquiry should respect the diversity of experiences of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit folks by remaining alert to the potential to essentialize their roles and responsibilities through Indigenous laws.
Within the last several days, I reflected on the families’ strength and courage to come forward, carrying the stories of their loved ones: the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit folks. Nothing is more important than the space created by the pre-Inquiry consultations for some of these stories to be heard. I deliberately use the word, “some”, not to say the space created was limited, but because not all stories are ready to be told.
Some people are still grieving the loss of their loved ones. Others are still working through their anger, hurt and pain. And so, I make these submissions while recognizing that not everyone is ready to tell their stories. I also recognize that not everyone has the words to tell their story, but not because they lack the vocabulary or they don’t know how to use the words. Rather, there are sometimes no words to describe the pain, the loss, and the hurt from losing a loved one or no words evocative enough to describe the violence that one may have experienced nor its resulting trauma. As such, this submission consists of recommendations shaped by my story, my experience, my knowledge and my truths.
My first recommendation for the Inquiry is to acknowledge that not everyone will identify with the term survivor and to have explicit reference to the right to self-identify or the right of self-determination to name and label one’s experiences, especially for Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit folks who continue to negotiate and navigate through spaces to avoid violence. When I first read the text on the Government of Canada’s website, “Designing a National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls: A Discussion Guide,” I sensed that my story did not fit: I did not lose a loved one to direct colonial and gender-based violence. Yet, I have many friends who continue to sell and trade sex, and continue to experience colonial, gender-based violence. In other words, none of my family members nor friends have ever been reported missing or murdered but I know many who continue to work in criminalized spaces that undermine their safety. More importantly, I sensed my story did not fit because I did not and do not identify with the term survivor. I am not a survivor of violence; I continue to negotiate and navigate through spaces to avoid, manage or de-escalate violence. I have experienced violence and the risk of experiencing more violence has not diminished.
My second recommendation is that the Inquiry takes the time to listen to Indigenous women who sell or trade sex. I understand that some people may still be working through their loss. I choose not to speak at the pre-Inquiry consultation I attended knowing that many Indigenous women enter the sex trade, experience violence and then, are reported missing or murdered. I respect that some families may be angry at the pimps or johns. I felt that it was not the time or place to bring up the recommendation that the Inquiry examine current prostitution provisions as contributing to the violence that Indigenous women who sell or trade sex may experience, regardless of the social locations they occupy. That is to say, Indigenous women who sell and trade sex tend to work outdoors but there are also some who work indoors. Yet, regardless of where Indigenous women sell or trade sex, the risk of police violence and harassment remains the same due to the continued criminalization of Indigenous women’s bodies and sexualities and due to the increasing surveillance and infantilizing of Indigenous women via human trafficking narratives.
For instance, most anti-human trafficking initiatives focus on public awareness and education. These campaigns primarily emphasize educating hoteliers, condominium concierge or other similar businesses or corporations on how to “spot” the signs of a human trafficking victim. However, these initiatives are usually informed by racist and classist assumptions about Indigenous women, especially Indigenous women who frequently travel to urban centres. In Frank v AJR Enterprises Ltd (cob “Nelson Hotel Place”), an Indigenous woman was kicked out of a hotel at 2:30 AM because the hotel assumed she was a prostitute and assumed she was “overly drunk.” The narratives that most Indigenous women who sell or trade sex are likely to be trafficked and likely to be controlled by substances, including alcohol, inform these public awareness and education campaigns. These anti-human trafficking initiatives, then, call for increased policing of these spaces and places, which have the potential for increased discrimination against Indigenous women like in Frank v AJR Enterprises Ltd. Further, it is Indigenous women, girls and their families who experience the consequences of calls for increased policing. Such consequences of increased policing include increased police harassment and surveillance informed by racist and classist assumptions about Indigenous women in the sex trade. Thus, as my second recommendation insists the Inquiry take the time to listen to Indigenous women who sell or trade sex, it is important to listen to all stories and experiences of Indigenous women who sell or trade sex because it is these women who understand how anti-human trafficking initiatives have the potential to contribute to more violence in their lives.
Third, I recommend that the Inquiry, in listening to Indigenous women who sell or trade sex, do so in a space that respects their privacy and anonymity. The risk of being outed to their families, friends, employers or other authorities, like child welfare agencies or policing agencies, is very real. Being outed also carries the risk of criminalization and increased violence from others. The Supreme Court decision, Canada (AG) v Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV), acknowledges the reality of being outed. Justice Cromwell for the Court notes:
[Members of SWUAV] feared loss of privacy and safety and increased violence by clients. Also, their spouses, friends, family members and/or members of their community may not know that they are or were involved in sex work or that they are or were drug users. They have children that they fear will be removed by child protection authorities. Finally, bringing such challenge, they fear, may limit their current or future education or employment opportunities.
As someone who has experienced the harms of being outed, including the lateral violence from other women for speaking out about my sex trade experiences, I recommend that the space the Inquiry creates protects their privacy and anonymity, while acknowledging the risks of criminalization and stigmatization, of Indigenous women who sell or trade sex. The space should also acknowledge the increasing harassment from others – community members or authorities – if Indigenous women who sell or trade sex choose to speak about their experiences. Consequently, I would recommend that the body conducting and directing the Inquiry should include either a peer-led organization who works directly with Indigenous women currently selling and trading sex or individuals who have lived experience and are willing to respect these invaluable experiences to sit on the commission.
I also recommend that the Inquiry continue to provide the social, cultural and financial support to hear from those who come from northern or rural areas. I admire the strength and courage of the families and survivors who traveled many hours, sometimes more more than twelve hours, just to get to the pre-Inquiry consultations. Their stories are essential to understanding how violence takes place in northern and rural areas. Also, these stories are crucial to helping the Inquiry grapple with the erosive effects of increasing criminalization of Indigenous women’s movements from the north to the south. I say so in light of the narrative that tells agencies to presume all Indigenous women who move from the north to the south in the context of the sex trade, including those who migrate voluntarily, are victims. While human trafficking is a reality for some, it is not the reality for all Indigenous women who sell and trade sex. Both realities are important to acknowledge, honour and respect.
In the end, I view this Inquiry as an important step in the reconciliation process. Reconciliation, to me, respects and honours the principles of Indigenous law. To me, these principles inform Indigenous people’s relationships to one another, to other communities and to other nations, including Canada. As such, these principles help guide the roles we all occupy. Nevertheless, I recommend that the Inquiry remain alert to the risk of essentializing Indigenous women’s and girls’ roles through Indigenous laws. For instance, though some Indigenous women take on the roles as mothers or wives not everyone chooses to take on these roles. Indigenous women and girls occupy many roles and responsibilities in our communities and nations. Accordingly, the Inquiry should respect the diversity of experiences of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit folks by remaining alert to the potential to essentialize their roles and responsibilities through Indigenous laws.
 Where being outed is defined as someone linking a sex trade identity to a sex trade worker’s real name or as someone revealing their sex trade status, including either revealing their current working status or revealing their past sex trade history/status.