People who provide outreach to Saint John's sex trade workers are questioning the motives behind a controversial motion approved by city council earlier this week that targets prostitutes.

On Tuesday, Ward 2 Coun. Susan Fullerton, who is also a local business owner, suggested prostitutes could be fined under the Improper Usage of the Sidewalk bylaw to get them off the street.

nb-julie-dingwell

Julie Dingwell says council will be harassing its most vulnerable residents if it cracks down on prostitutes. (Courtesy of Harm Reduction)

Council agreed to ask the police to report back on the idea of using city bylaws against jaywalking and conducting business with someone in a motor vehicle.

Julie Dingwell, a founding member and chair of Saint John's Sex Trade Action Committee and the executive director of AIDS Saint John, says she's suspicious of Fullerton's focus on the area of Waterloo Village, where she owns property.

"I think we have to ask where this motion came from, and is it a self-serving motion, or was it really for the betterment of our city because these sex workers live in our city so the council actually voted to harass our constituents," she said.

Dingwell said the motion left her "speechless" and she has received numerous calls and emails from residents who are "just as stunned" by the idea.

"They’re already extremely marginalized these street sex workers and, you know, it’s very difficult to get them to access services, of course they don’t have much trust. So when our council voted to further harass and hurt these hurting people … I’m just terribly saddened by it," she said.

'I think we just have to push back against these very negative and punitive approaches and continue to work together as a community, as we’ve always done.'—Julie Dingwell, Sex Trade Action Committee

"I can’t imagine that this group of intelligent people, recently elected, would go along with such a motion."

Dingwell contends there are very few community complaints about sex trade workers, many of whom had troubled childhoods involving physical or sexual abuse, or mental illness in the home and may have turned to illegal drugs to "self-medicate."

"None of them ever woke up thinking, ‘Hey, that’s what I want to do with my life,'" she stressed. "This is a very desperate thing to be working the street sex trade. It’s not a nice world to be living in."

If council members genuinely want to address issues around the city's sex trade, said Dingwell, they should be lobbying provincial MLAs for better support services and intervention programs for women working on the street.

"I think we just have to push back against these very negative and punitive approaches and continue to work together as a community, as we’ve always done," she said.