Some St. John's councillors exploring how to make city safer for sex workers

Maggie Burton and Hope Jamieson working with city staff on initiative to make safe spaces for sex workers.

Maggie Burton and Hope Jamieson working with city staff on initiative to make safer spaces for sex workers

Motivated by a letter from Memorial University students Maggie Burton brought up the idea of making the city safer for sex workers. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

As the weekly council meeting at city hall in St. John's came to a close Tuesday, Coun. Maggie Burton used her time to speak freely to talk about working to create safer spaces for workers in the sex trade. 

The rookie councillor plans to team up with fellow newcomer Hope Jamieson to see if they can spur change.

"We have a moral obligation to make sure that sex workers have safe places to work in the city," Burton said.

"In a couple of weeks myself, Councillor Jamieson and some staff will meet to talk about the status of massage parlours in the city of St. John's and what we should do." 

Spurred by MUN social work students

Burton said a few weeks ago she received a "very thoughtful" letter from three Memorial University social work students.

The undergraduates raised concerns about the City of St. John's not doing enough to help protect sex workers. 

"The city can, through careful regulations and zoning, create places where massage parlours can operate within the city and make it a legal and safe place to work," Burton told reporters after Monday night's meeting.

In 2015 St. John's City Council voted to put a moratorium on issuing permits for adult massage parlours in St. John's. (CBC)

In 2015 city council voted to put a moratorium on issuing permits for adult massage parlours in St. John's. Burton acknowledged that, as well the fact that buying sex is illegal in Canada, but she pointed to the fact that massage parlours are a form in which sex work does operate safely in the city.

No red light district

When asked if this would open up the door to making part of St. John's a red light district as Montreal once had and Amsterdam is known for Burton quickly shut down any notion of that.

"That's absolutely not going to happen. For one, we don't have a population to support a red light district, she said.

Burton says there's no intentions to create a red light district, like the one in Amsterdam, Netherlands as seen in this file photo. (iAmsterdam.com)

It's a balancing act for Burton as she has to consider the concerns of people who live in the city and work outside of the industry. 

"I know from listening to residents concerns as well there are areas of the city that have a higher number of sex workers than in other areas. There are concerns that come from both advocacy and residential side."

While Burton admits she is not an expert on the topic, she said there is a high number of street-based sex workers in parts of St. John's and that she wanted to use her voice to speak up for them.  

"We really need to hear from the people who are active in the field, those who have the right idea of what needs to happen first," she said. "So this is process that takes a lot of time and we are really still working on it here."