British Columbia

Even sex workers need to file a tax return: Vancouver group offers tips as deadline nears

With the tax filing deadline approaching, Canadians everywhere are getting their T4s and financial records in order — and sex workers are no exception.

Working in a legally grey area, many in the industry are afraid to file or unsure whether they should

Vancouver's PACE Society runs an annual sex workers tax workshop. Thanks to an anonymous donor, the sex workers' rights group is also offering to cover the costs of preparing tax returns for clients this year.

With April 30 approaching, Canadians everywhere are getting their T4s and financial records in order to meet the 2017 tax return filing deadline. 

Sex workers face the same obligation as every worker in this country which is why Vancouver's PACE Society, a sex workers' rights organization, ran its second annual Sex Workers' Tax Workshop on March 1. 

PACE Executive director Laura Dilley said a dozen people attended this year's workshop where practical advice on things like expenses, deductions, accepting payment in bitcoin, GST and PST and record keeping was dispensed.

Many more from across Canada tuned in online and submitted question via email.

"The folks who came to our tax workshop were indoor workers," said Dilley. "We had dominatrixes, cam workers, we had escorts and dancers." 

Sex work exists in a legal grey area in Canada. While the work itself isn't against the law, purchasing sexual services is.

The built in contradiction around the legislation means sex workers are often unclear and afraid when it comes to the mundane chore of filing taxes.

But not filing comes with long term ramifications, including missing out on potential benefits like the Canada Pension Plan. That's why PACE launched the workshop last year.

The PACE Society team started offering the tax workshop last year. Executive director Laura Dilley say its online Sex Workers' Tax Toolkit has been accessed over 2,000 times. (PACE Society)

"It's the one reason we really wanted to provide this service," said Dilley. "We saw that the older adults who engaged in sex work hadn't filed their taxes because sex work was criminalized.

"They didn't have any safety net for retirement, because they weren't paying into CPP which is something most Canadians rely on."

The CRA has a tax code number for sex workers — 892100 — which is also is used by online psychics, party planners and personal shoppers.

The workshop makes clear to those who may be reluctant to file a tax return, due to fear or the stigma surrounding sex work, that privacy laws prohibit the CRA from sharing information it collects, including with police, immigration or border agents. 

Dilley says encouraging sex workers to file tax returns is also a way of normalizing and destigmatizing the profession, key in the fight for decriminalization. 

"We know from research and our lived experience in Vancouver what happens to sex workers when we stigmatize them and treat them like non citizens — they end up falling through the cracks and being victims of serial killers.

"We really want sex workers to know that there's a place for them in society ... and that they are valued individuals, just like anyone else."

An anonymous donor has stepped forward to cover the costs of tax preparations for PACE clients this year.