Sex workers advocacy group demands Laval retract new restrictions

Advocates for sex workers are demanding Laval reverse its decision to move all massage parlours, strip clubs, and other erotic businesses to a small, industrial stretch of the city.

City announced last week that erotic businesses will be relegated to narrow strip of industrial zone

Sandra Wesley, director of Stella, says Laval's move to limit where sex workers can operate seems to be political grandstanding. (CBC)

Advocates for sex workers are demanding Laval reverse its decision to push all massage parlours, strip clubs, and other erotic businesses to a small, industrial stretch of the city.

The new rules, which came into effect last Tuesday, further stigmatize and endanger the women involved in the sex industry, according to Sandra Wesley, the executive director of Stella, a Montreal-based support group for sex workers.

"A lot of people cheer whenever any action is taken against sex workers," Wesley said.

"It seems really that it's about gaining political points and being tough on sex work because people just don't want to see us in their neighbourhoods."

Stella is demanding the city withdraw its new rules, or at least postpone their enforcement, so the women affected can have time to challenge them.

But according to the city, the rules are here to stay.

"Affected institutions will have to reapply for a new occupancy certificate and massage permit, if applicable, and relocate their activities to the new zone," said Sandra Desmeules, executive committee member in charge of public security, in a news release.

Restricting erotic businesses

The new rules dramatically restrict how erotic businesses operate in Laval.

Previously, erotic businesses were allowed in 14 zones across the city. Now they will only be allowed in one industrial zone.

For Wesley, that doesn't mean sex workers will change jobs; it just forces them out of public view and into situations where they have to work from home or in unsafe areas.

"The consequences will be enormous on the safety and health of our community," she said.

Even La Concertation des luttes contre l'exploitation sexuelle (CLES), a Montreal-based anti-prostitution advocacy group that helps women leave the sex trade, wonders if Laval has a comprehensive plan to regulate the sex trade.

"This looks to us like a short-term solution," CLES founder Diane Matte said of the new regulations.

"What's important is looking at systemic solutions, since the problem is systemic," she said.

Only 5 erotic businesses will be allowed in the industrial zone Laval has designation for them. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Matte is hopeful, however, that women who are considering leaving the sex trade will take this new crackdown as the incentive to do so.

She wants Laval to offer support services to the women who are put out of work by the new regulations.

City responding to exploitation cases

The new regulations are the work of a committee made up of city services, Laval police, and other groups, which were brought together in the past two years to fight the sexual exploitation of minors.

"We cannot trivialize the phenomenon of sexual exploitation," said Alain Meilleur, chief inspector with the Laval police criminal investigations unit.

In Feb. 2016, a string of runaways from a Laval group home rattled the province and left officials worried that local teens were being lured into sexual exploitation.

What are the changes?

From now on, Laval's erotic businesses will have to conform to the following rules:

  • Erotic establishments aren't allowed anywhere but Laval's new zone called Zone IA-134.
  • Zone IA-134 is bordered by Highway 440 to the south, Industriel Boulevard to the east, Berlier Street to the north and Highway 15 to the west.
  • Only five erotic establishments are allowed in this zone and they each can't be more than 250 square feet.
  • Certain commercial establishments will be restricted within 30 metres of the erotic businesses, like schools, nurseries and boarding houses.
  • Any signs or billboards advertising the erotic business are prohibited.