Thursday, July 06, 2017

Stop Operation Northern Spotlight. Stand up for sex workers' rights. Don't be the modern-day version of Martin Luther King's blandly dangerous 'white moderate'

I'm adding my voice to what I hope will be an ever-larger chorus of British Columbians asking that police departments in BC refuse to participate in the ill-informed Operation Northern Spotlight campaign to "stop sex trafficking," which has been conducted off and on elsewhere in Canada for a number of years and is modelled on a similar U.S. police strategy.

As you will see from the letter below from the Supporting Women's Alternatives Network (SWAN Vancouver Society), the police campaign most definitely doesn't stop trafficking. But it does do serious harm to adult sex workers just trying to make a living.

SWAN bases its letter on solid sources, and I've included all of them here. If you're not already informed on this issue, please read and learn. Uninformed opinion and myth around sex work continue to cause real harm to people, and do nothing to stop the harms of violence, exploitation and genuine trafficking. Around the issue of sex workers' rights, I'm reminded more and more of Martin Luther King's denunciation in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail of the dangerously passive position of  "the moderate," who talks a great deal of their supposed support for human rights but in fact stands up for nothing (thanks to the late Arthur Manuel for the reminder): 
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
None of us over here on the side of sex workers' rights supports trafficking. But what we're trying to get across to the public is that these kinds of police actions do nothing to help those who truly need the help, while harming Canadian workers who end up working in even more dangerous conditions (or deported back to poverty in the case of migrant women wrongly assumed to be trafficked) as a result of flawed and thoughtless police targeting. 

Yay for Victoria Police Department, who so far gets all of this and works hard to stay above the fray while developing better relationships with sex workers in the region. Here's the letter - please share, support, and stand up for a population whose battle for human and workers' rights is real and immediate.

July 6, 2017

RCMP ‘E’ Division
BC Association of Chiefs of Police
Municipal Police Agencies
Director of Policing Services

Dear Madam and Sirs:

Re: Call for Non-Participation in Operation Northern Spotlight in British Columbia

We, the undersigned, are individuals and organizations deeply committed to the health, safety and human rights of women, men and trans persons involved in the sex industry. As such, we are concerned about the safety and well-being of those in the sex industry who are at heightened risk of human trafficking.

We would like to express our opposition to Operation Northern Spotlight and ask that BC law enforcement refrain from any future participation in this national anti-trafficking initiative. ‘Rescue’ missions such as Operation Northern Spotlight do more harm than good. A quick-fix attempt to deal with a complex issue, Operation Northern Spotlight sweeps up everyone present for interrogation, detention and/or arrest, without adequately distinguishing between those who are underage and/or coerced, and those who are not. (See the following sources: The Use of Raids to Fight Trafficking in Persons, How to Stage a Raid: Police, Media and the Master Narrative of Trafficking, and Canada and migrant sex‐work: Challenging the ‘foreign’ in foreign policy.)

This strategy is one that is based on deception and manipulation, as evidenced by police posing as sex workers’ clients in hotel rooms and ‘shock and awe’ raids on indoor sex work venues. These actions foster distrust and adversarial relationships with law enforcement. Pulling people out of the sex industry without their consent and penalizing those who do not agree to exit the sex industry does not ‘save’ or ‘rescue’ them.

‘Rescuing’ individuals who do not wish to be rescued has multiple impacts. Sex workers report being confused and frightened and may suffer trauma and even exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Sex workers lose income and experience economic hardship. This places sex workers in a precarious position where they must either accept dates or provide services they normally wouldn’t to recoup losses. Operation Northern Spotlight can also have consequences for public health, as sex workers report reluctance to keep large quantities of condoms on commercial premises for fear of raids. Operation Northern Spotlight also has a ripple effect beyond those directly impacted, by driving sex workers further underground to evade police detection and making sex workers less likely to turn to law enforcement if violence occurs.

In order to be effective and to help exploited youth and trafficked persons, anti-trafficking solutions must be developed with the knowledge and expertise of sex workers. Combating human trafficking and upholding the rights, dignity and safety of sex workers should not be mutually exclusive.

As you are aware, British Columbia has a tragic history with regards to the deaths and disappearances of sex workers. In the past decade, progress has been made between law enforcement and sex workers to right the wrongs in the aftermath of the serial killer. Forsaken, the report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, provided guidance to law enforcement on how to enhance the safety of vulnerable women in the sex industry. Operation Northern Spotlight is incompatible with the recommendations of Forsaken and does not have any place in this local context. 

Targeting individuals in the sex industry through approaches that induce fear and increase mistrust of law enforcement jeopardizes any chance of cooperation between sex workers and law enforcement. This type of repressive enforcement also threatens the foundation of a collaborative, multi stakeholder, community-based approach (See Forsaken recommendation no. 3) that is growing throughout British Columbia – a foundation that so many police officers, sex workers and community organizations have painstakingly built over the last several years. In short, Operation Northern Spotlight jeopardizes our ability to keep moving forward on our shared goals of reducing violence against sex workers.

We ask British Columbia law enforcement to decline any future invitation to participate in Operation Northern Spotlight. If the forthcoming Provincial Sex Work Enforcement Guidelines are modeled upon the Vancouver Police Department’s Sex Work Enforcement Guidelines, as per Forsaken recommendation 5.8, Operation Northern Spotlight will be at odds with provincial guidelines for sex work-related policing approaches.

In closing, we call upon British Columbia law enforcement to work with sex workers to develop best practices to help and support trafficked persons while protecting the safety, dignity and human rights of all individuals in the sex industry.


Andrew Sorfleet, President, Triple-X Workers' Association of British Columbia
Annie Temple, The Naked Truth
BC Coalition of Experiential Communities
Brenda Belak, Lawyer, Pivot Legal Society
Cheryl Giesbrecht
Dr. Lauren Casey
Dr. Sarah Hunt (Kwakwaka'wakw Nation), Assistant Professor, UBC
Dr. Becki Ross, Professor, UBC & Co-Founder West End Sex Workers' Memorial
Dr. Cecilia Benoit, University of Victoria
Dr. Victoria Bungay, Canada Research Chair: Gender, Equity & Community Engagement, UBC
Elizabeth Manning, PhD, RSW
Esther Shannon, Founder, FIRST Decriminalize Sex Work
Gender and Sexual Health Initiative, BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
Genevieve Fuji Johnson, Associate Professor, Simon Fraser University
Hayli Millar, PhD (in Law), Associate Professor, University of the Fraser Valley
Jan Wilson, Executive Director, Prince George New Hope Society
Jody Paterson, PEERS Victoria
John Lowman, Professor, Emeritus, School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University
Joyce Arthur, FIRST Decriminalize Sex Work
Kerry Porth, former sex worker and sex work activist
Options for Sexual Health, Provincial Office
PACE Society
PEERS Victoria
Sanctuary Health
Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV) Society
SWAN Vancouver Society
Tamara O'Doherty, PhD, JD, Simon Fraser University
Vancouver Status of Women
Warm Zone, Abbotsford
West Coast Co-operative of Sex Industry Professionals