Sex Work In Montreal: First Location Report

We’re considering possible locations for gameplay: here’s the first.

The intersection of Ste. Catherine and St. Laurent was once considered the heart of Montreal’s red light district, but sex workers have been pushed out due to gentrification and now work in more dangerous, isolated areas of Montreal (The Canadian Press, 2012). For example, there has been a rise in the number of prostitutes working in Ahuntsic and in the borough of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (Plourde 2012; Normandin 2012). Stella, a Montreal community organization serving sex workers, reports that gentrification in Montreal has also led to a shortage of affordable housing for sex workers (Stella, 2007).

Based on data collected in 1991, Shaver (1996) found that there were four female street workers to every male street worker in Montreal. Women worked for an average of twenty male clients per week, while male street workers worked for ten.  Male sex workers earned $600-$800 per week, while the women collected $1800-$2000 per week. 50%-70% of street workers in Montreal and Toronto worked for themselves.

Sex workers in Montreal are discriminated against by police, who in the past have used jaywalking and loitering tickets as a way to restrict and penalize sex workers (Stella 2007). Stella supported sex workers in fighting these tickets in October 2001. However, the judge’s ruling was problematic. He mandated for police to instead use the criminal code and municipal zoning restrictions to arrest and penalize sex workers. Consequently, arrests rose from 48 in 2001 to 825 arrests in 2004. The Quadrilateral Restraining Order is particularly challenging for sex workers in Montreal. “At times, a zoning restriction is given to a sex worker for the entire island of Montreal!” (Stella, 2007).  Sometimes banned from their own neighborhoods or from areas where they access essential services, sex workers are often forced to break the conditions of the order. Furthermore, these zoning restrictions lead prostitutes to work in unfamiliar areas, putting their safety at risk. In the early 1980s, Montreal created a bylaw outlawing prostitution, but the Supreme Court of Canada later ruled it to be unconstitutional (Sex Trade and Advocacy Research, 2006).

Larsen (1996) found that Montreal police used surveillance as a central tactic to find and arrest prostitutes and clients, instead of entrapment techniques used in other major Canadian cities. He also concluded that Montreal police tried to maintain an equal proportion of male to female arrests in relation to prostitution (sex workers and clients).

Montreal is renowned in North America for its sex industry (Montpetit, 2012). It is estimated that Montreal has a much higher number of sex-related businesses than other cities in Canada, with 30 strip clubs and 200 massage parlours.

In 2012, mayor Real Menard announced that he wanted to create a “zone of tolerance” for street prostitutes in his borough of Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisoneuve (Normandin, 2012). While the majority of Montreal residents surveyed were in support of the plan, the city condemned the idea.  Similar initiatives have emerged in the past, such as Project Pilot, but were never implemented.

Stella was created in 1995, and was the first community resource for sex workers in the city (Sex Trade and Advocacy Research, 2006). Other Canadian cities had similar resources available to sex workers a decade earlier.

Stella reports that there are 50 to 60 cases of violence against sex workers annually in Montreal, but only 4 or 5 of these cases are brought to court (Stella, 2007).