Sex workers saw their incomes disappear overnight when the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread in Canada. Now many are in desperate situations: in need of food, rent, basic necessities. Some are now homeless and without any income.
Some facing especially stark realities are continuing to work — even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Susan Davis, a sex worker and advocate with the B.C. Coalition of Experiential Communities, says she’s aware of many who are still working, including a friend with three children who does sex work to top up her disability support payments.
“She has no choice but to go back to work to feed her kids, and put herself and all of her entire family at risk because of this unreasonable assumption that people who are on welfare or disability know how to live on that so they can make it by, while newly unemployed people are acknowledged by government as needing $2,000 a month,” Davis said..
Many sex workers in Canada either do not qualify for the federal government’s Canadian Emergency Response Benefit or they are afraid to apply.
Many people believe sex work is decriminalized in Canada and only criminal for those who purchase it, but this is a misunderstanding of the law, says Jenn Clamen, national co-ordinator of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform.
There are provisions in the Criminal Code that make workers immune from prosecution, but not from arrest.
“That means sex work is still criminalized for everybody,” she said.
This is one of the biggest barriers for these workers in accessing the CERB. While they are eligible for this benefit, as is anyone who has made at least $5,000 in the last year and has lost their income to COVID-19, many sex workers will simply not apply for it.
“The CERB only allows for people who are documented in some way to apply for it, because it means you have to file your taxes next year, it means you have to be in the tax system, it means you have to be accounted for in that way,” Clamen said.
Kit Rothschild, violence prevention co-ordinator for the Pace Society in downtown Vancouver, echoed these concerns.
“For a lot of people who don’t feel safe filing their taxes as workers, it’s really brought up a lot of stigma in just applying for or trying to apply for government benefits because a lot of people just don’t qualify.”
Workers who are paid through bank e-transfers could be risking their clients’ confidentiality and could be placing them in legal trouble — another reason sex workers would avoid signing up for government benefits that require banking information.
There are also some people who are on government benefits, such as social assistance or disability support, who resort to sex work to supplement the subsistence amounts they receive from these programs. They could be cut off or have money clawed back if they admitted to their additional income in a government application, Rothschild said.
“If they are folks who are on ministry benefits and also working and they maybe don’t claim all of what they’re making, then they are not eligible for CERB, but nobody who’s on disability or welfare right now is being given enough money to actually take care or their health,” she said.
For those who are still working, due to a lack of other options, they are now also being surveilled and policed more heavily than before, says Jelena Vermilion, executive director of SWAP (Sex Workers Action Program) Hamilton.
“Because they’re forced to (work), whether indoors or on the street, what’s going to happen is they’re going to be policed even more and liable to the new fines and potential jail time with the social distancing guidelines,” Vermilion said.
“There’s this compounded harm that we’re seeing.”
Those who have been forced to keep working may also be facing increased personal risk and danger, with increased reports of “bad dates” in some cities, including Victoria, B.C.
“What happens when work tends to dry up is that people take work that they wouldn’t normally take or people that have bad intentions are more likely to target people,” said Rachel Peters of Peers Victoria.
The Canadian Press interviewed a dozen sex workers and people who work with service groups and non-profits that support sex workers for this story, and every one of them said a universal benefit would be a better way to help them, as well as undocumented and migrant workers who also do not qualify for the CERB.
The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform, Clamen’s group, has been asking Ottawa to create ways that sex workers and migrant workers can receive financial aid to help them survive the pandemic, including pushing for a universal basic income.
“We recognize they’re not going to offer the world, but we’re saying if you’re recognizing that certain communities are marginalized in this process, here’s a way to do it and one of those ways is to give money directly to groups who are directly in touch with this community,” Clamen said.
The federal government says it recognizes COVID-19 and the associated emergency can harm the economic security, health and safety of women, including those involved in sex work.
Money has been given to shelters, sexual assault centres and other organizations that serve women, said Alex Howell, a spokesman for Women and Gender Equality Minister Maryam Monsef.
“The government of Canada has introduced measures that will help to address the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable people, including those involved in sex work. Women and Gender Equality Canada received up to $40 million to support shelters, sexual assault centres and organizations serving women who are the hardest hit by COVID-19.”
But the people on the ground say that money is not making it into the hands of sex workers.
A number of service organizations have begun trying to fundraise themselves in the absence of federal aid. Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project together with Butterfly, a sex-work advocacy organization for migrants, have raised over $80,000 for an emergency relief fund and are distributing the funds in $100 disbursements.
Valerie Scott, a sex worker in Toronto who also does advocacy with the group Sex Professionals of Canada, says she is disappointed that Ottawa has not come forward with more direct help for the marginalized women in her field.
Scott says sex workers are “reeling” now from the loss of income and are feeling invisible to governments.
“This is not a time for governments to play politics,” she said.
“When I get calls from women who are crying because they’re terrified of going to a shelter, you just don’t know what to do.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2020.
Meet the 'forgotten Canadians' stranded in remote corners of the world demanding help to get home – CBC.ca
An Alberta woman is scared for her life in Peru as the death toll rises and the health-care system collapses around her.
A 75-year-old pensioner from Nova Scotia is stranded alone on the top of a mountain in a tiny village in Central America, with no way out.
A Montreal woman is living in a $7-a-day hotel room in the mountains of locked-down Nepal and told the local hospital ran out of necessities to help those with COVID-19.
They are the outliers: the last 10 per cent of Canadians stranded abroad who want to come home during a deadly, worldwide pandemic. But the Canadian government may not be able to repatriate them all because of the complexity of their cases.
“It’s a possible death sentence for a lot of Canadian citizens and residents in Peru,” Ana Nehring, the Alberta woman, told CBC News from Lima. “We need to be rescued. We need to get out of here.”
Ottawa is down to its final push to retrieve Canadians, with over 40,681 already repatriated from 107 countries on 378 flights since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
But the federal government said these last cases are often the most difficult and unusual. In some countries, there aren’t enough Canadians to send an entire plane. In others, repatriation flights are barred from entering. Instead, consular services is helping some citizens hunker down until countries reopen.
But some of those stranded say they are in precarious situations and want Canada to find a way to get them home quickly.
“We are working to help as many Canadians as possible return home, but some may remain outside the country for an indeterminate period,” Angela Savard, a spokesperson with Global Affairs, said in a statement to CBC News.
Stuck in Peru: Ana Nehring, Lise Blais
Nehring flew to Peru on March 3 to rush to her mother’s side after she suffered a stroke. She’s an only child and needed to find her mother a long-term care facility to live in.
But two weeks later, Peru entered a lockdown that closed its borders to international travel. It’s been three months and Nehring is still stuck in Lima.
She says the country is struggling to control its outbreak and all she wants to do is get home to St. Albert, Alta.
According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, Peru has more than 160,000 confirmed cases, tenth-most in the world, with more than 4,500 deaths.
“We need more help,” Nehring said. “I’m scared. We should not be here. The numbers are growing very rapidly….There are a lot of people dying.”
She tried to land a spot on one of Canada’s nine repatriation flights out, but all the seats were taken. Global Affairs told CBC News that it brought more than 2,650 citizens back to Canada on those planes. But it ended the efforts in mid-April because the Peruvian government stopped allowing repatriation flights into the country.
Nehring wants the government to send a military aircraft to pick up a group of roughly 200 Canadians, according to a Facebook group’s tally, who want to leave Peru. She says the streets are filled with military and police. She’s haunted by seeing a dead body on the ground on the way to the grocery store, but can’t say for sure if it was related to COVID-19.
Lise Blais is also in Lima and worried about catching COVID-19 as the number of cases climb. She’s trying to get home to Montreal and says she’s been stuck inside the same four walls since March 16. Blais wants to get back home to her son and grandchildren.
“Life is very difficult,” said Blais. I’m really scared to death.
“It’s so stressful. I’m losing my appetite. I don’t sleep well. It’s like a permanent nightmare. Living and waiting, it’s really terrible. Enough to make stomach ulcers.”
WATCH | Lise Blais, stranded in Peru, says, ‘The waiting is killing me’
Stranded in Costa Rica: Maxine Bruce
Maxine Bruce is a 75-year-old Canadian snowbird stuck in Costa Rica. She’s been hauling her groceries two kilometres up a mountain, because she won’t get in a taxi due to the pandemic. She’s walking even further to try to scour the nearby village of Santa Maria de Dota for supplies and medications she’s run out of.
Bruce says she’s trying to get home to the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia to help her brother who has early onset dementia. But for some reason, she says, Global Affairs Canada thinks she’s in another Central American country. She says the government has been sending her a “wealth of information applicable to Panama.”
The Canadian government has been “useless,” she said.
“We’re the forgotten Canadians stranded in these places. Basically they said it was my choice to travel so it’s down to me to get myself out of this mess.”
Trying to get out of Ecuador: David Robinson
David Robinson has spent the past year living on the ocean in Manta, Ecuador, as he had a medical procedure done to his foot. Now he wants to “get the hell out of Dodge,” but said Canada’s consular services told him the only way out is by a U.S.-chartered flight. Canada warned that even the American flights were ending soon.
He’s upset he was told to contact the U.S. Embassy for help.
“It’s maddening,” he said. “It’s literally disgusting. I’ve been paying taxes since I’ve been 15 and this is what they’re doing to me now: saying ‘whatever.'”
Hunkering down in Nepal: Catherine Breton
Catherine Breton has hunkered down in a cheap hotel with a small group of German and British tourists who are also stranded. She’s in Bandipur, a small village in the mountains in Nepal about an hour walk from a main road or a 12-hour bus ride from the capital, Kathmandu.
She was on a spiritual journey to study Buddhism when the pandemic hit. Breton said she couldn’t afford $4,000 for a spot on an earlier repatriation flight, so she waited thinking there would be other options. She learned the hard way that there aren’t.
“I’m getting scared,” she said. “There’s more and more cases.”
Nepal has more than 1,500 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The Canadian government offers a $5,000 emergency loan to people stranded abroad for “life-sustaining needs.” Robinson said she’s struggled to get out of debt before and had promised herself she’d never do it again, but realizes now she has no other choice but to take the money.
The local hospital told her they do not have ventilators and have run out of supplies needed to treat people with COVID-19. She says a Facebook group she’s part of lists more than 70 Canadians in Nepal who want to travel home. Yet she’s been told by consular support in India there aren’t enough people for a repatriation flight.
“I just don’t understand that,” she said. “They have the possibility to do it; I don’t know why they don’t.”
Anti-racism protest in downtown Montreal turns violent – CBC.ca
A Montreal anti-racism protest demanding justice for a black Minnesota man who died following a police intervention last week degenerated into clashes between police and some demonstrators on Sunday night.
The march had snaked its way through downtown Montreal on Sunday afternoon without incident, but Montreal police declared the gathering illegal about three hours after it began when they say projectiles were thrown at officers who responded with pepper spray and tear gas.
Tensions flared after the formal rally had concluded and some demonstrators made their way back to the starting point, in the shadow of Montreal police headquarters downtown.
Windows were smashed, fires were set and the situation slid into a game of cat-and-mouse between pockets of protesters and police trying to disperse them.
Demonstrators had gathered to denounce racist violence and police impunity — both in the U.S. and at home in Montreal.
George Floyd died in Minneapolis on Monday after pleading for air while a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck.
His death has sparked nightly protests in major U.S. cities.
‘It keeps happening and it’s happening here’
The Montreal rally was a solidarity gathering with American anti-racism activists, but organizers say it is also an opportunity to express their own anger at the treatment of marginalized people in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.
Some of the names invoked included names of black men killed during Montreal police interventions in recent years.
“It’s important for everyone to be here today so that we can have a lot of voices to say the George Floyd event is not a singular event,” said Marie-Livia Beauge, one of the event organizers. “It keeps happening and it’s happening here in Montreal so to be here together is to show solidarity and denounce the injustice.”
The gathering drew Montrealers of all stripes and backgrounds, holding posters with slogans. Protesters chanted “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe” — what Floyd was caught on video saying.
They took a knee in unison several times in solidarity with the movement.
But when Montreal police called on protesters to disperse, some refused.
‘If you support them, you’re against us’
Leah Blain, 20, chose to continue demonstrating and was part of a group trying to reach police headquarters when she was met with pepper spray.
“We were just standing here. We were showing our support and this is what happens. The police support a system that’s against us, so if you support them, you’re against us,” she said.
On Sunday evening, Steve Haboucha was clearing broken glass from the frame around the front window of his Koodo Mobile store on Montreal’s Ste Catherine Street. Security video from his store, he said, shows a stream of people entering the cell phone shop and leaving with accessories over a 30-minute period.
About 10 police officers were there, standing over broken glass, keeping guard outside. Haboucha said the police told him there were “hundreds” of stores that suffered the same fate along the route the protesters took.
A few kilometres west on the same downtown street, the loud pops of cracking glass echoed through the neighbourhood, preceding a group of people who turned their destruction onto seemingly random targets.
On one corner, a group used a metal construction sign and its steel stand to smash the front glass of a payday loan branch.
Smashed windows, looted stores
All along Ste Catherine, people smashed windows and looted stores, while trying to evade police.
Before chaos erupted, Vincent Mousseau, a social worker and community organizer, called out Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante, who earlier Sunday had condemned “violence, racism and systemic discrimination” in a series of tweets.
Mousseau cautioned against empty words from leaders.
“In fighting this, we need to ensure our movements are not co-opted to stifle our anger with their kind word and simultaneous inaction,” Mousseau said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers repeatedly told people to spread out, trying to find a spot where a two-metre distance could be maintained.
Despite a majority of people wearing masks and organizers squirting hand sanitizer, the numbers attending made distancing impossible.
The location adjacent to Montreal police headquarters was packed, with police closely guarding the building that houses their brass.
Doctor urges pandemic caution
Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s director of public health, told Radio-Canada on Sunday evening that he recognized the importance of the cause but urged hand washing and for anyone exhibiting symptoms to let health authorities know they attended the protest.
Around the start of the demonstration, Montreal police took the unusual step of issuing a tweet saying they were dismayed by the death of George Floyd.
“Both the action taken and the inaction of the witnesses present go against the values of our organization,” the force tweeted, calling for a peaceful demonstration.
“We respect the rights and the need of everyone to speak out against this violence and will be by your side to ensure your safety,” the police said.
The Montreal rally followed one in Toronto on Saturday, which remained peaceful.
Canada approaches 91K coronavirus cases; sharp rise in daily deaths due to glitch – Globalnews.ca
Canada’s new coronavirus cases remained in the triple-digit territory for the sixth day in a row, for a total of nearly 91,000 infections.
The vast bulk of the 756 new COVID-19 cases stem from Quebec and Ontario, which collectively account for a majority of the national death toll and caseload. More than 48,000 people are considered recovered so far across Canada.
The death toll rose by 221 on Sunday — but 165 of these were fatalities that date back several days.
This is because Quebec reported a sharp rise in deaths — 202 in total — on Sunday due to a technical glitch. Only 37 of these deaths were from the last 24 hours, while the rest of the fatalities date back several days and weren’t taken into account earlier due to technical issues.
That leaves Sunday’s daily death toll, using figures from the past 24 hours, at 57 — the lowest it’s been since early April. The overall death toll stands at 7,295.
Quebec, the hardest-hit province in Canada, saw 408 new cases, bringing its total to more than 51,000 cases, including more than 16,000 recoveries. More than 4,600 people have died.
Ontario announced 326 new cases of COVID-19, and 19 new deaths, bringing figures to more than 27,800 cases and 2,266 deaths. More than 21,000 cases are deemed recoveries.
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Alberta reported 18 new cases and no new deaths. The province has now seen more than 7,000 cases of COVID-19, with 89 per cent of them recovered so far. The death toll stands at 143. Stage 1 of the provincial reopening plan launches Monday. Anyone in Alberta can get tested for COVID-19, symptoms or not.
New Brunswick reported three new cases on Sunday. All are at a long-term care home, in people aged between 80 and 89.
The province was almost clear of all its COVID-19 cases until a new cluster appeared in Campbellton region, after a doctor who visited Quebec earlier in May did not self-isolate upon return. The community now has 12 active cases, while 120 prior cases throughout the province are considered resolved.
Saskatchewan reported one new case, for a total of 646 cases, and one new death, raising its death toll to 11. More than 580 people have recovered.
No new cases
Nova Scotia reported no new cases and deaths, as did Newfoundland and Labrador. There are 1,056 cases in Nova Scotia, including 15 active cases. Sixty people have died and the majority of fatalities are connected to one long-term care home in Halifax.
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Newfoundland and Labrador remains at 261 cases and three deaths, with 255 recovered and three active.
Manitoba also reported no new cases. The province has 10 active cases left, with nobody hospitalized.
All cases resolved
Prince Edward Island’s 27 cases of COVID-19 have been resolved for some time. The Northwest Territories and the Yukon also have seen all their cases resolved.
Nunavut remains the only region in Canada that has not seen a confirmed case of COVID-19.
British Columbia had no figures to report on Sunday.
Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 6.1 million people and killed more than 371,000. The U.S. accounts for the most number of cases (nearly 1.8 million) and the highest death toll (more than 104,000).
— With files by The Canadian Press
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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