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SEX WORK ACTIVISM in CANADA - Speaking Out, Standing Up, Edited by Amy Lebovitch & Shawna Ferris



1985 - 2000 Edmonton Escort Licence Advocacy

When Ottawa enacted the Communicating (Soliciting) law in 1985, Edmonton proposed bylaws to regulate dating and escort services, exotic entertainers and massage parlours.  Subsequently, licencing of all three categories was enacted.

At the time, the cost of an escort licence was $3600 and all employed escorts needed a police clearance and then needed to obtain an affiliate licence for $100.  Massage parlour licences cost $800 and affiliated providers were licenced for $100 annually.  Over the years, the fees for these licences crept up.

The City of Edmonton did little to police the industry until 1993 when a group of Escort Agency owners got together and pushed the City of Edmonton to force unlicenced escorts to either join an agency, create an agency, or quit the business.  The City compelled the Edmonton Sun (the only newspaper that accepted escort ads) and the Yellow Pages to enforce the bylaws by demanding proof of a business licence before allowing ads to be placed.

Escort agencies typically prefer not to hire employees over a certain age.  In 1993, a thirty year old escort was almost unheard of in the City.  Knowing that, a few older independent escorts got together and decided to buy a licence between them.  They rented an office, installed a business phone set with multiple lines, call forwarded the lines to their cell phones, and carried on business as independents.  Other small groups followed suit and soon there were a large number of escorts working independently, using loopholes within the bylaw.

Unfortunately, the Escort Bylaw was not written to accommodate independent escorts.  The bylaw required someone to be "in the office" at all times that the business was in operation.  It also required that all phones be physically in the office address on record with the City.  Penalties for ignoring this law started at $50 but quickly escalated as non-compliance brought further charges.  The 1985 bylaws predated cell phone popularity.

By 1995, several long licenced escort agencies, again, pushed the City to start enforcing the bylaw with vigor.  They hired a student-at-law who wrote a legal document for the councillors to consider.  A motion to prevent the use the "call-forwarding" to cell phones was soon put forth and succeeded through first and second reading by Council.

An eleventh hour counter was put forth by a small group of independent escorts, led by Carol-lynn Strachan, an Escort agency owner who shared her agency licence with dozens of independent escorts for a nominal monthly fee.  Ms. Strachan had, prior to opening her agency, worked for some of the other agencies that had stringent rules, set penalties for various offenses and high fees that were expected for each client met by affiliated escort, regardless of the success of the transaction.  

Ms. Strachan's group stated that the bylaw put an unnecessary financial burden on independent escorts, both by the prohibitive licencing fees and the bylawed condition that all escorts needed affiliation with an agency.  The third reading was postponed pending further consideration.

For four and one half years, several independent escorts spoke during City Hall and the Community Services Committee meetings ,townhall meetings,  with radio and television station personalities, and met reporters to discuss the issues for local newsprint media.  

We spoke about our experiences.  We made it clear we weren't in the business of dating and escorting.  We spoke of our careers in prostitution, because when we spoke the word, people listened.  Hiding behind semantics was not an option.

We said that the requirement to record the individual addresses of customers was an invasion of privacy.  We told them that cell phones were used by all sectors of society and that we should be no exception.  We told them that agencies with drivers didn't necessarily provide much protection when we were alone in a 18th floor hotel room with a dangerous client.  

Finally, in 2000, Edmonton passed a brand new bylaw.  Much of our concerns were heard and met.  We could have our independence.  We could use our cell phones.  We could use our home addresses for record keeping purposes.  We could log "dates" without writing the client's names or addresses.  But there was a cost.

In order to appease abolitionist's concerns, the City chose to place a prohibitionistic price on the licences.  Each independent escort needed to purchase an Independent Escort Agency licence for $1500.  In addition, each escort then needed to "hire themselves" and buy an escort affiliate licence for an additional $250.  And depending on which City worker processed the licences on that day, some escorts were compelled to pay another $150 for a home business licence as well.  Worse still, there was yearly creep that eventually ballooned the licence costs to $2500 before it was trimmed back to less than half that fee.

The long fought success was a bitter victory and a year later, only ten sex workers found the monies to obtain an independent escort licence.


2002 Sherwood Park RCMP Truck Stop Operation "Kondom"

In 2002, in a small suburb east of Edmonton, the RCMP masterminded Project Kondom.  Fashioning a sting similar to those seen on American television crime shows, the Sherwood Park RCMP called escorts that advertised in the Edmonton Sun.  Posing as a trucker, the RCMP officer gave instructions to the escort to meet them at a truck stop.  Upon arrival at the described 18 Wheeler, the officer would jump out and engage in public conversations with the targets about the price and services offered.  Then, the officer would let the escort know that a room was obtained and if the escort met him at the room, the deal was on. 

The  moment the sex worker arrived at the room, she was arrested for Solicitiing for the Purpose of Communication and after processing, was placed into custody.  Most of the escorts were in custody for 24 hours.

During the 24 hours that Carol-lynn Strachan was behind bars, she asked many times for an opportunity to call her lawyer.  When the lawyer was finally reached, he was misdirected as to her whereabouts and he ended up going to the Edmonton detention facility and waited a few hours, only to find out that Ms. Strachan was in the Sherwood Park jail all along.

"Amanda" was menstruating and asked several times during her incarceration for a tampon or pad, but her pleas were ignored.

"Barbie", emotionally stressed, urinated and was, in spite of requests, never given a change of clothes.

"Donna", a trans-individual, was "patted down" three times because allegedly the incoming officers all needed to see what was going on with her genitalia.

Two drivers were also incarcerated, being arrested for "living on the avails".

Citing alleged human rights violations, lawyers for the sex workers negotiated stayed charges for their clients.  

Upon release, Carol-lynn Strachan went to the media.  Soon, arrangements were underway for a photoshoot as Ms. Strachan stood in front of a big-rig in a tight dress holding a squeegee, citing that her new business would be to clean truck windshields if she lost her escort licence because of the sting operation.  The next day, the photo made the front page of the Edmonton Sun.

Carol-lynn Strachan vs. The City of Edmonton

in 2002, Ms. Strachan began the costly process of suing the City of Edmonton for living on the avails of prostitution.  Twenty Five Thousand Dollars in legal fees and almost two years later, the trial was underway and soon unfolded as an evident disaster.

John Lowman, a criminology professor who's thesis and tenured employment with Simon Fraser University made him a leading expert on prostitution,  took the stand and was examined by the judge.  Lowman was dismissed as a witness, with the juIdge having "found" that the three sex workers that would take the stand as witnesses would be considerably better experts.

The lawyer for the case seemed to forget key arguments and even had a tantrum as he threw legal documents into the air and stomped out of the courtroom.

The judge determined a draw, citing the delayed timing of the lawsuit as a technicality.   The claim was dismissed and costs were awarded to the City of Edmonton.


international sex-workers convention Forum XXX

In 2005, two Edmonton sex workers were invited to participate in Forum XXX, a three day conference in Montreal for sex workers around the world.  It was there the humble seeds were planted that eventually led to the creation of PIECE (Prostitutes Involved, Empowered, Cogent - Edmonton).

PIECE lay dormant until called upon in 2013 after the Bedford vs. Canada ruling that caused three prostitution related laws to fall.  Then, as part of a national movement, PIECE was at the table, discussing the problems with reinstating similar laws proposed in Bill C-36 by the Conservative government.  

At any given time, PIECE has been able to reach out to Edmonton sex workers and allies, writing letters, meeting Federal MPs, Provincial MLAs and Municipal Councillors to discuss adult sex work issues and concerns.  While PIECE has a core membership, the majority of the membership is fluid and transitional, adding a wide array of experiences to each arising project.


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