Edmonton, Canada Sex Workers Find Way to Access COVID Relief Aid

EDMONTON, Alberta—Sex workers have been perhaps the hardest hit of all workers by the economic shutdowns caused by the coronavirus crisis. With a profession that remains criminalized in many countries, including in 49 of the 50 United States, sex workers have been unable to receive financial aid as part of government relief packages, even as their customer base has largely evaporated due to fear of contracting the virus. But in one Canadian city, a quirk in local laws has provided sex workers with a badly-needed lifeline, according to a report by Vice.com. In Canada, to be eligible for payments under the country’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program, workers must show that they earned at least $5,000 in taxable income (about $3,600 in U.S. cash) over the last 12 months. That prerequisite counts out most sex workers, who are generally forced to work in the underground economy, and could not pay taxes without risking arrest even if they chose to do so. Though selling sexual services is decriminalized in Canada, most other activities associated with sex work—including paying to receive sex—remain illegal, effectively keeping sex work as a criminalized profession. In Edmonton, Alberta, however, the city issues licenses to escort services as massage parlors. The licenses allow sex workers to operate as legitimate businesses, and to report their taxable income to the government. As a result, at least some sex workers in Edmonton have been able to access CERB payments of $2,000 ($1,400 U.S.) per month. Not a lot, but enough to stay afloat. “I was going back and forth with my landlord, getting eviction notices,” one Edmonton sex worker told Vice.com. “As soon as I told them I’m getting CERB, they got off my back.” In the rest of the country, and the world, the economic situation for sex workers remains dire. Only Switzerland has yet allowed sex work to resume, giving the green light to red light districts on June 6. Many other countries, such as the Netherlands—where sex work has long been legal—have pushed sex workers to the back of the line, keeping them idle at least until September even as other businesses involving close personal contact have been allowed to resume operations. Even in the U.S. state of Nevada, the only state where sex work in legal, though heavily regulated, the state’s government-sanctioned brothels have been forced to stay shuttered even as gambling casinos where people gather indoors in large numbers and in close proximity—ideal conditions for spreading the coronavirus—have reopened. Though Edmonton’s licensing laws have allowed sex workers to receive financial relief during the crisis, sex worker advocates told Vice.com that the system allows police to more easily keep sex workers under surveillance. Only full decriminalization will solve the problem of discrimination against sex workers, they say. In addition, Edmonton’s city council is now considering a five-year plan to phase out the licensing program and close down massage parlors there. Photo By 272447 / Pixabay       

written by: Lawrence Avery

source: Edmonton, Canada Sex Workers Find Way to Access COVID Relief Aid | AVN

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