Safety for Sex Workers a Charter Right, says Ontario Judge

The health and safety of Ontario’s sex workers came into the spotlight on September 28, 2010, when Superior Court Justice Susan Himel ruled that laws restricting prostitution put sex workers into danger.

“It’s like emancipation day for sex trade workers,” dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford told a press conference.

“Finally, somebody listened,” said Alan Young, a York University law professor who did much of the legal work on the case.

The case involved two prostitutes and a dominatrix in Toronto who challenged the laws that prevented them from opening a bawdy-house to conduct their business. They said doing business on the street put them in danger. Since 1985, more than 100 prostitutes have died in Canada, excluding the more than 100 women who have disappeared in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by other members of the public,” said Himel in her ruling, which said that existing laws violated the women’s charter rights. “Prostitution is not illegal in Canada. However, Parliament has seen fit to criminalize most aspects of prostitution.”

Judge Himel concluded that laws that criminalized operating a brothel, soliciting sex in public, and living off the money made by prostitution “are not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice and must be struck down.” Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to life, liberty and security of person and protects people from government action that puts them in danger. Notably, the judge decided that the government arguments that these laws represented “reasonable limits” as per Section 1 of the Charter had failed to convince.

The judgement will come into effect in 30 days, unless the provincial or federal governments appeal or introduce new legislation that will not endanger prostitutes.

It is likely that there will be a counter-attack on this historic ruling and the right to safety for sex trade workers.

Canada’s Attorney General and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said in a September 28 statement that his government is concerned about all Canadians’ safety. However, the statement emphasized the harm caused by prostitution, rather than the harm suffered by prostitutes. “We will fight to ensure that the criminal law continues to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution to both communities and the prostitutes themselves, along with other vulnerable persons,” said Nicholson.

The Christian Legal Fellowship, right-wing association REAL Women of Canada, and the Catholic Civil Rights League also sided with the provincial and federal government on the case. The Christian Legal Fellowship also ignored the reasoning that Canada’s anti-prostitution laws were resulting in the abuse and murder of women in its statement.

“By removing what safeguards exist against the exploitation that prostitution represents, this decision will make it much more difficult to prosecute pimps, or offer help to those who want to leave the life,” said spokesperson Joanne McGarry.

The Industrial Workers of the World has long encouraged sex workers to organize themselves and form unions to protect their rights and persons. This ruling is plainly a victory for sex workers in Ontario and it challenges every Canadian to think again about the health and safety of all, regardless of how they make a living.

For more information, visit

GDC: Ottawa Busker Appeals Conviction

When the City of Ottawa installed speakers and started broadcasting muzak in busker Raymond Loomer’s favourite underpass, he cut the speaker wires one day in May 2009. He then taped the wire on the door of the office door of the Downtown Rideau Business Improvement Area, a business lobby group that has waged a campaign to remove street people and performers from the city centre.

As a tin flute player, he was one of several buskers who relied on the unique acoustics of the downtown Ottawa underpass near the Rideau Centre shopping centre to make a living. Loomer is a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). He did not take kindly to having his live music replaced by a machine.

“They were playing music to interfere with our industry,” he said.

City police arrested Loomer and charged him with two counts of mischief under $5,000. He was convicted on May 25, 2010 with a sentence of 12 months probation and 20 hours community service. Loomer represented himself and has appealed, saying the city failed to provide bylaw information he could have used in his defense and that he has rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to make a living and freedom of expression. He objected to the community service as “the slave style practices of government” for appropriating his labour power.

Loomer’s appeal will be heard on November 12, 2010 at the city courthouse.

Ottawa had introduced restrictive bylaws requiring street performers to get a license and perform in designated spots chosen by the city. Ontario’s Safe Streets Act, brought in to target squeegee kids, buskers and other street people making a living on the province’s streets, has set the stage for tighter controls on informal workers.

For more information, visit

EI Raw Deal for Ontario Workers

Ontario workers are getting a raw deal from Employment Insurance (EI) with only 30 per cent of Ontario workers receiving benefits, even if they have paid the premiums.

Formerly known as Unemployment Insurance, this program was created 71 years ago, in 1940, to help workers weather job losses by giving them a temporary income. Yet, after successive guttings by politicians and bureaucrats, the conditions required for newly unemployed to access EI now prevent 70 per cent of unemployed Ontarians from accessing it.

EI has not caught up to the reality of work in Canada, particularly for young workers who are working multiple part-time jobs to pay the bills. Permanent, full-time employment is no longer even an economic goal on the part of businesses and politicians. Neoliberal demands for more so-called flexible forms of employment (contract, temporary, casual, part-time work) are resulting in workers not meeting the hours quota required to qualify for EI, according to an EI report by the Toronto Social Planning Council. (Uninsured: Why EI is Failing Working Ontarians, The number of workers eligible for EI in 1990 was 80 per cent; by the end of 2008, it was 44.5 per cent. In short, this safety net has more holes than cord to help newly unemployed people in Canada, especially immigrants, youth and women.

The result of denying so many EI claims is a $57 billion surplus in the federal EI fund, which both Liberal and Conservative governments have used to balance their budgets, rather than help unemployed workers. In response to the economic crisis, soaring unemployment and public pressure to do something, the Conservative federal government threw labour a bone by adding an extra five weeks for current EI claimants to receive benefits. However, as of September 11, new EI applicants won’t get these extra weeks of benefits if they need them. Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said that her government was sticking to their Economic Action Plan by cutting off the extra EI dollars.

The Workers Action Centre also reported that some employers are also misclassifying employees as independent contractors to avoid paying payroll taxes and EI premiums (Working on the Edge [PDF]). The Workers Action Centre proposes a broader redefinition of what a worker is in Ontario’s Employment Standards Act to remedy this problem.

Toronto’s Social Planning Council says the government can solve the problem primarily by reducing the number of hours needed to claim from 910 hours to 360 hours and to take the best earning 12 weeks over the past 12 months for the payment sum. The result would be that workers who pay into the Employment Insurance scheme get paid out of it. Sounds fair.

Of course, no one is talking about the need for all workers to organize precarious workers into unions and to ensure that unions across the country are strong enough to prevent both company mismanagement and layoffs. EI is a government program and if we have learned anything over the last 71 years, then it should be that governments change their mind all the time and try to erode workers’ benefits and rights. The long-term answer to this state of affairs is a strong, united labour movement that is willing to challenge the government toe-to-toe on this issue and have the full support of its millions of members. Only then will we see the government respond in a way favourable to the workers they rip off today and every day.

Speaking Tour: Workers without Bosses

The popular response to the Argentine economic crisis of December 2001 and lessons for us in Canada – a Québec and Ontario speaking tour presented by the Union Communiste Libertaire (UCL) and Common Cause.

Date: Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Time: 7:00pm – 10:00pm
Location: PSAC building, main floor (wheelchair accessible)
233 Gilmour (at Metcalfe)

We are going through one of the worst economic crises in the history of capitalism and the answers provided by the state and its lackeys are illusory. In addition, faced with this impasse, our leaders are trying to shift the entire burden of the crisis to workers and their communities.

How can we respond differently to this economic crisis? Can we learn from the experiences of struggles that have happened elsewhere in the world?

To consider these issues, the UCL and Common Cause are organizing a Québec and Ontario speaking tour this winter on the response of the Argentine popular classes in the face of a serious economic crisis that shook the country in the late 2001.

From 18 January to 12 February, a militant from the anarchist organization Red Libertaria (Argentina) will travel to different cities in Quebec and Ontario to talk about this subject. He will discuss different forms of resistance developed by the Argentine people to counter the effects of the crisis such as retaking factories and creating self-managed cooperatives. He will also discuss the involvement of anarchists in these different struggles.

Hosted by Common Cause Ottawa
Co-sponsors: OPIRG/GRIPO-Ottawa; Ottawa-Outaouais IWW; Socialist Project. Endorsers: OPIRG-Carleton.

Wage Theft Feature

You may have personally experienced or know someone who has experienced wage theft, which is a very real and frequently occurring form of corruption in many workplaces.

Wage theft occurs when an employer (or ex-employer) keeps some or all of the wages you have earned.  Bosses have all sorts of tricks and excuses when it comes to stealing wages.

If you are experiencing wage theft check out our recently published and constantly updated Wage Theft Feature page, contact us and join us in getting your wages paid with direct action!

IWW: The Fighting Union For All Workers!

Come Out to the O4J Bookfair!

Come on out to the Bookfair on October 17th hosted by Organizing for Justice where we’ll be tabling and selling our Wob merchandise and books along with other great groups and vendors.

Sat Oct 17 from 10:00am-6:00pm at 440 Albert St.

GDC Local 6: Donate to Support Panhandlers Union Organizer Andrew Nellis

The IWW General Defense Committee Local 6 is calling on people in Ottawa and Gatineau to donate to help pay the legal bills of Ottawa Panhandlers Union organizer Andrew Nellis. We’ve won the case: all charges were dropped. Andrew can once again walk freely in the city and continue his work of defending panhandlers from city and police harassment. But the legal bill is still there. Donations of $5, $10, $20 or $50 are most welcome.

Send your cheque or money order to “General Defense Committee”, PO Box 52003, 298 Dalhousie St., Ottawa, Ontario K1N 1S0. Any donations left over will go toward establishing a local defense fund for the Ottawa Panhandlers’ Union, which fights for its members rights every day.

GDC Local 6: Trespassing Charges Against Denis Rancourt Dropped

GDC Local 6 congratulates IWW member Denis Rancourt for his victory. On June 25, 2009, the University of Ottawa dropped its charges of trespassing against Denis for coming onto campus to facilitate a film discussion at his weekly Cinema Politica/Academica, which was open to the public. His graduate student Marc Kelly was also arrested, but released without charge.

Denis is still fighting to get his job back, since his questionable dismissal by the University of Ottawa on March 31, 2009. We urge people to help him get reinstated by sending an email to the University of Ottawa president Alan Rock and please be sure to copy the chair of Denis’ education defense committee

Also, please sign the online petition

Québec’s First Unionized Starbucks

Québec City, July 14, 2009—On Monday morning, the Starbucks Worker’s Union, which is affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), submitted a request for union certification to Commision des relations de travail to represent the employees of the Germain-des-Prés Starbucks, in the borough of Ste-Foy, in Québec City. Recent changes to how the work schedule is managed and new requirements regarding employee availability convinced the fifteen baristas—mostly students—to unite and defend their interests before an inflexible and arrogant employer.

“Starbucks is sort of the McDonald’s of the coffee world. They offer low pay and little job security, but until now, at least our work hours were flexible, which was great for students working part-time,” states union member Simon Gosselin, adding “Our union was formed mainly to fight a clause that requires shift supervisors to work a minimum of 24 hours a week and baristas to work at least 16 hours. This is a terrible change. Because of it, the 6 current shift supervisors will be demoted and they’ll take a 10% pay cut and lose their benefits.”

Since 2004, Starbucks has been the target of an organization campaign led by the IWW, an alternative union mainly active in the United States, but also in Canada, Great Britain, and Australia. “Starbucks claims to be a socially responsible employer that respects communities and contributes to economic development,” states IWW spokesman Mathieu Jean. “But with its unsteady and poorly-paid jobs and frequent infringements of workplace safety standards, Starbucks has more of a tendency to impoverish communities and lower working conditions.”

Despite the multinational coffee company’s lofty social claims, it has been found guilty of violating its employee’s union rights 17 times in the city of Minneapolis alone and has been condemned for anti-union activity by the National Labor Relation Board, an American government organization. Last December in New York, the company was found guilty on 30 similar counts. Many other similar cases are pending.

“We have no intention of being intimidated. If Starbucks wants to play hardball, we’re ready for them.” states Jean. “But we believe this is an opportunity for the company to prove that its claims of social responsibility are more than just a lot of talk. The ball’s in their court.”

-30 –
Andrew Fletcher

Endorsement of IPSM-Ottawa Call-Out

The Ottawa-Outaouais General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World hereby endorses the demands set forth by the Indigenous Peoples’ Solidarity Movement of Ottawa concerning the recent atrocities committed in Peru by the police and the military:

  1. Immediately suspend violent repression of indigenous protests and the State of Emergency
  2. Repeal the Free Trade Laws that allow oil, logging, and agricultural corporations easy entry into indigenous territories
  3. Respect indigenous peoples’ constitutionally guaranteed rights to self-determination, to their ancestral territories, and to prior consultation
  4. Enter into good faith process of dialogue with indigenous peoples to resolve this conflict

Indigenous led protests against new “Free Trade” agreements in Peru have been met with brutal violence by the Peruvian government. The Peruvian police and military murdered up to 100 protesters on June 5/6 2009, and are continuing to terrorize people under a declared ‘State of Emergency’ while blaming the protesters for the violence. The Peruvian government considers the profits made from exploiting logging, mining, oil and agroindustry more important than the lives of protesters and indigenous people.

If we are serious about safeguarding the human rights of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of the Amazon, we need to act now. The violent repression of Indigenous protests and the loss of civil liberties must come to an end. If we want to protect and preserve the Amazon, and its bio-cultural diversity, especially in the face of climate change, there is no better protection than keeping it under the control of those who have maintained it forever. The free trade laws that open up the Amazon to logging, mining, oil and agroindustry must be suspended. Indigenous Peoples’ rights – to self-determination, to their lands and resources, to their lives – must be protected and guaranteed. If we are to stop other atrocities and bloodshed, the battle line must be withdrawn, immediately, and there must be dialogue.

It is essential to understand that this is not an “indigenous issue” or a “Peruvian” issue; this is a global issue; this is “our” issue in the north. Since the 1980s and 1990s, the governments of the USA and Canada — along with our “development” institutions (from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Inter-American Development Bank, to our “aid” agencies [US-AID, CIDA]) — have been pushing for and insisting on the “free trade” trade model of development / exploitation, on the signing of “free trade” agreements. Canada signed a “free trade” agreement with Peru on May 29 2008, and on June 3 2009, Bill C-24 was passed in the House of Commons to implement this agreement. The Peruvian government has also signed “free trade” agreements with the United States, the European Union, Chile, and China, all of which endanger indigenous territorial rights and Amazonian biodiversity.

For in-depth coverage and updates on what is happening in Peru, follow the links below: