‘A violation of their basic rights’: Sex worker advocacy group says police violated their privacy

Montreal police confirm that they raided strip clubs and massage parlours around the city ahead of Grand Prix weekend. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press, File

A sex worker advocacy organization is condemning the actions taken by Montreal police this week.

Ahead of Grand Prix weekend, the group said police visited strip clubs and massage parlours around the city taking note of all the women who work there.

Sandra Wesley, executive director of Montreal sex work advocacy group Stella, said clubs were visited by 20 to 30 police officers at a time.

“They lined up all the women, asked for their IDs and took note of their tattoos and piercings and stamped their wrists when they were done,” said Wesley. “They said they were creating a database.”

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Constable Jonathan Martel, head of the Montreal police communications team, confirms that the raids took place and said that they were part of the RADAR operation, the police’s anti-sexual exploitation program.

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Martel told Global News the visits were to ensure that no minors were working at the establishments, that the women were all working legally and that no one was being sexually exploited. They do this before every big festival weekend, he said.

The ID checks were voluntary, said Martel. If the women refused to comply, however, police would ask to speak with management. Martel denies that officers took notes on women’s bodies or that they were creating any kind of sex worker database.

“They told women that they were noting their tattoos and piercings because it’s a way of identifying our bodies if we are found murdered,” said Wesley. “If they are denying this, they are lying,” she said. “We have reports from many, many women and they all have the same exact story.”

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Police invading their workspaces and taking note of their bodies is extremely traumatic and a violation of their basic rights, said Wesley.

She said it’s not at all about their safety, but an aggressive scare tactic to get women to stop working in the industry.

Sex workers should have the same rights to privacy as everyone else, said the executive director.

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“If the cops were to show up at any other workplace and document people’s bodies, everyone would be outraged and see how completely violating that is,” she added.

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