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Vancouver's new sex-trade strategy praised by advocacy group

A new municipal strategy on the sex trade put forth yesterday by the City of Vancouver has won the tentative support of a prominent sex worker advocacy group.

"We feel pretty positive about it," says Kerry Porth, executive director of PACE Society, a group working on behalf of street-level sex workers in Vancouver. "Sex work issues in this city are nuanced and complex and so the solutions have to be nuanced and complex as well. This is an excellent starting place."

According to the report released by the city yesterday, the 15 point plan offers "a comprehensive approach to addressing sexual exploitation and sex work through enhanced prevention, opportunities for exiting, and improved health and safety for all Vancouver citizens and neighbourhoods."

While Porth says she applauds many of the plan's recommendations, such as the call to increase support for sex workers looking to leave the industry and the proposed funding of a 24 hour drop-in shelter for workers in Vancouver's downtown eastside, her appraisal of the action plan was not wholly positive.

"We're not entirely happy with the suggestion that the City increase enforcement on clients of the sex-trade," says Porth. "More enforcement on clients means they're more likely to want to meet in clandestine locations; that places sex workers more at-risk."

Porth went on to express concern over another recommendation of the plan that could promote a crackdown on Vancouver's brothels and massage parlors -- far safer locations for sex-workers to ply their trade than the street, she says.

The City of Vancouver could not be reached for comment on this story.

PACE Society, staffed entirely by former sex workers, favours the decriminalization of all aspects of sex work in Canada.

But given the political and legal limitations faced by the city in crafting sex trade policy, the society is largely supportive of the new plan, says Porth.

"It's unfortunate that it took nine years after the arrest of Robert Picton for the city to do a comprehensive report looking at the very obvious harms associated with the sex work trade," says Porth. "But we're pleased that they're finally taking a positing and taking some steps."

The city's proposed strategy was produced by municipal staff at the behest of a July 2009 motion of city council. Council will review the 15 point plan at a Planning and Environment Committee meeting next Thursday.

Ben Christopher reports for The Tyee.

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