Montreal sex workers' group says closing erotic massage parlours would do more harm than good

For Women's Day, one woman tells her story of harassment during mandatory, unpaid internship

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre is asking for the power to crack down on businesses where the city has reason to believe criminal offenses are taking place — namely erotic massage parlours.

He said Wednesday that he wants the city to be able to shut down businesses engaging in such activity by revoking their certificates of occupancy.

Coderre was in Quebec City at the time, discussing Bill 121 — a bill that would grant Montreal more power in areas currently overseen by the provincial government, like social policy and economic development.

The director of the Montreal-based sex work organization Chez Stella, Sandra Wesley, says shutting down massage parlours will do more harm than good.

"If [Coderre's] going to go after massage parlours, then he's going after migrant women," she told CBC Montreal's Homerun. 

She says it's vulnerable women, like new immigrants, who make up the majority of the sex workers in the industry and that closing massage parlours won't end the sex trade — it will only make it more dangerous for sex workers.

"Preventing us from working indoors, from working together, from setting our working conditions puts us at risk," she said.

Playing political games

Instead of protecting women, Wesley says Coderre and others are using sex workers as "pawns in their next re-election campaign."

She says this is a recurring issue each election cycle, as politicians take aim at sex workers for political gain.

Wesley adds that while the city may continue to try and shut down massage parlours, that won't put an end to sex work in Montreal.

"Sex work isn't going anywhere," said Wesley.

She admits that some residents are uncomfortable with the idea of having a massage parlour in their neighbourhood.

Chez Stella sees these as legitimate complaints and actively works to find solutions between businesses and community groups. 

"We really believe that there is room for massage parlours and all kinds of other sex work establishments in a city, and it can be compatible with a residential neighbourhood," Wesley said.