For Immediate Release: TURN OFF THE SPOTLIGHT: Sex workers and allies urge an end to Operation Northern Spotlight

Posted on behalf of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform – 

For Immediate Release
TURN OFF THE SPOTLIGHT: Sex workers and allies urge an end to Operation Northern Spotlight

October 19, 2017, Canada – As part of the hunt for people who “exploit” or purchase services from sex workers, police forces across Canada held their yearly raids between October 11 -15 on sex work establishments that they call Operation Northern Spotlight. These operations include intrusive and intimidating visits to sex workers to their homes and hotels and other places of work, under the auspices of an antitrafficking initiative. In their press release on October 18th (, the RCMP announced that “police interviewed 324 individuals” who they “suspect to be working in the sex trade against their will, or at high risk of being trafficked”. The criteria by which police assume or determine coercion or risk is unknown, but the proportion of police interviews to the “number of people of people removed from exploitative situations” highlights not only misguided police resources, but
problematic over surveillance and a violation of sex workers’ rights.

Sex workers across the country have reported to our member groups that Operation Northern Spotlight compromises their safety and dignity. The interactions begin with a male or female police officer posing as a client and booking an appointment with a sex worker. Several police officers then appear at the sex worker’s place of work, ostensibly to ensure that no coercion is taking place, but with the impact of intimidating sex workers, violating their right to privacy and putting their confidentiality and safety at risk.

Sex workers across Canada who are victims to this Operation also report feeling confused, frightened, stressed and traumatized after these interactions with police, followed by intense feelings of mistrust in the overall police system.

Operation Northern Spotlight has also undermined sex workers’ health and safety. To avoid the greater scrutiny and law enforcement surveillance, interrogation, harassment, detention, deportation and arrest associated with such campaigns, sex workers are forced to work in greater isolation and secrecy, reducing their capacity to earn money and their ability to negotiate safer working conditions with clients and with third parties.

Campaigns such as Operation Northern Spotlight have intensified an already hostile relationship between sex workers and the police and deterred workers in the sex industry from turning to law enforcement if violence or exploitation occurs. In a survey of Asian sex workers in Toronto and Vancouver, 95 per cent of respondents indicated that they never seek help from law enforcement — even if they experience violence, abuse, harassment or exploitation. In Toronto, not a single respondent indicated that they trusted the police. By alienating sex workers, Operation Northern
Spotlight discourages workers in the sex industry from reporting actual cases of human trafficking to law enforcement, frustrating the ultimate objective of such campaigns. It also diverts much-needed resources to antitrafficking investigations rather than place resources into other forms of services and supports that sex workers need.

Canada’s new criminal sex work laws introduced in December 2014 under the Conservative government’s Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), that wrongfully equate sex work with sexual exploitation and human trafficking have reinforced antagonistic relationships with the police, interfered with the safety mechanisms that sex workers use to stay safe on the job, and increased stigma and discrimination against sex workers. Operation Northern Spotlight perpetuates the faulty logic of PCEPA and continues to perpetuate great harms on sex workers.

Police repression is one of the primary factors that creates vulnerability to violence. A context of repression makes it equally difficult to report crimes for which sex workers are targeted in an environment of impunity. It contributes to a climate of fear and disdain for sex workers that promotes violence and discrimination. Antitrafficking campaigns that conflate sex work and human trafficking impact all sex workers, and particularly target Indigenous women and migrant sex workers, who already have entrenched antagonistic relationships with law enforcement, and sex workers who work indoors.

The Alliance urges law enforcement to put an end to Operation Northern Spotlight. In addition we ask that police:

• Stop using anti-trafficking programs as a pretext for the intrusion of law enforcement in sex work establishments, including indoor sex work businesses and hotels and on the streets with Indigenous sex workers;

• Review existing anti-trafficking policies and programs that equate sex work with human trafficking, and revise policies to remove assumptions that sex work is a form of human trafficking or sexual exploitation; and

• Provide support for Access without fear/Sanctuary City policies that allow migrants to receive essential services such as health care, without fear of deportation.

If law enforcement is genuine in their efforts to support victims of human trafficking, they must work in collaboration with sex workers to develop best practices to help and support trafficked persons while protecting the safety, dignity and human rights of all individuals in the sex industry.

The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform formed in 2012 and is composed of sex worker rights and allied groups and individuals in cities across Canada: Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton,
London, Longueuil, Montreal, Kingston, Québec, Sault Ste. Marie, St. John’s, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, and Winnipeg. Members work together to fight for sex work law reform, sex workers’
rights, and community well-being.

Member Groups of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform:
Angel’s Angels (Hamilton)
Action Santé Travesties et Transexuel(le)s du Québec (ASTTeQ) (Montréal)
BC Coalition of Experiential Communities (Vancouver)
Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Network (Toronto)
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (Toronto)
Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV) (Vancouver)
Émissaire (Longueuil)
FIRST (Vancouver)
Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project (Toronto)
Maggie’s Indigenous Sex Workers Drum Group (Toronto)
Migrant Sex Workers Project (Toronto)
PEERS (Victoria)
Projet Lune (Québec)
Prostitutes Involved Empowered Cogent Edmonton (PIECE) (Edmonton)
Providing Alternatives, Counselling and Education (PACE) Society (Vancouver)
Rézo, projet travail du sexe (Montréal)
Safe Harbour Outreach Project (S.H.O.P.) (St. John’s)
Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) (Toronto)
Sex Workers Advisory Network of Sudbury (SWANS) (Sudbury)
Stella, l’amie de Maimie (Montreal)
Stop the Arrests! (Sault Ste. Marie)
Strut! (Toronto)
Supporting Women’s Alternatives Network (SWAN)(Vancouver)
HIV Community Link, Shift Program (Calgary)
West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals (WCCSIP) (Vancouver)
Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Coalition (Winnipeg)

Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform
Sex Workers, Organizations and Individuals Advocating for Sex Workers’ Rights and Community Well-Being

52: Hope and Resistance – a photo blog

By Leslie Butt
All Photos credits: Kit Sora

I first met Kit when we were both working for a local modeling agency in 2010. I have been following her photographs on her personal Facebook page ever since. When she began posting the photographs from her “52” project, they definitely hit me hard and I knew that a wider audience would benefit from her work. I don’t know many women who have not dealt with body image issues at one time or another, and I feel they are so deeply ingrained into our subconscious and social culture that they are almost unavoidable.


Although only a portion of the population are statistically diagnosed with eating disorders, our culture is rampant with idealistic images of women’s bodies and an inherent pressure to look a certain way and I know that we can work from the bottom-up to change our socially constructed ideas of how we are supposed to present ourselves as women. Although this is only one woman’s journey, I know that it is relative to a large portion of women who struggle every day. This being said, we also have the power to recognize ourselves as worthy, confident and capable women, no matter what our body type.


It is estimated that 1 out of 100 Canadian women will be affected by an eating disorder at some point in their lives. A tragic 10% of these people will die within ten years of the onset of the disorder due to health related complications or suicide (CMHA 2015). Kit Sora, a 24 year old St. John’s woman, has been stunningly capturing both the internal and interpersonal emotions associated with dealing with an eating disorder in a series of photographs entitled “52.” Her goal is take a photograph every week for a one year period.

“The reason I started it was because I could never find the words to put to such important things, so I took to photos,” said Kit when asked to describe her project.

“The photos definitely speak for themselves.”



As of March 2016, Kit has taken 9 incredibly powerful photographs in her series. Kit identifies as a self-portrait artist and states that she has been fighting with mental illness from a young age.

“I’ve been taking photos as long as I can remember, and recently started this project to both spread awareness and make it tangible, as well as for some self-preservation and personal growth.”


Kit’s amazing ability to capture emotion in her photographs, combined with her desire for community outreach, certainly makes her a force to be reckoned with. What started as a New Year’s promise to herself to take one self-portrait per week has become not only an astounding encapsulation of eating disorders, but also a source of hope for others who may be struggling with similar issues.


Kit’s photos can be viewed on her Facebook page,
Anyone struggling with an eating disorder are encouraged to contact the Mental Health Crisis Line at 18887374668 or the Eating Disorder Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador at (709) (709) 7220500.

You are not alone.

Leslie Butt is a writer, artist and mother of two living in St. John’s. Her books “Fifteen” and “Bring on the Dark” deal with struggles of mental illness, addiction and the resiliency of women. Her art has appeared in venues across Canada, and she has been working in community outreach since 2010, with a specific desire to work with struggling youth and sex workers.
She can be followed on Twitter @leslierb123, or her personal blog

Call for Submissions – FemFest NL

FemFestNL is a week long festival of all things feminist, including concerts, film screenings, readings – to be held at different venues throughout St. John’s in August – including a two day conference at The Space! We are asking you to help shape the conference through a call for submissions!

When: August 27th & 28th, 2016

Where: The Space, Harbour Drive, St. John’s

Who we are: A committee of feminist organizations, students and activists who are organizing FemFest NL – a feminist conference to take place in St. John’s. It will be carried out from Aug 26th – 30th, 2016 throughout the city with a two-day forum (Aug 27th & 28th) with panel discussions and lectures, to happen at the Space. For this conference, we will be accepting proposals for panel discussions and lectures based around feminist issues related to Newfoundland and Labrador. We welcome submissions from all women (trans, intersex and cis), all those who experience gendered oppression (including non-binary and gender non-conforming people) and all those who identify as women for the purpose of political organising. The conference events will be open to everyone.

What we would like from you:
Your name and/or organization with short two sentence bios, proposed topic, session type (panel, lecture, workshop, roundtable, etc.), and length of session, how many speakers (and their names and short bios if already planned). We are looking for ideas and topics related to Newfoundland and Labrador feminism to build the conference around and to gauge what our community would like to explore.

Topics to consider related to Newfoundland and Labrador feminism:

Rural feminism
Healthcare (LGBTQ)
Social media activism
Non-white feminism
Women in politics/leadership
Sex work
Arts & culture
NL feminism; where we’ve been & where we’re going

Submissions open from March 30th, 2016 until April 30, 2016.
Please submit your idea to: