"Sex workers have the right to speak too, party members say"
MONTREAL — A Montreal prostitutes' rights group is forming a federal political party to advance its cause.
The Parti Populaire des Putes, which means popular party of prostitutes, will advocate for the decriminalization of sex work.
"I think most people want prostitution decriminalized. People are ready for a change and are tired of the hypocrisy concerning sex workers" says Marie-Claude Charlebois, of the coalition for the rights of sex workers, which is spearheading the new party.
Ms. Charlebois says organizers have collected about 400 signatures from supporters and will send them to Elections Canada to apply for official party status.
They want to see the Criminal Code amended to abolish the laws concerning prostitution, and may even try to run some candidates in the next federal election.
Currently solicitation, not prostitution itself, is illegal.
"We're going to unite the forces with groups that work all over Canada for prostitutes' rights," says Ms. Charlebois.
One of the fledgling party's main causes is a failed pilot project that was intended to revolutionize the relationship between prostitutes, outreach workers and residents in a downtown Montreal neighbourhood.
The project, which failed in March, proposed a unique approach to dealing with the tense situation where residents and prostitutes vie for the streets, playgrounds and parks.
The project saw police and social workers point sex workers toward help rather than arrest them, and answer residents' concerns.
The plan ignited a hot debate, and angry residents, fed up with the dirty needles and used condoms they say litter kids' playgrounds, argued the project would transform the area into a red-light district and forced backers to abandon the bid.
Ms. Charlebois says she'll argue for another attempt when community groups meet with city officials in September.
She adds that one of the party's biggest hurdles is overcoming the public's impression of prostitutes. It's a view shared by other party members.
"There's very little information among the public about who we are … there are many prejudices against sex workers," said one Montreal sex worker who has joined the new party, who didn't want to give his name.
"Sex workers, like everyone else in society, have the right to speak, the right to intervene in the public space and with this party we're taking those rights."