We acknowledge that we live and work on unceded Indigenous territories and we thank the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations for their hospitality.


Street Sex Work and Canadian Cities: Resisting a Dangerous Order

By Shawna Ferris

Review By Cecilia Benoit

April 2, 2016

BC Studies no. 191 Autumn 2016  | p. 177-179

Street Sex Work and Canadian Cities: Resisting a Dangerous Order aims to give voice to street-based sex workers in urban Canada, in particular Indigenous women who face intersecting stigma associated with sex work, racism, and poverty. It begins with a supportive foreword by Amy Lebovitch, executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada, and one of the applicants who successfully argued that Canada’s prostitution laws were unconstitutional (Bedford v Canada, 2013). The rest of the book is organized in four chapters and a conclusion.

In the first, Ferris examines the “city/whore synecdoche” and the case of missing and murdered women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Canada’s poorest urban neighbourhood. She notes that in one of Canada’s most “sophisticated” and “liveable” cities, Vancouver’s power elite is increasing concerned that sex work causes “bad business” and needs to be separated from the postmodern image of a city aiming to attract global capitalism: “The dissociation of the dead sex worker body from either the image or fate of the city proper would appear to reflect this naturalization of urban living” (42). In Chapter 2, Ferris scrutinizes anti-prostitution reporting, policing, and activism in Vancouver and Edmonton. She highlights two current prototypes in the popular media — the racialized figure of the “Missing Woman” and the pale-skinned faceless “Lone Streetwalker,” neither of which represent the lived experiences of sex workers in the urban landscape. Despite community-building efforts in recent years, Ferris argues that police in Vancouver and Edmonton continue to see sex workers as “the problem.” Project KARE out of Edmonton and the Vancouver Police Department’s strategic plan “constitute institutionalized forms of anti-prostitution work that both support and respond to anti-whore neighbourhood activism” (77). Chapter 3 concerns the technologies of resistance, including the Internet, employed by sex worker activists and organizations struggling to decriminalize prostitution and increase sex workers’ social inclusion. This is an uphill battle because of the formidable anti-sex work “rescue industry” lobbying for the opposite, the meagre financial support sex worker activists receive from city councils and provincial ministries, and the need to embrace specific issues and concerns of Indigenous advocacy groups. In Chapter 4, focused on agency and aboriginality in street sex work, Ferris examines Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed and Beatrice Culleton Mosionier’s In Search of April Raintree, books that bring to life the formidable forces of setter colonialism and misogyny that survival Indigenous sex workers have long struggled against in order to retain their dignity and humanity.

Ferris concludes her book with a call for decriminalization of prostitution and for progressive legislation to help promote the human rights of street-based sex workers. She maintains that for this to happen, anti-poverty, anti-racism, anti-violence, and anti-stigma activists need to join their disparate voices together and press for positive change. Fundamentally, they must also “listen to and account for the concerns of the persons most directly under attack” (182). This book will be of interest to academics, students, activists, and sex workers themselves who are concerned about the criminalization of sex work and the limited rights and social exclusion of sex workers in Canadian society.


Campbell, Maria. 1973. Halfbreed. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.
Mosionier, Beatrice Culleton. 1999. In Search of April Raintree. Winnipeg: Portage and Main Press.

Street Sex Work and Canadian Cities: Resisting a Dangerous Order
Shawna Ferris
Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2015. 272 pp. $34.95 paper