Pornhub: Canadian MPs Finally Invite Sex Worker Advocates

Pornhub: Canadian MPs Finally Invite Sex Worker Advocates

OTTAWA, Canada — Late last Friday, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics of Canada’s House of Commons finally caved in to public concerns about bias and invited three representatives from sex worker advocacy groups to ongoing hearings today targeting MindGeek and Pornhub.

After refusing to hear as expert witnesses from anyone but representatives of religiously-inspired U.S.-based organizations, U.S.-based liability lawyers, Canadian law enforcement and Canadian sex work abolitionists, chairman MP Chris Warkentin (Conservative, Alberta) welcomed Jennifer Clamen from the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform; Sandra Wesley, executive director of Stella; and Melissa Lukings, a University of New Brunswick legal scholar and sex worker.

After Lukings introduced herself, Jennifer Clamen delivered a presentation that was a tour-de-force performance of sex work advocacy that laid waste to several weeks of the committee’s relentless platforming of ideologues whose stated goal is to "abolish pornography."

Clamen’s presentation, which focused on years of experience advocating for sex worker rights and demonstrable harm reduction, was followed by Sandra Wesley, from Quebec-based sex worker rights group Stella, who provided necessary context for organizations like NCOSE and Exodus Cry and debunked the supposed “authority” of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

Unlike previous witnesses, today’s speakers could boast of personal experience as sex workers, as advocates and even, in the case of Lukins, about tech law and cybersecurity.

The Crucial Need for 'Meaningful Consultations' with Sex Workers

Jennifer Clamen delivered her statements methodically, demonstrating her commitment and expertise, and took the committee to task for the biased tenor of its previous hearings, which XBIZ has been covering.

Clamen introduced herself as a representative of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform, an alliance of 25 sex worker rights groups, with a majority led by sex workers working in the sex industry, created in 2012.

The group came together, Clamen explained, precisely for occasions such as these hearings, “as a means to build respect and legitimacy” and “get sex worker voices to parliament.”

The alliance, she told the MPS, has a mission of “building respect and legitimacy for the voices of sex workers and the experiences of sex workers, where we are otherwise ignored and not taken seriously” and “as a mechanism for sex workers to get involved in the policies and practices that affect our everyday lives.”

Clamen told the committee that her focus was to get the parliamentarians to agree on “meaningful consultations” with sex workers, “on the ways and the duty of parliamentarians to take direction and leadership from sex workers, who are really best placed to speak to any policy or practice that may regulate online sex work and online porn.”

Since the hearings supposedly are meant to address exploitation, Clamen acknowledged that it was “important to remain really critical of abusive and exploitative practices,” and noted collective groups where “sex workers have organized against abuse and violence for 50 years.”

“Sex workers are mitigating violence all of the time in the context of criminalization and stigma against the industry,” she added.

'A Hostile Setting'

And then Clamen told the representatives what they have been doing wrong. “We [were] invited last-minute on a Friday evening for a meeting on Monday morning,” she accurately stated.

Sex workers, she said, were not consulted and were not centered in the debate.

Moreover, she told MP Chris Warkentin — who, last week, had shut down a question about inviting sex workers by claiming the speaker “was out of time” — “your committee has promoted a set of values that has been extremely damaging for sex workers to watch across the country and across North America.”

“Alliance member groups and individuals in both countries have been pushing for a seat at this table since Day One of these hearings,” Clamen told Warkentin, who with fellow Alberta Conservative and religious anti-porn groups mouthpiece Arnold Viersen has been dictating the tone of the proceedings.

Clamen accurately told the MPs that since “Day One” they had framed the issue “as one of exploitation.”

“That has been really clear and really harmful,” she added, with sex workers not welcome at the table and being told this committee “was not for us.”

As Clamen put it, the committee hearings had become “what we consider a hostile setting.”

Dangerous Platforming of Ideologues

Instead, Clamen proposed that the committee should have started with “meaningful consultations,” a concept that she summarized as “treating sex workers like experts on the impacts of sex worker-related laws.”

Instead of lawyers and academics — and, she added, about the likes of Exodus Cry’s Laila Mickelwait, "people who don’t work in the sex industry” — the committee should have sought the perspective of “sex workers who are currently working and are most affected.”

She spoke about the anger of sex worker advocates when they realized who the committee was platforming as “an expert in sex work issues.”

Exodus Cry, she asked, or the Canadian federal police? “Hard 'no!' How can any of these people explain to you how exploitation happens? They’re merely providing an ideological perspective.”

Sex workers, she continued, were not asked who their allies and organizations are. Even so, they provided “lists and lists of people.”

“And they’ve been ignored,” she said.

Technical Difficulties and Ironies

Clamen also said she wanted this hearing to serve “as an invitation to open and change” and “center sex workers,” particularly “more marginalized sex workers.”

“No other industry would create regulation without the input of the workers,” she said. “Any approach that fails to consider the needs of sex workers, will harm sex workers — I promise you.”

As Clamen’s eloquent plea continued, she told the committee that “sex workers are systematically ignored in policy that impacts on our lives” and that the committee “needs a dose of neutrality, and a dose of evidence” and “not ideology” and that “stigma is deep and pervasive. And it results in bad policy.”

At that point, something strange happened. One of the francophone MPs started complaining that she hadn’t heard much of what Clamen had said due to various technical difficulties.

Warkentin looked confused and soon everyone claimed that they couldn’t hear Clamen properly due to either “static” or “problems with the simultaneous translation.”

After a few minutes of confusion that derailed any point Clamen might have been making, and which could be heard perfectly on the online feed, the sex worker rights advocate smiled, stating, "the irony of you saying you can’t hear me when I’m talking about sex workers not being heard is not lost. Hopefully, that’ll give you a little smile for the day.”

Clamen only had time for a couple of other informed points. She stated that conflating the issue of “youth exploitation” with claims about all adult content “makes it harder to address actual violence in the industry.”

Moreover, she concluded, “targeting internet sex work during a pandemic is such a violent and threatening move on your part.”

Dehumanizing Sex Workers

Sandra Wesley, executive director of Stella, l'amie de Maimie (founded in 1995), spoke next. She said she had planned to testify in French but since there were issues with the translation, she would do it in English.

Wesley delivered an impassioned rebuke of the committee, and their guiding lights — the campaigns by NCOSE and Exodus Cry to destroy Pornhub, and their ally Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times editorials.

“This committee’s hostility towards sex workers will contribute to violence against us,” Wesley accused. “The actions, so far, of this committee, have been hostile and have contributed to harming sex workers.”

“This is the level of seriousness,” she stressed. “Every demeaning thing, every dehumanizing thing is heard loud and clear by every aggressor, abuser and exploiter out there.”

Wesley connected the motivations of the Atlanta shooter to the committee’s attitude during the hearings.

If the MPs keep platforming people who “want to eradicate us,” Wesley told them, “people take that in their own hands.”

Wesley said she had “no opinion on any specific company, no third party,” referring to MindGeek and Pornhub, but that they delivered technical services that sometimes were used by her sex worker constituents.

Kristof: An 'Exploitative' Journalist

“I urge you in your duties as members of parliament,” Wesley said, “to take a step back and to look in an objective and non-ideological manner at the situation and what led you to decide to spend so much time on a followup of a New York Times article which was written by a journalist with a very long history of exploitative reporting, of sensational reporting, not just about sex work but about sexual violence in general.

“This particular reporter,” she said about Kristof, "has been called out in the past for writing an entirely fabricated story about [sound static] organization which raised a lot of money for this completely fake organization.”

Wesley accused Kristof of using his position “to push an anti-sex work ideology.”

Then, paralleling XBIZ’s January 2021 feature on “The New War on Porn,” Wesley entered into the Canadian parliament record that NCOSE is "a recent rebranding of a group known as Morality in Media, founded specifically to eradicate all erotica literature from bookstores because it went again their Christian values.”

Morality in Media, she illustrated, is famous for “boycotting Disney, wanting to eradicate the National Endowment for the Arts, boycotting Madonna."

“What they want,” she added, “is the eradication of all content from the internet and society that does not meet their view of heterosexual, Christian monogamous relationships.”

Seeing that this wasn’t getting them anywhere, Wesley continued, they rebranded to emphasize panic-triggering notions like “sexual exploitation” and “human trafficking.”

Exodus Cry and SWERFs

She also spoke of Exodus Cry’s rebranding to conceal “fundamentally religious views with very violent views towards specifically the LGBTQ+ community. Their goal is to also eradicate all sex that doesn’t meet their Christian standard. They’re violently anti-gay, violently anti-trans and violently agains sex workers. They despise us and want to eliminate us.”

“Starting an inquiry based on their assessment of the problem will not lead,” to anything positive for the community, she added. “Their only goal is to eradicate pornography.”

Wesley also denounced SWERFs and TERFs, “groups which brand themselves as feminist, based on their own view of feminism,” and which are “increasingly marginalized and excluded from mainstream feminism.”

Speaking to progressive MPs, Wesley asked for “our allies who support sex worker rights to not forget what we’ve learned over the years” whenever they happen to talk about pornography.

Mr. Viersen's Intervention

After these two informative presentations, Warkentin recognized his ally Arnold Viersen.

Viersen completely ignored the witnesses and spent all his time adding the most recent Nicholas Kristof article attacking adult platforms (in last week’s case, focused on XVideos) and reading pseudonymous testimonials about illegal videos he had received in his inbox.

He finished with a pointed, “and that’s what this study is about,” tacitly invalidating the three witnesses.

Liberal MP Patricia Lattanzio chastised Viersen about ignoring the witnesses and told the advocates to “know you are all very much welcome at this table.”

“I feel bad that the two witnesses did not get an opportunity to respond to Mr. Viersen’s intervention,” Lattanzi added, ceding the floor to Jennifer Cleman, who used her time to make an example of what Viersen had just done.

“Thank you for your recognition that we actually said something today,” she told Lattanzi.

“Mr. Viersen’s intervention was the reason why we don’t want to come to committees like this and at the same time we are compelled to,” she added.

Viersen, she said, “showed no interest in anything we said, but completely [disregarded] all our testimony and presentation by holding Nicholas Kristof as some ‘god’ and conflating all of the issues.”

This committee, she concluded, “is, in large part, failing to ask the right questions.”

To watch the entire hearing, click here.

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