Squirt pulls escort services from gay hookup site

Pink Triangle Press will continue to support sex workers, says ED

Nathaniel Christopher Xtra [Toronto, Ont.]

The gay hookup website Squirt announced Oct 21, 2015, that it will no longer allow its users to advertise their sexual services.

Ken Popert, president and executive director of Pink Triangle Press, which owns and operates Squirt (as well as Daily Xtra), says the decision to remove escort and massage services from user profiles was made to comply with Bill C-36, the Conservative government’s contentious sex work act which, among other things, prohibits the advertisement of sexual services, with a penalty of up to five years in prison.

“Squirt has provided a safe environment for sex workers to advertise their services and find clients,” Popert says. “But to continue to do so under the new law could place the welfare of the business and the security of its members in jeopardy.”

The Conservative government introduced Bill C-36 in 2014, after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down previous Criminal Code prohibitions on prostitution as unconstitutional.

In April 2015, Ontario’s attorney general determined the new law was constitutional and thus enforceable.

“It’s possible that the new federal government will revisit the legislation or that the courts will deem it unconstitutional,” Popert says. “But, in the meantime, our priority is to protect the website, its members’ privacy and our financial integrity.”

Popert doesn’t foresee a constitutional challenge from the media industry.
 “You may feel that we ought to challenge the law,” he says, “but if we were prosecuted they would destroy the business first and then determine whether or not a crime took place. That’s the way these things work.”

Popert says the decision was spurred in part by the August raid and prosecution of the US male escort site rentboy.com.

“That was a bit disturbing,” he says, “because that’s where we market Squirt. We have to assume we are being watched. We’ve had to assume that for most of our 45 years of existence.”

Laura Dilley, executive director of the Providing Alternatives, Counselling and Education (PACE) Society, a Vancouver group that supports sex workers, says the Conservative law’s advertising prohibitions further isolates sex workers.

“When they can’t advertise their services, their health and safety is put at risk because control over working conditions and safety measures is reduced,” she says.

“Before, people would say ‘these are the services I offer’ but now they can’t be very clear; they have to be more vague. They can’t be upfront and put up a listing of what they do, so when they do encounter it has to be negotiated in person or on the phone and that can lead to misunderstandings about their services.”

Dilley notes that Bill C-36 also criminalizes people who keep sex workers safe, including drivers, bodyguards and escort agency receptionists, which in turn drives many sex workers to the street.

“Some of the escort ad websites have been closed, so some workers have been moving to the streets, which can be very, very violent because there is no security or regulations in place,” she says. “At an escort agency, for example, you might have security and other checks and balances whereas on the street it’s everyone for themselves.”

Despite the decision, Popert says Pink Triangle Press, which defends sex workers as part of its mandate to “set love free,” will continue its advocacy through its journalism and activism.

I am a resident of Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, who has been blogging here for nearly 25 years. I enjoy sharing my thoughts and feelings on my own online platform. From 1998 until 2017, I worked as a journalist, and I have posted most of my articles in the 'News' section of this website.