“Carceral Harm Reduction”: A Critical Analysis of the Municipal Licensing of Body Rub Centres in Edmonton, Alberta

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Montgomery, Lauren




The legal regulation of sex work in Canada was fundamentally shifted by the Harper government in 2014 with the passage of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (2014). Within this new legal landscape, this dissertation investigates the regulation of indoor-based sex work by exploring the 2014-2015 changes to the Body Rub Centres (BRC) licensing regime and bylaw in Edmonton, Alberta. Scholars have extensively analyzed the effect that the Canadian Criminal Code has on sex work. There is less research on how municipal regulations shape indoor-based sex work, especially in BRCs. Fewer studies have explored the regulation of sex work in the prairies and in Alberta specifically. In this dissertation, I expand on sex work scholarship and attend to how municipal bylaws regulate BRC based sex work, and the complex relationship that bylaws have with other legal regulations, including provincial occupational health and safety laws and the federal Criminal Code. Inspired by Institutional Ethnography (Smith, 1987, 2005) I used three methods to examine the organization of BRC work. These include textual analysis of City of Edmonton documents and provincial legislation; semi-structured interviews with municipal officials and bureaucrats, members of community-based organizations, and BRC sex workers and an owner; and participant observation sessions. A key finding from this work is that a discourse of harm reduction was a central component to the amended BRC bylaw. This work illustrates how a "harm reduction" discourse was utilized and misappropriated by municipal officials and bureaucrats. This form of "harm reduction" informed how the new bylaw was written and how it is enacted. My research demonstrates that this discourse shaped the license requirements for BRC owners and workers, such as the use of inspections, and has shaped other municipal policies like the Access Without Fear policy. My work also reveals that how the bylaw is enacted increases the regulation and surveillance of BRC workers. Drawing on Bernstein (2010) I argue that how the bylaw is enacted constitutes an extension of the carceral mechanisms of the Criminal Code and extends both overt and obscure punitive bureaucratic mechanisms into the licensing regime of BRC work.  






Carleton University

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