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Advocacy group wins fight for strippers' anonymity in Ontario court challenge over COVID-19 restrictions

TORONTO – Strippers have won the right to present their case against the Ontario government anonymously in a court challenge over pandemic restrictions on strip clubs, an Ontario judge ruled.

Work Safe Twerk Safe is taking the Ontario government to court over orders to close strip clubs across the province per COVID – 19 restrictions in 2020. The group alleges that strippers and strip clubs were unfairly targeted.

In late September 2020, the Ontario government forced closed all strip clubs in the province because of outbreaks connected to two locations . The stripper advocacy group argues that this was discriminatory as bars and restaurants had also been the root of outbreaks but were not facing an industry-wide shutdown.

A judicial review was filed in court in October 2020.

The Feb. 16 ruling provides the strippers involved in the case safety and privacy, something that in the internet age can be quickly snatched away, said Naomi Sayers, legal counsel to Work Safe Twerk Safe.

“If a stripper’s identity is out, it’s out and it can be shared many times over, and there’s no taking it back,” Sayers told CTVNews.ca.

Strippers typically use aliases at work for a variety of reasons, and Sayers has firsthand knowledge of the importance of anonymity.

“Having been a dancer myself, the alias acts as this safety mechanism,” she said. “It helps protect future employment, it helps protect workers’ employment because oftentimes strippers do not have labor rights and they could easily be fired or banned from the club with no recourse.”

Without anonymity , the strippers involved would not have been able to carry on with the judicial review, said one of the strippers involved in the case.

“Had our motion not been granted this would’ve been a case about strippers without the involvement of any strippers, ”the woman who goes by the alias Jennifer told CTVNews.ca.

The judge’s decision gives her hope that other sex workers can also access the legal system.

“it gives me some hope because it shows that little by little, baby step by baby step there’s a potential for sex workers to access justice and the legal system in a way that we are still a face , ”

A large factor in this case was how the internet and technology have changed.

“ Once the strippers’ names are made pu blic, as a matter of common sense and logic, that information is available to the world, ”the decision, by Ontario Supreme Court Judge Lise Favreau, read.

“ I care about my job as a stripper, I care about my fellow strippers, I care about the fate of strip clubs in Ontario, ”said Jennifer. “That should not come at a price of potentially losing the roof over my head, employment opportunities and at the most extreme facing physical harm or death.”

Sayers said that the way sex workers and strippers are treated in the law has changed in recent years, both for the better and worse, but that granting the strippers in this case anonymity gives them a proper chance to pursue justice safely and privately.

“If somebody has to give that up to access justice, that’s not really justice. ”

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