Vancouver police not keen to crack down on Airbnb pop-up brothels

By Drew Penner

For those of us raised on school films that took us through skid row, and fictional mayor Dominic Da Vinci’s introduction of a red-light district on CBC, we realize Vancouver’s a city with unique problems requiring innovative solutions. Watching the rise of Airbnb and the use of former rental housing as pop-up brothels in some cases, the Vancouver Police Department is maintaining a harm-reduction style approach to dealing with sex work.

“We’re very tolerant of the day-to-day sex workers,” said VPD spokesperson Jason Doucette. “We’re trying not to push people into the back corners.”

Airbnb doesn’t allow prostitution via its platform, even in jurisdictions where it’s legal, but there’s nothing specifically in its terms and conditions to indicate this [1]

Yet the pop-up brothel phenomenon is being discussed around the world.

But Vancouver police say the introduction of new tech doesn’t change the way the department approaches the subject.

Const. Doucette points out all officers undergo sex worker de-escalation training, and says they take action against sex workers only in cases that are deemed “high risk,” such as when sexually exploited children, gangs or human trafficking are involved.

In other words, don’t expect a crack down on the sex trade at the hands of the VPD in order to free up housing supply.

“If there is an issue the first thing we’d look at is the safety of those involved,” Doucette said, describing how the department approaches prostitution-related complaints. “Public safety and safety of sex workers is number one.”

Different cities take different approaches to legislating sex work. Victoria has bylaws that have allowed brothels to flourish and let escort agencies make introductions for short-term connections[2]

While police point out that brothels are still illegal in Vancouver, the city is stained by the legacy of serial killer Robert Pickton, who preyed on Downtown Eastside sex workers.

The VPD now has a sex industry outreach worker, and says these days they are trying to operate with sensitivity, aware that prostitutes may be victims of larger criminal entities.

Websites like make it clear to potential visitors that, while illegal, sex work remains a vital part of Vancouver life[3]

“You won’t find any of the European or Australian style palaces with beautifully decorated rooms and a lineup of stunning prostitutes to choose from,” it reads, noting some go into business together to split the cost of private rooms. “These studios and apartments are particularly common downtown where businessmen can come and go as part of their workday.”

The guide also describes the easy-availability of full-service massages, although it talks down the city’s service quality when compared with what’s available elsewhere.

“Many of Vancouver’s erotic massage houses could also be classified as brothels given the extras that are exchanged there,” it reads. “But again, they will not have the same brothel style services, like waiting rooms, or any of the luxuries seen in countries where the bordello has become a spa-like retreat.”

Last fall, the UK launched an investigation into pop-up brothels, which have been flourishing there due to the rise of short-term accommodation sites.

Prostitution is legal in England and Wales, but running a brothel isn’t.

In Vancouver, some have wondered if criminal organizations might buy properties as investments and run illegal businesses, such as brothels or massage parlours, while the property appreciates.

Realtor Elliot Tan says that’s not an issue affecting his business in any way.

And Vancouver police say it’s not something that’s appeared on their horizon.

But, Const. Doucette points out the game has been changing for sex workers. He explained that the primary way it’s come up is when they tell officers how short-term rental sites have made their work safer. Airbnb and other platforms have helped them leave the dangerous street environment, and when they’re found out they just move to a new location, he said.

“With short-term rentals that’s definitely starting to come on our radar over the past few years,” he said, but qualifies that it hasn’t been a particularly hot-button issue. “It’s just a part of the business.”

[Photo Credit: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid]

References   [ + ]


4 Responses to Vancouver police not keen to crack down on Airbnb pop-up brothels

  1. Erin Graham says:

    The VPD is abandoning women in prostitution. Buying sex, pimping and other exploitive practices are illegal in Canada. Since 2014, Canada has recognized that prostitution is male violence against (mostly) women. There is no reason that the cops should let men get away with this crime.
    Also, according to my research front line workers who provide service to women see harm reduction as less than helpful to prostituted women, and in many cases, exacerbating the damage wrought by being prostituted.

  2. Erin Graham says:

    Sorry, my previous comment had a typo in the email address

  3. nonconfidencevote says:

    The Vancouver City Police havent been too terribly interested in investigating most crimes in the past few decades or so.
    Been in a car accident? Cops wont show.
    Car broken into? Cops wont show.
    House broken into? Maybe they’ll show.
    Assaulted? You probably instigated it.
    The hockey riots……how many people spent how many hours looking at how many video tapes resulting in how many convictions?
    I dare say 99.9% of the rioters are still clinking beers over that escapade.
    A complete waste of time and taxpayers money.
    And the incompetant, politically correct, visible minority, appointed police chief eventually resigned.

    Where are they?
    I see them a lot in radar traps. Pulling one car out of a line of ten speeding cars. Handing out cash fines( never suspensions) with hundreds of other cars speed by.
    Cash grab. Nothing more.

    Week after week we hear about assaults, stabbings, etc (Granville St on a weekend?) and ONLY when the police FINALLY admit they have no clue who these people are….they release video or photos of the “alledged assailant” do we get results…..from the public?
    Just a thought.
    Perhaps the police should be a bit quicker in releasing security camera footage rather than waiting MONTHS?
    Or is it a far better waste of taxpayers dollars to spend weeks fruitlessly searching for an unknown assailant and then asking witnesses to come forward to remember something that happend months ago.

    My God a man was beaten in Missausauga by three thugs and when the police there release the ‘alledegd suspects” photos out here . BOOM. Busted.

    Yet it ALWAYS seems like the Lower Mainland police will release photos of a B&E, assault, robbery, etc MONTHS later……WTF?

    Get those photos OUT IN PUBLIC.
    Before these criminals do it again.
    Perhaps the Criminology Degrees these Blue Knights all seem to have should be updated to include new technologies such as the internet.

    Or is it the Crown Prosecutors not laying charges?

  4. hannah says:

    Most of the prostitutes in Vancouver are here on visas. Why aren’t they deported? It is illegal to work on most visa and illegal to work in massage parlors. Only a small number of Canadian born women become prostitutes. Why are foreign women — almost all of whom are Chinese and Filipino — allowed to use prostitution as a stepping stone into the country without meeting Immigration Canada criteria — i.e. find a sucker to them for PR status.

    Canada doesn’t need more prostitutes. They are not being allowed in and to stay for Canadian women’s benefit. We also don’t need more women than men. Yet, more women are given PR status in Canada every year when there should be significantly more men than women under 40.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.