by Andrea Houston
Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says she’s surprised so many people in the Homewood Ave neighbourhood rejected a proposed turn restriction, a move that would have attempted to curb sex work in the area.
Of the 1,800 ballots sent out to area residents, Wong-Tam says 200 were returned. Of those, 52 percent were opposed to the turn restriction, while 48 percent supported it.
Wong-Tam has decided not to move forward with the restriction, which would have stopped drivers from turning onto Homewood Ave from Wellesley St E between 11pm and 6am.
Some local residents hoped the restriction would discourage johns from driving into the neighbourhood and circling the area looking for sex workers or drug dealers.
“It demonstrated to us a number of things,” says Wong-Tam. “There was not a general consensus, which is what we were told by the Homewood-Maitland Safety Association (HMSA), which is that everyone wanted this turn restricted.”
About 30 local residents blamed sex workers for damage to private property and late-night noise at an Oct 12 meeting with Wong-Tam. She says the margin of error is high because so few ballots were returned.
“There was some pretty active lobbying from those who did want the turn restriction,” she says. “So, technically, [those in favour of the restriction] lost.”
Wong-Tam says she is already working with Toronto Police Service’s 51 Division to step up community policing in the area to make officers more visible to residents and sex workers.
“Police should protect sex workers and keep an eye out for poor social behaviour and activities, respond to noise complaints, vandalism of private property and keep a community presence with the bicycle unit,” she says.
“The community told police, ‘We need you to show up when we do call.'”
Maggie’s, a Toronto sex workers’ organization, maintains it’s not streets that need to be altered.
“The problem here is the law, not sex workers,” says Chanelle Gallant, a sex-work activist and communications coordinator for Maggie’s. “Residents should take their concerns up with the lawmakers who have put sex workers in the situation where they can’t exert any control over their work.”
Detective Matt Moyer also says he doesn’t believe a turn restriction will do much to curb sex traffic in the area.
“Although the turn restriction will not be implemented, we plan to work with city transportation staff to see if we can improve some of the signage in the area, signs that would tell people that it’s a residential neighbourhood and to be mindful of noise,” says Wong-Tam.