Vancouver sex worker speaks out after being denied business bank account

Oct 15 2021, 9:46 pm

A Vancouver-based sex worker says a local credit union refused to open a business bank account for her after she disclosed her profession.

Charlee Beckett is speaking out to fight the stigma and barriers sex workers often face when trying to take their businesses above board, even though selling sex is legal in Canada. She hopes banks and other service providers will recognize the legitimacy of sex work as a profession.

“It’s discrimination based on my industry,” she told Daily Hive. “It’s ridiculous that we’re treated differently.”  

She contacted Envision Financial, a division of First West Credit Union, by phone on September 29 to enquire about setting up a business account. Beckett said the representative seemed on board at first, and she disclosed her profession when the worker asked about it.

Beckett said the representative phoned back on October 1, and told her head office would not allow her to open the business account.

“I wasn’t necessarily surprised. But it’s a reinforcement that I am not treated the same as other people,” Beckett said.

An Envision Financial spokesperson told Daily Hive that it could not comment on the case due to privacy reasons. The credit union also did not answer Daily Hive’s questions about its policies on opening business accounts for sex workers.

Although buying sex is illegal in Canada, people are allowed to sell their own sexual services. Canada’s sex work laws were most recently updated in 2015, but many sex workers and advocacy groups would prefer both sides of the transaction be decriminalized.

Kerry Porth, a sex work policy consultant with Pivot Legal Society, told Daily Hive that some banks may be nervous about opening business accounts for sex workers because half of the transaction is criminal — and the money being deposited could be considered proceeds of crime.

“This is a real catch 22 for sex workers who are trying to be above board and pay all their taxes. If they admit what the business account is for, then most banks and credit unions will refuse them an account,” she said.

Opening a business account as a sex worker holds many benefits, such as paying a lower level of income tax as a corporation than an individual, taking out business-related loans, and deducting business-related expenses at tax time. Declaring income from sex work also allows workers to file for pandemic-related unemployment benefits during lockdowns.

For now, Porth usually advises sex workers to stick with personal bank accounts. But those can also be troublesome if banks take issue with a high number of incoming e-transfers or cash deposits.

“This is part of the way sex work gets pushed underground. You put people in these difficult situations where they’re having to hide what they do for a living,” she said.

Luckily, Beckett ended up opening a business account with Vancity, another local credit union.

“Vancity supports removing barriers to financial inclusion, including providing fair access to banking services for those typically left out of the financial system,” a Vancity spokesperson told Daily Hive.

Beckett said she’s sharing her story in an effort to de-stigmatize sex work, because she wants to see less shame surrounding the profession.

“I just want people to realize this is normal. So many people do it,” she said. “It’s been here for a long time and it’s not going away.”

Megan DevlinMegan Devlin

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