The Christmas spirit of Stella and Holiday Gift Guide: Working to keep spirits high

Working to keep spirits high

Émilie Laliberté of Stella
Photo: Cover photo by Roger Aziz

Stella, no strangers to socially conscious giving, kick off Hour's annual Holiday Gift Guide with one simple Christmas request: fundamental rights, please

Why is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Émilie Laliberté’s Christmas wish list? Our cover model is a sex worker and spokeswoman for Stella, Montreal’s community organization by and for sex workers. There is still a long way to go before sex workers in Canada are offered equal protection under the law, and Stella works to affect that change all year long. They have several special actions in the month of December that are open to everyone interested in seeing equal rights for working women and an end to violence against sex workers.

This has been a banner year for Canadian sex workers’ rights: Two Charter challenges in the provincial courts of Ontario and British Columbia are calling into question the constitutional validity of prostitution laws that they claim threaten the safety and lives of street workers, escorts, masseuses and anyone working in the sex industry. Though prostitution is technically legal in Canada, there are several laws – nicknamed the communicating, transporting, bawdy house and pimping laws – that they say make it impossible for sex workers to ensure conditions of safety in their work.

"Even as recently as 10 years ago, sex workers were calling violence on the job an occupational hazard, but now prostitutes are more likely to report a rape or attempt on their life to authorities, who in turn are much more likely to recognize that violence against sex workers is an actual crime, thanks to the increased visibility and efforts of groups like Stella," says Laliberté. There has, nevertheless, been a huge spike in violence against sex workers in Montreal in 2009, as reported in Stella’s Bad Tricks and Aggressors List, which is distributed to Montreal-area sex workers on a monthly basis.

"I think the more visible a group is, the more [aggressors] think they can get away with their actions. But Stella says, ‘We’re here, we have your number and because of us and the courage of our members, you will go to court, and you will end up in prison,’" says Laliberté.

Indeed, two accused serial rapists, Giovanni d’Amico and Marco Chevalier, and an accused murderer, Bernard Armelin, are currently awaiting trial in the Montreal area thanks in part to Stella’s work.

While there are no Charter challenges yet in Quebec, Stella has 15 law students working on a human rights project (nicknamed the "affidavit project") to see where such challenges can be brought in the future. Stella also works, locally and globally, towards the decriminalization of the sex industry.

To get involved or donate to Stella’s Human Rights Project and outreach work, which is currently unfunded by municipal, provincial and legal governments, visit (or call them at 514-285-1599).

Stella also invites sex workers and allies to the following actions in December:

Dec. 7 action to support five sex workers who pressed charges against Giovanni D’Amico, a 10 a.m. demonstration in front of the Montreal courthouse (1 Notre-Dame E.);

Dec. 9 action to support three sex workers who pressed charges against Marco Chevalier, a demonstration in front of the St-Hyacinthe courthouse (1550 Dessaulles);

Dec. 17 International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers: At 4 p.m. the Red Umbrella March begins at Papineau metro, at 6 p.m. there will be a discussion panel on violence against sex workers at Café Cleopatra, followed by cocktails and drag show at 11 p.m.

Hour’s Holiday Gift Guide

This year, in keeping with our theme of a socially conscious Christmas, we’ve tailored our gift suggestions toward a range of products and services, some more traditional and, well, some not so much. But all will permit a guilt-free sleep this Christmas Eve, so go ahead and give the gift of a clear conscience. (Gift suggestions are by Meg Hewings, Melora Koepke, Robyn Fadden and Jamie O’Meara.)


If you don’t support the wholesale holiday slaughter of baby fir trees (killed for their, um, fir), then we may have the perfect alternative Christmas tree for you: an "extreme" tree, one of 11 created by Montreal artists of varying disciplines (including designers, fabric artists and, wonderfully oddly enough, a puppeteer). Christmas Tree: Extreme Makeover is an exhibit currently running at Galerie CO (5235 St-Laurent), and the 11 trees on display are made from recycled, cardboard Christmas trees. The gallery is holding a silent auction to sell off the extreme(ly awesome) trees, and the proceeds from the auction will be divided between the artists who created the trees and missions working with underprivileged Montrealers. The auction is open until Dec. 10, and to participate, please visit (JOM)


Forget buying magazine subscriptions, buy someone a dirt subscription! For those who are apparently too busy/lazy/space-limited to stir their own dirt, there exists Compost Montreal, a full-service composting service! For the low subscription price of $5 a week, they provide a container and weekly collection service. Fill up the bin and put it out front on collection day, and they’ll bring your dirt back, all vermi-cultivated and loamy and ready to plant, come springtime. ( (MK)


Sheaffer, the distributor of high-end pens and pencils that make you feel like a wealthy bank executive every time you hold one, has a new line of swanky brushed-steel ballpoint pens and refillable pencils, and these ones are designed to help raise both money and awareness for the Canadian Cancer Society. Shaeffer, for their part, are donating another $10,000 toward breast cancer research, part of a total 2009 donation of $75,000. The pen and pencil package retails for $27 (look for the pink ribbon on the box). (JOM)


Sadly, it doesn’t come in glass bottles with a layer of cream on top, but it’s still awesome that Nutrinor, a 60-year-old agri-food co-op in Saguenay Lac-St-Jean, will deliver milk and other dairy products (butter, juice, yogurt and cheese as well as chocolate organic and probiotic milk) to my door twice a week. For that certain someone who likes special deliveries. ( (MK)


Penny-pinching doesn’t mean you have to play the Grinch this holiday. Two indie initiatives, Rusty Plum and Puces Pop’s Christmas Bazaar, team up this year to present you with over 60 DIY artists, crafts folk, local designers and small businesses in Mile End. They sell their wares Dec. 5-6, (Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.) at St-Michel Church Hall (105 St-Viateur W.). Local creations! No mall crawls! Oh joy! The bazaar will collect donations, clothing, food and non-perishables for Herstreet. (MH)


Given that children are wonderfully receptive to brainwashing, Berkeley-based world-folk musician (and former "ecopsychology" major) Melita Doostan has combined her three passions – music, munchkins and maintaining planet Earth – on a new CD for kids titled Earth Dream Lullabies: Soothing Songs for an Awakening Generation (available on iTunes, CD Baby etc.). "I created Earth Dream Lullabies to inspire in children of all ages a sense of the sacred in nature and evoke a feeling of awe for the mystery of the universe and our place in it," says Doostan. "Earth Dream Lullabies is perfect for parents who want their children to grow up green." Possible side effect: They may grow up hippie too. (JOM)


Every year, I intend to sign up for a weekly basket of fruits and veggies delivered to my door from a local, independent farming co-op – and every year, I never get around to it. Now Equiterre has compiled a list of local produce farmers, and even organic livestock producers, that are available to us city slickers on a subscription basis. Now whole animals and truly fresh, seasonal produce is available for those who don’t want dirt under their nails this Christmas season. ( (MK)


Canuckistani gourmet tea company Trans-Herbe has just the thing for the socially and ecologically conscious fancy pants in your family, the person who would rather starve themselves of tea than imbibe the lowly Salada or Red Rose leaf. Four O’Clock is a line of 100 percent organic, fair trade certified specialty teas in biodegradable packaging. And the funky pyramidal tea bags are good for your chakra. Might have made that last bit up. Anyway, now that your conscience feels good, your taste buds can too, with flavours like Earl Grey Chocolate Berry, Lychee Ginger White Tea and Apricot Passion Fruit Rooibos (it’s 10 bones for a box of 15 bags). (JOM)


Sure they were once probably full of designer hot pants, off-brand shampoo, automatic weapons and coffee grounds, but old shipping containers are recyclable too! And all over the place in this port city. With rents on the increase and the green revolution in full swing, you can hose one down, cut out a few holes and, bam, cozy new pad. Line it with industrial plastic and it’s an urban, chick-magnet swimming hole. And, given that awesome old factory buildings are pushing out musicians (we just need a place to make some noise!) in favour of yuppies (I bet they fight, loudly, allll the time), line the walls with foam and, presto, jam space down by the river. (RF)


Fill up on food and fun with this playful recipe poster by local graphic design team TroisPoints, which includes six original holiday recipes and folds out into a paint-by-numbers game! A fresh take on old-fashioned recipe cards, they make for inspired Christmas presents or cards and help end hunger (a portion of each purchase is donated to the Quebec Breakfast Club). The Easter edition, next in the series, promises to include six new recipes and fold into an origami bunny! Sold at Quincaillerie Dante (6851 St-Dominique). Three recipe posters for $15. For other points of purchase, visit (MH)


‘Tis the season to be naughty! Café Cléopâtre will deck the halls and jingle your bells with their evening of classic burlesque and debauchery, Dec. 11 and 12 at 9 p.m. Also featuring Dirty Santa, a mistletoe booth and plenty of audience participation, with prizes for best costumes. Admission is $10, or $8 with a non-perishable food item, which will be donated to St-James Centre ( The night is a fundraiser for local non-profit HIV/AIDS organization ACCM ( (MH)


According to the experts at, who sponsored a workshop on greening your roof here in Montreal last fall (and hopefully will again next year), a green roof system is "an extension of the existing roof which involves a high-quality water proofing and root repellent system, a drainage system, filter cloth, a lightweight growing medium and plants." More than just providing an awesomely leafy summer space on which to grow nasturtiums and leaf lettuce, it’s also a way to clean the city air and improve your neighbours’ quality of life too. Hopefully it won’t be long till green-roofing kits are sold at Réno-Dépôt, but in the meantime, I’m up for being the first on my block ( (MK)

Posted in