Sun And Star Out Sex Worker

The Sun also got the story wrong in its front-page headline

“LEGAL ‘NYMPH,'” blared the front page of last Thursday’s Toronto Sun. “Law student faces good character hearing over double life as an escort.”

Except — as the story about prospective lawyer Nadia Guo made clear near its top — what the headline described was not the case at all:

It wasn’t her night or weekend job — which consisted of realizing people’s wildest sexual fantasies as a self-described “bedroom nymph” — that jeopardized her chance for a legal career.

No one complained about her escort job.

Instead, the complaints made to the Law Society of Ontario concerned Guo’s conduct as an articling student in the latter half of 2015 — allegations likely relevant to her admission to the bar, but that might not constitute front-page news in themselves.

Although the piece by courts reporter Sam Pazzano relegated discussion of Guo’s sex work to its final paragraphs, it nevertheless took the fraught step of revealing the pseudonym, “Dawn Lee,” that she uses for sex work. (CANADALAND obtained Guo’s consent to include both names in this story.)

“I’m not gonna ignore it, because it was part of the story,” Pazzano says in an interview. “She put herself out that way. And she identified herself — everybody knew what she was doing on the side. No one cared. It was what she did as an articling student that brought her before the good-character hearing.”

But Guo’s lawyer, Kris Borg-Olivier, writes in an email that Guo had “never associated her real name with her escort persona” and says Pazzano would not have known to what extent she was secretive about her sex work.

“Everyone knows the stigma that sex work engenders; it is unacceptable that Nadia’s sexual autonomy and ownership of her sexual identity were effectively robbed from her,” Borg-Olivier says.

“There is so much at stake when media outlets out sex workers without their consent,” Monica Forrester tells CANADALAND in an email. Forrester, a coordinator at Maggie’s, the Toronto Sex Worker’s Action Project, lists a number of potential dangers, from impacts on personal relationships, to loss of employment, to harassment from trolls and anti-sex-work crusaders, to being barred from entering the United States.

On Friday, the Sun ran a correction to its front-page headline, along with a follow-up report that had only the briefest of mentions of Guo’s escort work.

The correction that ran in Friday’s Toronto Sun.

But Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno ran her own piece on Friday that led with Guo’s sex work, printed her work name in its first sentence, and expressed apparent surprise and disappointment that the Law Society chose not to hold her to account for her outside activities.

“None of the aforementioned conduct,” DiManno wrote, following extensive citations from Guo’s escort website, had “a damn thing to do with” the good-character hearing.

Asked by CANADALAND why she chose to lead with the discussion of Guo’s sex work, and how she weighed the news value of linking her real and work names against the potential harms, DiManno declined to expound.

“It was just another story to me,” she wrote in an email on Friday afternoon. “I’ll leave it for readers to decide its merits.”

Pazzano, however, is happy to elaborate on his thinking.

“We’re not talking about two twin sisters — this is one person, one personality, and one attitude,” he says, describing some of the conduct outlined in an agreed statement of facts, including that Guo had worn excessively revealing clothing in professional contexts and that she had issued sexualized tweets under her own name e.g., “I’m gonna be a feminist porn star, quoting Charter jurisprudence as I orgasm.” (Borg-Olivier says that although both things were mentioned in the agreed statement of facts filed with the Law Society, neither the complainants nor the tribunal raised them as issues.)

Would Pazzano have covered the hearing if Guo weren’t an escort?

“It added to the story. I mean, it would’t be as much if she was just an obnoxious person who misbehaved — certainly would not have had the same legs on the story.”

He says it gave it “spice.”

On Monday, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, the Star ran a new column in which DiManno — who professed to having “advocated” for sex workers in the past — doubled down by calling Guo a “hooker.”

“The unfortunate reality for sex workers today,” Guo says in a message, “is that despite partial decriminalization, the stigma remains.”

Updated at 9:49 p.m. EST on December 18, 2018, to add a line noting that Guo had consented to both her real and work names being used in this article. 

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