Toronto’s oldest sex worker justice organization faces $500k in damages after fire

18 September 2023 / by Owen Thompson

On Sept. 8, a fire started in the evening at the doorstep of the Church of the Holy Trinity shutting down the offices of the Maggie’s organization.

Maggie’s is one of Toronto’s oldest sex workers justice and support groups, starting in 1986. They provide harm reduction, justice services and drop in programs for anyone in the sex work industry.

Maggie’s moved into the church in March 2023 where they rented out the second and third floor. In May, to accommodate staff and community, they committed to five weeks of renovations and reopened in June. They were open for three months before the fire.

Ellie Ade Kur, executive director of Maggie’s, says that the fire went up to the third floor of the building. A passerby called Toronto Fire Services in time; Kur says that if they did not get a call in 15 minutes the whole building would have been lost.

“I found out about the fire at 12:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. What was going through my head was shock,” says Kur. “I was in constant communication with a lot of church staff who were on site with Toronto Fire Services. It’s a heritage building, it was built in the 1800s. We’re talking about an old build, there’s a lot of wood. As soon as a fire gets in it spreads very quickly.”

The two floors they are renting were damaged due to the fire, with fire, ash, soot, smoke and water damage to the building and their supplies. Kur says that the estimated amount of damage totals to $500,000 worth of damage.

With the damages, they are currently unable to accommodate any clients for in-person appointments. The building has internal and structural damages that make it unsafe for anyone to enter. All workshops and education programming are cancelled as staff do not have available workspaces. Kur says that they are hoping to pivot to virtual programming in the meantime.

“The reality is beyond the programs and services at Maggie’s, it is so important for a sex worker organization like ours to have our own space,” says Kur “Sex workers in Toronto can be kicked out of a shelter, they can be kicked out of a drop-in program and they can get kicked out a food bank simply for being a sex worker, because of the criminalization because of the stigma.

“Beyond just our regular programming, Maggie’s was a safe haven; it was a refuge for people that were being pushed out of every other area of our city’s social service sector,” Kur added.

Kur says that every month they get anywhere from 800 to over 1,000 sex workers coming into their offices for their programs. Jenna Hynes, program manager at Maggie’s, runs three of the major programs at Maggie’s. They say that with the loss of the office space, a “haven for sex workers” was lost.

“I’m having a hard time collecting my words, because it’s, it’s upsetting, you know, we’ve lost a space that we worked really hard to create safety within a space that doesn’t exist anywhere else in Toronto,” says Hynes. “We’re talking about the most marginalized people in the city right now. You know, it’s like our street facing sex workers…it is creating a really large sense of urgency.”

Hynes has been working at Maggie’s for over a year. While the infrastructure for online programs are in place there are programs that can only be done in person. Hynes says that Maggie’s provides food, a monthly STI and HIV clinic and parenting program for clients.

“We can’t feed people online. We can’t provide vaccines online, we can’t, you know, provide a lot of the other things that we do every day for sex workers online,” says Hynes.

Despite the setback of the fire, Kur and Hynes are both hopeful for the future of the organization. Maggie’s has a GoFund campaign running to help cover the cost of rebuilding. Their goal is $50,000 with just over $4,500 donated within the first 24 hours.

While they are busy with rebuilding, Hynes is already looking towards the future of the organization. They want to have more workers and give them more hours on top of one day providing educational and daycare services to children.

“My hope for Maggie’s is that we’re able to build back bigger and better than what we were before. I know we can do that. I believe in the team of people we have here with my whole heart I really do,” says Kur.

Toronto Fire and Police are currently investigating the cause of the fire.

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