Bedford Decision at the Ontario Court of Appeal

This decision came out yesterday, and if you’re in Canada you already know that.  Here’s a link to the lower court decision, yesterday’s Ontario Court of Appeal decision, and a small round up of what’s going on.

Here are Profs Bruce Ryder (Osgoode) and Brenda Cossman (U of T) on Global News (in text form) with a good precis:

Q: What does the ruling allow sex workers to do that they couldn’t before?

A: Firstly, Ontario’s top court has struck down a ban on brothels. Sex-trade workers will be allowed to set up shop in private houses and business areas and carry on sex work. In the past, it would have been criminal.

Secondly, the law dealing with living on the avails of prostitution can be reworded to specifically exclude the exploitation of prostitutes. Meaning sex-trade workers could now hire drivers, bodyguards, or receptionists and be paid from the money they made. In the past, they could not do so.

Thirdly, the Appeal Court has upheld the ban on soliciting for the purposes of selling sex.

The Edmonton Journal offers a longer tour of the decision, here, and here’s a podcast of Ottawa prof Carissima Mathen on CBC’s Ontario Today.  If you prefer video, the CBC has Evan Solomon on Power and Politics with Osgoode Prof Alan Young who brought the case and Nikki Thomas, SPOC spokesperson. Sorry, you have to sit through a commercial first. I got dishwasher detergent.  Do they target these? Or theme them to the content of the video?

Sex workers, advocates and feminists are far from united on the case.  It is hard to divide into pro and anti, because the case was a rather blunt tool to remove some laws, rather than a legislative initiative.  I think on both sides there is a classic “strange bedfellows” challenge facing feminists.  As the National Post put it:

The thorny issue transcended traditional ideological divides, with conservative religious groups finding strange allies in feminist activists in their support of retaining the prostitution restrictions.

(I recently wrote about Yorku Prof Kamala Kempadoo’s work on critical approaches to sex work and “trafficking” narratives, for instance).  Here is an article about a confrontation during the “celebration” of the verdict.  Terri-Jean Bedford, a lead claimant, describes herself as a feminist, and has many feminist supporters.

Eyes brimming with tears, voice unsteady, Angel Wolfe came to Monday’s news conference called by jubilant sex workers challenging Canada’s prostitution laws because she was “appalled and disgusted” by a decision handed down by the province’s top court.

Wolfe is with Sex Trade 101 Toronto’s ONLY Sex Trade Survivors and Abolitionists Organization. Valerie Scott, one of the plaintiffs, is with Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC).

Maggie‘s and other sex worker advocacy groups like BC’s PIVOT Legal  were supportive but concerned about the majority’s refusal to strike the communicating provisions.

“The vast majority of all prostitution arrests are under the communication law. The failure to strike down the communication law means that the most vulnerable sex workers will continue to face arrest, police harassment, prosecution and violence.” –Emily van der Muelen, Assistant Professor, in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Ryerson University. [From Maggies]

You may remember Emily van der Meulen – she spoke at the IFLS/METRAC co sponsored panel on Bedford in 2010.

Here is a press release, hosted on the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter website, from the Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, which I have included in full:

Equality-seeking Women’s Groups will continue to demand a change in the laws on prostitution

 (Vancouver) March 26th 2012 – The Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, a pan-Canadian coalition of equality-seeking women’s groups received the Ontario Court of Appeal decision today regarding the prostitution laws with mixed feelings.  

We are critical of the upholding of the communication provision with no differentiation between the women in prostitution and the men who are buying sexual services. As interveners we argued to the court that women in prostitution should not be criminalized. We know that the majority of women enter prostitution due to conditions of economic, social and racial inequality. As Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada stated in our presentation to the Court: “Aboriginal women are overrepresented and victimized in the sex industry, which testifies to the link between racism and misogyny in prostitution.”  

We are relieved that the court upheld the living off the avails provisions in relation to exploitation but are very troubled by the striking down of the bawdy house provisions. It gives men permission now to buy women in in-door prostitution.

The Court of Appeal of Ontario has clearly recognized what the Women’s Coalition has been arguing: prostitution is inherently dangerous in virtually any circumstances.  We concur with the Court, that a modern, comprehensive legislative scheme could reflect the values of dignity and equality.

Hilla Kerner for The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers: “We are calling on the Canadian parliament to follow Sweden and other countries by bringing forward legislation that in one hand prevent men from buying sexual services and on the other hand provide economic security to women to protect them from resorting to prostitution”.

The members of the Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution:

CASAC/ACCCACS – Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres/ Association canadienne des centres contre le viol; NWAC – Native Women’s Association of Canada; CAEFS – Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies; RQCALACS  – Regroupement québécois des centres d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel; CLES – Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle; Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter; AOcVF – Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes;

Finally, here’s Rob Nicholson, Canada’s Justice Minister, in a press release.

“It is the position of the Government of Canada that these provisions are constitutionally sound.

The provisions denounce and deter the most harmful and public aspects of prostitution.  They also ensure that the police have the tools necessary to continue to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution, both to communities and to the prostitutes themselves, along with other vulnerable persons.

Apologies in advance, I put this post together in a bit of a rush. I hope that I have not misrepresented anyone or their views.  But more importantly, I’m aiming to convey the range of positions on this issue and the nuances on the issue which aren’t likely to be captured by the pro/anti divide.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *