Tag Archives: bedford

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.

Sex work/workers in Canada after Bedford: watch our Nov.24 event

Along with METRAC/OWJN, the IFLS held a panel discussion on November 24 in order to ask “how we might map out the way that this case shifts the debate and the context of the debate around sex work in Canada”.

The whole session was taped – so if you couldn’t make it, here it is, in streamed video.  If you want to hear from only one of our speakers, you can hear their presentation by scrolling below and clicking on their photo.

Thanks to the generous and talented Manori Ravindran (Journalism/Ryerson) for the photos.  The introduction to the session is here.

click for video

“Public policy has to  do a lot more than just express simple moral preferences.” – Alan Young

click for video

“There has to be a voice given to those most vulnerable.” -Christa Big Canoe

Click for video

“…often times the laws and regulations which can make it much more precarious and sort of de facto push people into working [outdoors]….”

-Emily van der Meulen

Click for video

Questions from the audience.

More information about the presenters:

Christa Big Canoe, B.A., J.D. is a First Nation Anishinabe Kwe feminist lawyer from Georgina Island First Nation in southern Ontario. She received her B.A. from the University of Calgary and graduated from the University of Toronto Law School in 2005. Christa is a recipient of the Dr. Ralph Steinhauer Award presented by the First Nations Student Association and The Native Centre of the University of Calgary, and the Alberta Aboriginal Women’s Esquao Award. She articled and worked with Nahwegahbow, Corbiere, an all First Nations law firm prior to becoming Policy Counsel for Legal Aid Ontario. Christa is passionate about parenthood, First Nations and women’s rights. She is a feminist lawyer with goals of promoting access to justice for Aboriginal women and people.

Emily van der Meulen
is a community-based researcher and Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Center for
Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael’s Hospital.  She holds a supplementary Post-Doctoral Fellowship
with the Comparative Program on Health and Society, Munk School of Global Affairs and is a 2010-2011 Visiting Fellow in the Lillian S. Robinson Scholars Program at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute. She completed her doctoral studies at York University where she conducted an action research project that examined the relationship between Canadian policy and sex workers’ ability to organize for improved labour, health, and human rights under criminalization. She has been involved with Maggie’s: The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project for over four years.
Alan Young is Co-Founder and Director of Osgoode’s Innocence Project, which involves LLB students in the investigation of suspected cases of wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Between 1998 and 2000 he played an integral part in compelling the federal government to take action to recognize the medicinal value of marijuana. He has represented countless numbers of people suffering from AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis who had been charged as a result of using marijuana for medicinal purposes. In addition to his work in the area of consensual crime, Professor Young has also provided free legal services to victims of violent crime and to individuals attempting to sue the government for malicious prosecution. He is the author of Justice Defiled: Perverts, Potheads, Serial Killers and Lawyers (Toronto: Key Porter, 2003).

Stay extended: Bedford v. Canada (Attorney General)

As most of you know, the stay was extended to April 29, 2011.  Here’s the court decision: Bedford v. Canada (Attorney General), 2010 ONCA 814.  Not a huge surprise, right?

[82]          … it is not the nuisance of bawdy-houses which represents the harm to the public interest upon which the government relies in its motion before me.  Rather, the government relies on the inability to use bawdy-house investigations to investigate other potentially much more serious offences involving exploitation of prostitutes.  The responding parties did not suggest that I could not consider this kind of harm to the public interest. …..

[83]          Admittedly, I have found some of the government’s evidence of harm less than compelling. My principal concern, however, is with the regulatory void, a matter also referred to by the application judge.  In that respect, I am concerned about the suggestion from counsel for the responding parties that the stay simply be lifted and to see what would happen. I cannot accept that this approach is in the public interest.  The evidence of the responding parties’ witnesses, Dr. Benoit and Dr. Shaver, relied upon by the Attorney General of Ontario, is that simple repeal of the bawdy-house prohibition will not maximize the safety of prostitutes. The extensive review, conducted by the application judge, of the legislative framework in other western democracies shows that decriminalization has been accompanied, with varying degrees of success, by a regulatory scheme or improved social supports….

Lots of reportage:   The Star, The Post, The Globe

Also from the Globe, Dalhousie economist Marina Anshade who blogs at Dollars and Sex how regulating brothels won’t stop the “street sector” (a theme which Toronto lawyer Christa Big Canoe also discussed at the IFLS/METRAC panel discussion on Bedford):

…..while decriminalization may get (some) sex workers of the street, regulation will push them right back out there.So, if we are going to have any form of legal sex work in Canada, policy makers will have to decide if the benefits from regulation are worth the cost of an expanded street sector.

Even without regulation, the street sector will persist just as it does in other countries that have stopped treating the sex work as criminal behaviour. ….

Where there is demand, supply will follow; sex workers with addictions, sex workers with STIs, underage sex workers, and illegal immigrants –or perhaps those who don’t want to collect HST and pay income taxes –will continue to work on the streets.

Adding regulation to this mix, in the form of licenses and enforcement, will drive up the price of sex in a brothel even higher sending more clients out on the streets looking for the cheaper unregulated service.


The solution is a policy mix of street sector and brothel regulation that keeps in mind that workers and clients can move between the sectors. The question is: How far will we be into the ‘social experiment’ before policy makers start to think about the economics behind sex work?

Can’t fail to point out how witty the PM is being here:

Outside the court Thursday Bedford addressed Prime Minister Stephen Harper [video].

“The prime minister is hiding behind the courts. He should come out and fight like a man. His silence means that he is not concerned about the violence against women.”

On a tour of an infrastructure project in Mississauga earlier today, Prime Minister Harper responded to Bedford’s remarks.

“I have never been called upon to respond to a dominatrix before.”

“Just so we’re absolutely clear on this. I don’t know who this individual is,” the Prime Minister said of Bedford. “I am sure I have never met her.”

Well, ha ha ha.

For more on the suggestion made (from women to men) that they “man up”, consider what Amanda Marcotte from Slate said here:

this election, many candidates, particularly women, have eagerly made emasculation an explicit theme, telling opponents to “man up” or saying they need to “put their man pants on.” The flip side of this has been to make gender a front-and-center issue for women, as well.

Same website different author  here:

Male candidates also sometimes use the phrase. But in the hands of a woman, it’s testosterone transference: You drain the guy’s masculinity and show off your own cojones at the same time. This tactic takes Hillary Clinton toughness—her “It’s 3 a.m. and the White House phone is ringing” ad—and adds the extra insult. It’s not just that the female candidate would be swift and decisive in an emergency; it’s that the male candidate would curl up in a ball and weep. Liz Cheney and other conservatives imply as much about President Obama and his inability to “stand up and defend America

This LA Times story “It’s a strange year for gender in politics”, takes up the same theme.

Ontario Court strikes down prostitution law provisions

CBC News – Canada – Court tosses prostitution laws’ provisions.

An Ontario court has thrown out key provisions of Canada’s anti-prostitution laws in response to a constitutional challenge brought by a Toronto dominatrix and two prostitutes in 2009.

Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice ruled Tuesday the Criminal Code provisions relating to prostitution contribute to the danger faced by sex-trade workers.

Dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford and Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch had argued that prohibitions on keeping a common bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living on the avails of the trade force them from the safety of their homes to face violence on the streets.

The women asked the court to declare legal restrictions on their activities a violation of charter rights of security of the person and freedom of expression.

The women and their lawyer, [Osgoode Prof], Alan Young, were expected to hold a news conference later Tuesday afternoon.

The government had argued that striking down the provisions without enacting something else in their place would “pose a danger to the public.”

Some conservative groups such as Real Women of Canada, who had intervener status in the case, argued that decriminalizing prostitution may make Canada a haven for human trafficking and that prostitution is harmful to the women involved in it.

However, in her ruling Tuesday, Justice Susan Himel said it now falls to Parliament to “fashion corrective action.”

“It is my view that in the meantime these unconstitutional provisions should be of no force and effect, particularly given the seriousness of the charter violations,” Himel wrote.

While prostitution is technically legal, virtually every activity associated with it is not. The Criminal Code of Canada prohibits communication for the purpose of prostitution. It also prohibits keeping a common bawdy house for the purpose of prostitution.

Those laws enacted in 1985 were an attempt to deal with the public nuisance created by street walkers. They failed to recognize the alternative — allowing women to work more safely indoors — was prohibited, Young had said previously.

Young called it “bizarre” that the ban on bawdy houses is an indictable offence that carries stiffer sanctions, including jail time and potential forfeiture of a woman’s home, when the ban on communication for prostitution purposes is usually a summary offence that at most leads to fines.

The provisions prevent sex workers from properly screening clients, hiring security or working in the comfort and safety of their own homes or brothels, he had said.

Young cited statistics behind the “shocking and horrific” stories of women who work the streets, along with research that was not available when the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the communication ban in 1990.

Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2010/09/28/prostitution-law028.html?ref=rss#ixzz10qkXBPSO