Supreme Court to Hear Appeal in Bedford Case on Sex Work Laws

by | October 29, 2012
filed under Can-Con, Feminism, Politics

Gavel and justice scalesby Tash Wolfe

Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada announced that it will hear the appeal in the Bedford case, which deals with the laws surrounding sex work.

From the National Post:

“The court announced Thursday morning it will hear the federal government’s appeal of a landmark lower-court ruling last March that said some of the country’s anti-prostitution rules placed unconstitutional restrictions on prostitutes’ ability to protect themselves. The Attorney General of Canada’s application for leave to appeal was granted without costs. The court will also hear a cross-appeal by three former and current sex workers that allows them to argue that the rest of the prostitution laws they had challenged are also unconstitutional.”

This decision will allow the Bedford case to be heard before Canada’s highest court. According to Katrina Pacey, litigation director for Pivot Legal Society, this case involves “fundamental rights for sex workers to safety and freedom from criminalization, which we feel is one of the most important and pressing social justice issues of our time.” Pivot Legal Society will be joining together with PACE and Sex Workers United Against Violence Society to form a coalition and apply for intervenor status:

“Our purpose at the Court of Appeal was to bring a strong voice from the Downtown Eastside, making it very clear that for sex workers in this community, law reform is a matter of life and death. The laws are a major impediment to creating safety for many sex workers who face horrific violence while working on the street.”

“This will finally lend some clarity as to what means we can take to protect ourselves when we are engaging in a legal profession,” says Nikki Thomas of the Sex Professionals of Canada. “There is no other legal profession in Canada that is restricted the way that sex work is. There is no other profession that has laws dictating how people can and can not work. There is no other profession that has a law preventing provider and client from talking.”

The Bedford case was a constitutional challenge initiated by Terri-Jean Bedford, Valerie Scott, and Amy Lebovitch in 2007. The challenge asked the court to strike down sections 210, 212(1)(j) and 213(1)(c) of Canada’s prostitution laws, which focused on keeping common bawdy-houses, living on the avails of prostitution, and communicating for the purpose of prostitution. This resulted in Justice Susan Himel striking down all three sections.

In March 2012, Ontario’s Court of Appeal agreed with two-thirds of Himel’s ruling, but disagreed that 213(1)(c) communicating for the purpose of prostitution, maintaining the existing ban on solicitation. Sections 210 keeping common bawdy-houses and 2012(1)(j) living on the avails of prostitution were unconstitutional.

This decision inspired much discussion within feminist communities. Women Against Violence Against Women’s Coordinator of Aboriginal Services Darla Goodwin stated that “the legal system is missing the mark on prostitution” and that “hiding women from plain sight to create a false sense of safety in community is not the answer.”

Pivot Board Member Kerry Porth expressed concern about the continued criminalization of women working on the street, and stated that she was “glad to see that the Court recognized that these laws were not put in place to prevent prostitution and that the current legislative scheme does not reflect the values of dignity and equality for sex workers.” Although there are disagreements around methods of harm reduction for women involved in sex work, the safety of these women is a strong concern for these organizations.

Professor Alan Young, who has represented Bedford, Lebovitch, and Scott for the last six years has made an argument that sex workers have a fundamental right to safety. “Giving people access to move indoors will make it safer,” he says. “I believe that beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

According to Pivot Legal Society, the Supreme Court of Canada should hear the Bedford case in fall of 2013.

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