OTTAWA, Canada- “My name is the Bedford in Bedford v. Canada.” Stated Terri-Jean Bedford, former Dominatrix, current champion for the rights of Canada’s sex workers. Working alongside Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott, former sex workers, they have been against Canada’s prostitution regulations, stating they were unconstitutional and violated basic human rights.
Prostitution in Canada has technically been legal, however, solicitation has not. Prostitutes were allowed to make money from sex, but were not allowed to advertise themselves “Living on the avails of prostitution” was forbidden, thereby criminalizing brothels and pimping. This forced women to work either as private escorts or place themselves in dangerous situations where they could be attacked with no repercussions dealt to the assailant.
With new laws, sex workers can be insured a safer and regulated industry where women are not operating under shadows and risk being hurt. In response to serial killings of prostitutes by Robert Pickton, the push for immediate reform in the sex worker industry became evident.
The government stated that prostitution is exploitative and harmful to the community. The federal government called upon experts such as Dr. Janice Raymond of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Dr. Melissa Farley of Prostitution Research and Education. The interveners filed a joint submission stating that a majority of Canadians hold prostitution to be immoral.
However, in an unanimous 9-0 ruling, the Parliament will reshape social policy with the world’s oldest profession.
Parliament is being given a year to rework new ones. During this time, prostitution-related offences will remain in the Criminal Code.
Lebovitch and Scott, both members of Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC,) an organization aimed at full decriminalization of prostitution and campaigning for the rights of sex workers have worked with Bedford, a dominatrix who has been in the public eye for opening what has been called the “Bondage Bungalow” in Thornhill, Ontario for the last three years, to remove these prohibitions.
Three of these prostitution-related prohibitions were struck down by the high court. These included keeping a brothel, living on the avails of prostitution and street soliciting. Considered to be violations of the constitutional guarantee to life, liberty and security of the person, this marks a great victory for workers of the sex industry.
The ruling comes more than two decades after the court upheld anti-prostitution regulations in the 1990’s. This historic moment is an indication of the progress and the change in the social landscape of Canada. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin noted “these appeals [… ] are not about whether prostitution should be legal or not, they are about how prostitution may be carried out pass constitutional muster.”
After a decision made last year in Ontario, where the law banning brothels exposed sex workers to added danger, the court concluded “the harm imposed by the prohibition on communicating in public was grossly disproportionate to the provision’s object of removing the nuisance of prostitution from the streets.”
The lawyer for the victorious sex workers, Toronto law professor Alan Young, hailed the ruling as “a resounding victory for the rule of law, and a victory for liberty and security of the person.”
Prostitution, whose name invokes a “hush-hush” feeling needs governmental control to protect the men and women currently working “behind the scenes.” In the United States, buying or selling sex services is illegal, with the exception of brothels in certain parts of Nevada. In Germany and in the Netherlands, prostitution is legal and highly regulated. Brothels require food and liquor licenses, and prostitutes are even mandated to charge a value added tax for their services. Such regulations have given prostitutes control of their bodies and their incomes.
New regulations offer prostitutes and sex workers a means for fighting for fair pay and basic rights offered to all other self-employed individuals.
– Chloe Nevitt