The Bedford Decision – Sex work, the law and what this means to you!

What is the Bedford Decision?

In December 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down three key provisions of Canada’s prostitution laws, having found them to be unconstitutional and in violation of sex workers’ human rights to work and health. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms affords all people in Canada certain rights, and is intended to protect those rights. However, if protected Charter rights are violated by a law or action, then individuals affected can initiate a Charter challenge – basically, taking the government responsible to court. The Bedford case was a Charter challenge wherein the federal government was sued, with criminal (and therefore federal) laws being challenged.

The Bedford decision is very significant even if it feels as if little will actively change here on the ground, and we will explore what this may mean and what may be still to come, and how this can help us in encouraging and maintaining relationships and accountability with other communities and police. While this is an exciting and encouraging development for us and our communities, it’s worth fully understanding the provisions, the Bedford decision, and what this means to you moving forward into 2014.

Canada v. Bedford: The Provisions

In 2007, three sex workers (Terri-Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott) challenged the Canadian federal government on the prostitution laws, citing three specific sections which violated the human rights of sex workers.

These provisions were as follows:

CC s. 210: Bawdy-House Laws – Everyone who keeps a common bawdy-house is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

Everyone who –
a) is an inmate of a common bawdy-house
b) is found, without lawful excuse, in a common bawdy-house, or
c) as owner, landlord, lessor, tenant, occupier, agent or otherwise having charge or control of any place, knowingly permits the place or any part thereof to be let or used for the purpose of a common bawdy-house, is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

What does that mean?: CC s 2.10 made it illegal for sex workers to use, rent or own a space that is used for prostitution, and for clients and third parties to be within that space (‘third parties’ in this context refers to someone who organizes or coordinates in exchange for indirect or direct compensation – for instance, drivers, managers, receptionists, etc). This law also made it illegal for landlords to rent space to sex workers.

CC s. 212(1)(j): Living on the Avails – Everyone who lives wholly or in part on the avails of prostitution of another person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.

What does that mean?: This law criminalizes a person – who could have one of several different roles, including pimps, drivers, client bookings, security – from receiving payment from a sex worker. However, it also created a murky idea of what it means to live ‘wholly or in part on the avails of prostitution’, as someone like a roommate or romantic partner could have been criminalized under this law, with the onus being to prove the relationship was not exploitative.

CC s. 213(1)(c): The Communication Law: Every person who in a public place or any place open to public view stops or attempts to stop any person or in any manner communicates or attempts to communicate with any person for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or of obtaining the sexual services of a prostitute is guilty of an offense punishable on summary conviction.

What does that mean?: The Communication Law made it illegal for sex workers, clients and third parties to communicate about exchanging sex for money or services in a public space – this includes a person’s private vehicle, and ‘communication’ included topics such as price, services, practices, negotiations, limits and boundaries.

These are the three provisions that were struck down as being unconstitutional – the Canadian government has a year to present what their solution will be.

Next month, we will look at the changing laws, your rights, and various legal models regarding sex work worldwide (e.g. the Nordic Model, New Zealand model).

Have your voice heard!

Public Input to Inform Government’s Response to Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on prostitution

The Government of Canada has recently launched a public on-line consultation with Canadians to seek their views and input, to help inform the Government’s response to the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Bedford v. Attorney General of Canada. On December 20, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada found three Criminal Code prostitution-related offences unconstitutional.

Quick Facts

The Supreme Court of Canada suspended the effects of its decision for one year, to allow for the government to respond to the unconstitutionality of the offences described above. The on-line consultation will be live from February 17 to March 17, 2014 and all Canadians are invited to provide their thoughts and views on the issue.

Follow the link to the online public consultation

Public Consultation on Prostitution-Related Offences in Canada


“Our Government is concerned about the significant harms that flow from prostitution to communities, those engaged in prostitution and other vulnerable persons. Doing nothing is not an option – we are therefore asking Canadians right across the country, to provide their input, through an on-line consultation, to ensure a legislative response to prostitution that reflects our country’s values. We will be taking action to maintain the safety of our streets and communities, for the benefit of all Canadians.”

Justice Minister Peter MacKay

Follow the link for the complete statement

Statement by the Minister of Justice Regarding the Supreme Court of Canada Ruling in Attorney General of Canada V. Bedford et al.

For additional information on the Bedford decision and what this means moving forward, follow the link below to PIVOT Legal for a brief summary of the judgement: