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Bedford v. Canada (Attorney General)

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This case was brought by a group of sex workers who challenged the criminal prohibitions concerning prostitution. The BCCLA has long-advocated for sensible and compassionate legal response to issues surrounding sexuality and sexual identity. Sex workers are comprised of a cross section of some of the most disadvantaged members of society (women, racial minorities, sexual minorities, the poor).

The case was heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal on June 16, 2011. The BCCLA was granted leave to intervene in this case. The BCCLA argued that while there are ways of conducting prostitution that could significantly reduce the risk of violence towards prostitutes, the challenged provisions make many of these safety-enhancing methods illegal. Thus, the criminal prohibitions violate s. 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, depriving sex workers of liberty and security of the person. This case challenged the constitutionality of three provisions of the Criminal Code: s. 210, which prohibits the operation of common bawdy-houses; s. 212(1)(j), which prohibits living on the avails of prostitution; and s. 213(1)(c), which prohibits communicating for the purpose of prostitution in public. At the Ontario Superior Court, the application judge held that all these provisions are unconstitutional and must be struck down. The Court of Appeal affirmed, in part. The case is being appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada and the BCCLA will be seeking leave to intervene.

On December 20, 2013, in a watershed victory, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that the laws are unconstitutional. The Court found that the prohibitions impose dangerous conditions on prostitution and prevent people who are engaged in a lawful activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risks of the activity. The Court gave Parliament one year to come up with new legislation, should it choose to do so. The BCCLA hailed the decision as the end of an era of discrimination against sex workers and a welcome closing chapter on these failed laws.

Argument
Judgment

The BCCLA was represented by Brent Olthuis of Hunter Litigation Chambers and Megan Vis-Dunbar, Barrister and Solicitor.

“For more information see:
Challenging the prostitution laws: Bedford v. Canada
The basics: decriminalization of sex work 101
Sex work and the Charter

Please note these info sheets were created by a third party and do not necessarily reflect the position of the BCCLA. The BCCLA is not affiliated with and does not necessarily endorse these views.