Current Legal Debate

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Collection 2014 - 2019


For a full discussion of the background and issues see the materials on the excellent Web site of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform. I have also written and spoke extensively about the dangers of the new law, and my comments are contained in the menu item Blogs, Articles and Speeches on this my site. Recently I was asked what I thought of Prime Minister Trudeau's handling of the issue, so I wrote the following.

Trudeau's Choice:
Sex Trade Law Reform or
Missing, Murdered and Abused Women

By Terri-Jean Bedford

I have been asked by reporters to comment on a court ruling, scheduled in the coming days, on the constitutionality of Canada's prostitution laws. I think it more important to comment before the ruling. I am the Bedford in Bedford Versus Canada, a case decided by the Supreme Court in 2013. That decision will likely weigh heavily on the upcoming ruling on a motion concerning the law's constitutionality. The upcoming ruling has taken the judge a year to prepare and the motion was presented by an eminent legal team, no doubt at great expense.

In 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that the laws restricting the sex trade worked against their stated purposes and exposed women engaged in a legal activity to danger. For example, the laws prevented sex trade workers working from secure premises or hiring security. The government then rammed through a new law, patterned after the so-called Nordic model, which allows the sale of sex acts but outlaws buyers or enablers.

Opponents of the new law say it replicates the constitutional flaws of the old laws. The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform, on their site, provides all the relevant arguments and citations of evidence. The evidence from 2013, and after, is that the new law is unconstitutional for many reasons, not the least of which is that it has led to missing, murdered and abused women.

Despite the new law, the sex trade is booming. A strong economy is one reason. Reason number two is that most clients of sex trade workers don't even know what the law is. Reason three, women are encouraged to go into the trade by the very fact that Prime Minister Harper's government in 2014 explicitly brought in a law that said they could not be charged for selling sex. Reason four, advertising on-line is now done off-shore. Reason five, landlords and hotels who obey the law lose revenue, so they break it. Reason six, the authorities do not have the resources to clamp down.

The new law has been a gift to organized crime and human traffickers of women for sex. These people are not concerned with obeying laws. If they are to be stopped, it would be because sex workers, their landlords, their advertisers, their security and so forth would not have to be concerned with dodging authorities. The judge who first struck down the old laws, Susan Himel, said existing laws against assault, confinement, illegal immigration would address the worst aspects of the sex trade. The authorities have important issues to address, rather than ensuring consenting women only have sex for free.

In the discourse over the issue of whether to decriminalize the sale of sex acts between consenting adults there were many cherry-picked stories used to argue for the new law. The so-called evidence used to that end has been debunked. Yet both the stories and the "evidence" are dredged up over and over again by opponents of decriminalization or legalization. This will continue and should be seen for the fraud it is. There are also those who support the new law for what may be called ideological or moral reasons. Their morality is as perverted as their so-called evidence. Women have a right to control their own bodies.

Professor Young, who headed our legal team in Bedford Versus Canada has criticized the new law for legal reasons. He and others have also lamented it because of the missing, murdered and abused women who it was foreseen would arise because of the new law. It is sad that it takes so much and so long to challenge the legality of such legislation.

Trudeau and his party voted against the new law when in opposition. Again, the judge who struck down the old laws at the outset said no new laws were needed. She said the existing laws against illegal immigration, assault, and forcible confinement, among others, already address the worst aspects of the sex trade.

The new law has made Stephen Harper the godfather of sex trafficking in Canada. MacKay and Nicholson, his justice ministers, were his eager henchmen. Why should they care? Those victimized were unlikely to vote for them.

So, what about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau? His late father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, said the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. Justin has a choice, regardless of what happens in court. If he says he cannot comment because the matter is before the courts, I have no problem with that. But he can act. When there is a national crisis, and the matter is before the courts, real leaders act, if they care. Or perhaps they enjoy candlelight vigils, and missing and murdered women inquiries.

So, does he want to help women by getting rid of the law, or hurt them by doing nothing? Right now, he is doing what his predecessor Stephen Harper and organized crime want him to do. He is doing nothing. What he says is irrelevant. Will he continue to do nothing? Missing and abused women probably want to know his choice. Before it's too late.

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