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 Three Laws Criminalising Aspects of Sex Work in Canada Declared in Breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Vikki Lang (Durham Law School)

‘It’s about whether or not we believe that sex workers are people deserving of the same rights and dignity as the rest of the public’ – Plaintiffs’ Memorandum, Bedford v Canada 2012

On the 20th December 2013, the landmark decision of Attorney General of Canada v. Terri Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott was reached. In this case, three sex workers used the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to successfully challenge laws that criminalised certain actions relating to selling sex. Canada’s highest court has ruled that three provisions of Canada’s Criminal Code, s. 210 (keeping or being found in a bawdy house), s. 212(1)(j) (living on the avails of prostitution), and s. 213(1)(c) (communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution) violate the s. 7 right to security of the person protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All three laws have been struck down.

In the decision the court said:

‘The prohibitions at issue do not merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate. They go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky – but legal – activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risk.” (para 60)’

This landmark decision saw sex workers, for the first time, successfully rely on human rights legislation to protect their safety and freedom in relation to their occupation. The plaintiffs successfully argued that their right to liberty and security of the person was breached as they were forced to break the law and risk arrest in order to take actions that increase their security and safety. (more…)

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