Terri-Jean Bedford, right, carries her signature riding crop while walking with sex workers’ rights advocate Valerie Scott in front of Ontario Superior Court in Toronto on Tuesday, October 6, 2009. They are two of the three women at the center of the Bedford v. Canada case, which challenges the constitutionality of prostitution related Canadian laws. Hearings for the case began yesterday morning in Canada’ Supreme Court. (Photo by The Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese)
Yesterday hearings on Bedford v. Canada, a case challenging the constitutionality of laws that ban “bawdy houses”, “communication for the purposes of prostitution”, and “living off the avails of prostitution”, began in Canada’s Supreme Court. Sex workers and their supporters took to the streets in several Canadian cities last Saturday to call for the decriminalization of prostitution in anticipation of the hearings. Viviane Namaste, a professor at Concordia University’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute, spoke as an official intervenor, explaining that the current laws can actually result in an increase in violence against sex workers. Osgoode Hall law professor Alan Young, leading the court challenge, urged the court to set aside moral considerations and stick to the core legal issues. Young is representing the three women at the center of the case: retired dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford, former sex worker Valerie Scott and Vancouver sex worker Amy Lebovitch. Several groups spent the day rallying on the steps of the Supreme Court, where more than 100 people showed up to express their opinions. On one side, supporters of sex workers formed a small sea of red umbrellas as Bedford held court in a folding chair, in a leather jacket and carrying a riding crop, stating, “This is going to be the day of reckoning here in Ottawa.” Valerie Scott also addressed the crowd:“Sex work has always been a legal occupation in Canada. The bawdy house law prohibits us from working indoors. But the communicating law prevents us from working outdoors. This puts us in an impossible situation. We cannot respect the dictates of one law without violating the dictates of another.”
In honor of the occasion, several pro-sex work op eds appeared in Canadian papers this week: Huffington Post Canada offered one by Nikki Thomas of Sex Professionals of Canada detailing why the End Demand/Swedish model system of criminalizing clients is a bad idea. The Star published a piece by Catherine Healy of the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective lauding New Zealand’s decriminalization of sex work and one by feminist professor Angela Campbell supporting the case against Canada’s prostitution laws. The Tyee posted an excerpt of ex-street sex worker Amber Dawn’s autobiography, How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir, which tells the story of the beginning of the Canadian movement supporting decriminalization.
A Tulsa area street sex worker faces charges of resisting arrest, assault and battery on a police officer, and public intoxication complaints in addition to her prostitution charge, after she kicked one of her arresting officers in the groin. Can’t think of much to say in this case beyond offering our fond congratulations.
AB 67, Nevada’s Prop 35 anti-trafficking copycat bill, was signed into law this week. SWOP Las Vegas and other orgs such as ACLU Nevada voiced concerns about the potential for violating human rights and wasting limited resources ensnaring innocent people as sex traffickers given the bill’s overly broad definitions and removal of certain defenses for the accused.
In a federal class action lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-counsel, a settlement with Louisiana was finalized that will remove from the sex offender registry approximately 700 individuals who had been required to register solely because of a Crime Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS) conviction, usually earned through a street sex work conviction. Deon Haywood, of Louisiana sex workers’ rights org Women with a Vision, is quoted in the article.