Supreme Court of Canada will hear challenge to prostitution laws

October 25, 2012

Vancouver- Today, the Supreme Court of Canada announced that it will hear the federal government’s appeal in the case of Attorney General of Canada, et al. v. Terri Jean Bedford, et al. The Court also agreed to hear the cross-appeal filed by Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott, the applicants in the case.

Bedford, Lebovitch and Scott initiated this case in 2007, asking the court to strike down s.210 (keeping common bawdy houses), s.212(1)(j) (living on the avails of prostitution) and s.213(1)(c) (communicating for the purpose of prostitution) because those provisions violate sex workers’ constitutional right to liberty, safety and freedom of expression.

In September 2010, Justice Himel of the Ontario Superior Court did just that, striking down all three provisions as violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The decision was appealed by the federal government, and Pivot Legal Society, Sex Workers United Against Violence Society (SWUAV) and PACE Society intervened when the case was before the Ontario Court of Appeal. In March of this year, the Court of Appeal rendered its decision, agreeing that the bawdy house and living on the avails provisions are unconstitutional, but reversed Justice Himel’s decision on the communication law.

Following the Court of Appeal’s decision, the federal government filed an application for leave to the SCC, stating that the Court of Appeal erred in ruling that the bawdy house provision and living on the avails provision are unconstitutional. Bedford et al. filed a cross-appeal, requesting that the SCC review the Court of Appeal’s ruling on the communication law, as well as the Court’s decision to remedy the unconstitutionality of the living on the avails provision by limiting it’s application to “circumstances of exploitation.”

“The Supreme Court of Canada only grants leave in cases involving issues of public importance, which this case certainly is,” said Katrina Pacey, Pivot lawyer and counsel for the Vancouver sex worker rights organizations that intervened in the Bedford case at the Court of Appeal. “I am thrilled this important human rights issue has finally made its way to Canada’s top court and they will have a chance to hear how Canada’s prostitution laws place sex workers in unbelievably dangerous circumstances and deprive them of meaningful opportunities to ensure their safety.”

The Supreme Court will likely not hear the case until the fall of 2013.  Sex workers’ rights groups, including the Pivot, SWUAV and PACE coalition, will likely once again seek leave to intervene in the case.

The Ontario Superior Court decision can be found here: http://canlii.ca/t/2cr62
The Ontario Court of Appeal decision can be found here: http://canlii.ca/t/fqqwq
The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on leave can be found here: http://scc.lexum.org/decisia-scc-csc/scc-csc/news/en/item/4120/index.do

For further commentary, please check out Pivot’s blog: http://www.pivotlegal.org/blog

For comment:
Katrina Pacey, litigation director, 604 729 7849