On Friday, December 20th at 9:45am (EST) the Supreme Court of Canada will release its decision in Bedford v. Canada, a constitutional challenge of Canada's prostitution laws. In Bedford, three sex workers from Ontario argued that three laws: s. 210, prohibiting operating or being in a bawdy-house, s. 212(1)(i) prohibiting living on the avails of a prostitute, and s. 213(1)(c) making it illegal to communicate for the purposes of prostitution, violate key rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They argued that the laws violate sex workers’ right to life, liberty and security of the person under section 7 of the Charter, and that the ‘communicating law’ violates sex workers’ right to freedom of expression under section 2(b) of the Charter.
The Gender and Sexual Health Initiative (GSHI), the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and the HIV/AIDS Legal Clinic of Ontario, joined together as ‘The HIV Coalition’ to intervene in this case. GSHI contributed evidence drawn from years of research and dozens of peer-reviewed publications that resulted largely from two major research projects: AESHA - An Evaluation of Sex Worker's Health Access, a longitudinal cohort of street and off-street sex workers, and the Ethnographic-Qualitative study of the physcial, social and policy features of the work environment.
The HIV Coalition submitted that the prostitution laws in the Criminal Code:
1) Hinder sex workers’ access to critical health care services, such as sexual and reproductive health education, HIV prevention and harm reduction services, as well as HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing, care, treatment and support; and
2) Hinder sex workers’ ability to control the conditions of their work, including safer sex practices and the use of condoms, thereby making their work less safe and exposing them to unnecessary harm.
Watch the SCC Webcast (HIV Coalition at 452:00)
On Friday the Supreme Court of Canada will release their decision in Bedford v. Canada. There are several possible outcomes:
1) The Supreme Court could find all three of the challenged laws unconstitutional. The laws would be ‘struck down’, meaning no longer valid. If this happens, it does not necessarily mean that things will change right away, as the Supreme Court may give the Federal Government time to draft new laws. The Supreme Court could provide some guidance to the government in their decision.
2) The Supreme Court could uphold the three challenged laws. If this happens, the laws would remain in the Criminal Code and police can continue to enforce them. Sex workers would not be allowed to challenge the same laws again using the same Charter rights argued in Bedford v. Canada. They could challenge the same laws based on different Charter rights, or challenge different aspects of the laws, like in the B.C. case Sex Workers United Against Violence & Kiselbach v. Canada, which is on hold pending the outcome of this case.
3) The Supreme Court may find some of the three challenged laws unconstitutional and uphold some of the others, or change some of the current laws; a mixed result. In this case, the Supreme Court may give the government time to rewrite or change some of the laws, while others remain in effect.
GSHI hopes that the government will rely on the evidence available showing the harms of a model criminalizing sex work, sex workers, and their clients, and that sex workers are meaningfully consulted in the development of any new laws that impact them.
GSHI's Director Dr. Kate Shannon co-authored an Op-Ed with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network's Sandra Ka Hon Chu for the National Post: