Toronto Metropolitan University
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Sex Work, Law, and Violence: Bedford v Canada and the Human Rights of Sex Workers

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-10-02, 15:44 authored by Graham HudsonGraham Hudson, Emily van der MeulenEmily van der Meulen

In Bedford v. Canada, two levels of Ontario courts ruled that a selection of criminal laws prohibiting prostitution-related activities unjustifiably deprive sex workers of their right to liberty and security of the person.The courts struck down or modified some of the offending provisions to ensure that sex workers are better able to take precautions against violence. While sex workers consider the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruling a victory and the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling a partial victory, the government, some women’s rights groups, and other defenders of the provisions argue that courts ventured into a “policy thicket”, which is to suggest that they had stepped outside of their legitimate institutional role. Associated concerns include that the decisions effectively constitutionalize prostitution and will pre-empt or curtail Parliament’s consideration of legislative options.

     In this paper, the authors clarify misconceptions about the constitutional foundations and implications of Bedford, and explore how the ruling might affect legal and policy-based interactions among various stakeholders. Approaching constitutional rights as discursive mechanisms, rather than as “trumps”, we argue that Bedford will not hinder the continuation of democratic debate about whether, how, and why aspects of sex work should be regulated. To the contrary, Bedford is more likely to enhance the quality of debates by making them more inclusive of the perspectives of sex workers as well as accommodative of growing empirical research that has hitherto been ignored or misrecognized.




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