Terri-Jean Bedford on the proposed new sex work law Bill C-36

| June 20, 2014
Photo: wikimedia commons

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In 2007 I was one of three women who began a constitutional challenge of Canada's prostitution laws. I am the Bedford in Bedford Versus Canada. Before that I was wrongly convicted under these laws, which were struck down in 2010 by Justice Himel. In 2012 the Ontario Court of Appeal basically supported her decision and in 2013 the Supreme Court, Chief Justice McLachlin writing, voted unanimously to support it as well. They said the laws were arbitrary, too vague, worked against stated objectives, endangered specific groups and put unfair restrictions on a legal activity, the sex trade.

Unfair because no similar restrictions exist on other legal activities.

All through this Mr. Nicholson, the Justice Minister, insisted the laws were constitutional, while Mr. Harper hid from the media and said he didn't know who I was. Who were they kidding? Perhaps the legal advisors they had then were the ones who are advising them now. 

Finally Mr. Harper dumped Mr. Nicholson and replaced him with Mr. MacKay, possibly to reward Mr. MacKay for making the RCMP a hotbed of sexual harassment and coverups. Mr. MacKay, with Mr. Harper out of the country of course, tabled new laws to replace the ones struck down and made other amendments to the Criminal Code.

That was over a week ago. I have been reading and hearing a lot of reaction since that time. In fact, so much has been written and said about the proposed new law in recent days that I don't need to tell you about it here, except to say again that it will not survive the courts, is not enforceable on any significant scale and is a gift to organized crime if it does stand up.

Word is getting around already that these new laws will bog down. In my opinion, the end result is in sight. The government will once again, as in the past, fail to legislate private sexual behaviour of consenting adults, abortion rights, rights to safe injection sites, mandatory minimum sentences, same sex marriage, inter-racial marriage and so forth. This is just more politics at the expense of the vulnerable to kiss up to religious nuts. This hopefully last chapter is no surprise to me at all given the government of the day.

I don't know to this day if any of these men have even read the 2010 judicial decision. If they did they would have realized that a three year trial of such depth would have provided some insights about needed changes, and they could have changed the law back then. Instead it is only now that they decide the purchase of sex should be illegal. They had three years to arrive at this brilliant insight. The judge in 2010 told them to act then if at all. They chose not to act, but to run, and they are doing it again. 

This is because these new laws are actually designed to fail, and they know it, but it makes the issue go off their desk for a while. They do not seem to understand or care that the new laws create the same harms and injustices as the old ones, probably worse. Instead, they want to oppose prostitution, or appear to do so, at all costs -- and the costs will be high.

If they were seeking to assist vulnerable Canadian women they would, as I have said, have read Justice Himel's decision, which said, after a three year trial, that no new laws were needed. She said existing laws that were not challenged, laws against human trafficking, assault, confinement, coercion and so forth, addressed the worst aspects of prostitution. The higher courts agreed because it is a waste of law enforcement resources to punish consenting women for not having sex for free. You would need a camera in every bedroom. 

Yet, Mr. Harper and Mr. MacKay said more study and consultation, under their supervision, where the outcomes could be controlled, was needed. They were wrong, they never even said they looked at the evidence from the three year trial, or the recent submissions of hundreds of Canada's leading intellectuals. They are fooling almost no one with their cynical and malicious partisanship. They don't seem to care that they are throwing law enforcement into chaos and creating an open field for terrorists, child pornographers, burglars, drunk drivers and the like -- by having the police chase after consenting women and their customers for not having sex for free.  

Mr. MacKay called the sex trade degrading. He is wrong. For starters, the customers are there by choice. They are half the transaction. Most of the women who work in it are there by choice. How many people who clean toilets for minimum wage at a burger joint while getting sexually harassed in a poor job market are doing that by choice? The sex trade business is booming.

The fools who ask if you want your daughter to be a sex worker might also ask if they want their daughters joining the army abroad, changing bedpans in a nursing home, selling shoes, collecting garbage, or working in menial jobs while getting sexually harassed in the bargain. Or do you want your daughter to get married and be one of the ten percent of women who are battered by their partner -- an issue Mr, Harper won't get tough on for fear of offending his base. The people who use the "Do you want your daughter?" argument are fools, because they single out the sex trade.

And while we are at it, I want my daughter to work in the sex trade, but it is her choice. And on top of that, I want your daughter to work in the sex trade, for it to be her choice, and for you to mind your own business and move to a country where women are controlled very strictly so you can have your way there.  Many women in the sex trade work their way through college, support their kids without daycare, do not work long hours and are their own boss -- despite the laws that reduce safety, which were struck down despite the opposition of uninformed religious nuts and others.

Mr. MacKay said the sex trade has been around for thousands of years. So it appears he is a historian as well as a sex therapist. Sex is indeed very popular, as he and his father know. More brilliant insight. Unfortunately, if women don't have sex for free they are, in his view, degraded. Sounds like Reverend Jimmy Swaggart and Reverend Jim Bakker, two television evangelists who preached like Mr. MacKay and Mr. Harper while being adulterous to say the least. The most sanctimonious usually have the most to hide. All in due time.

Did I mention that Mr. MacKay was minister in charge of the armed forces of Canada, where sexual harassment, assaults and coverups were rampant? Did I mention that women who came forward became victims of Mr. Harper and Mr. MacKay as well as of the abusers? Never have whistle-blowers been so persecuted in Ottawa. Now to top it off they are seeking to limit the conditions under which women in Canada can have sex in private with another consenting adult. All this while sending our troops abroad to fight for freedom, or criticizing non-democratic governments! Wow!

Oh, and did I mention that under the proposed new law a man will likely have more chance of going to jail for paying a woman for sex than for raping her on a date or beating his wife? Many women like being sex trade workers. Many women in other occupations don't like what they do and dream of exit strategies from other occupations. Many more women, women with choices and means, would go into the sex trade if Mr. Harper and Mr. MacKay would allow them to protect themselves and stop calling the free choices of women in the bedroom degrading.

All that being said, I view victory as inevitable for our side. This outburst by the government at the expense of more dead women is one thing on the list of their criminal justice program. Like the others it will fail, and our police will be able to get back to dealing with real criminals, and not just chase after women who don't have sex for free or the men who pay them. 

I am asked if Mr. Harper is still calling me and asking me to accept a job in the Senate, as a government whip. I had to tell him to stop calling. I could not accept the job. I was afraid I would run into too many former clients on Parliament Hill.

Terri-Jean Bedford's memoirs, Dominatrix on Trial, are available online and at Chapters-Indigo stores.

This post originally appeared on Terri-Jean Bedford's Blog and is published with permission from the author.

Photo: wikimedia commons



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