Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, 2012 ONCA 186 (March 26, 2012)

Court and Agency Decisions and Orders (including case law)

The Ontario Court of Appeal here ruled on the constitutionality of Canada's sex work laws in a decision that recognizes that the current provisions regarding sex work have serious and negative implications for the security and human rights of sex workers in Canada. This decision declares the laws concerning "common bawdy houses" that prohibits indoor sex work and "living on the avails" of prostitution to be unconstitutional, but upholds the prohibition of communicating in public for the purposes of sex work.

The restriction on "common bawdy houses" was struck down by the Court, which found the provision to be disproportionate and overly broad in its application, a ruling that will make indoor sex work safer. The Court granted Parliament one year to rewrite the law at which point it will otherwise be rendered invalid. In addition, the Court revised the provision on "living on the avails" of prostitution by limiting criminalization only to those situations where there are demonstrated "circumstances of exploitation," which appropriately prohibits the criminalizing of non-exploitative relationships.

Unfortunately, the Court chose to uphold the provision that concerns the criminalizing of communication for the purpose of prostitution. Although sex work itself is not illegal in Canada, upholding the prohibition on communication effectively makes it illegal to engage in outdoor sex work, which is often already performed by the sex workers most vulnerable to violence and least able to negotiate safer sex and working conditions. Upholding the ban on outdoor sex work drives it underground and away from social protections (including police), which means outdoor sex workers have no recourse for reporting violence and are discouraged from seeking health services.

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