New prostitution laws should consider 'consenting adults': Terri-Jean Bedford
Published Sunday, December 22, 2013 10:10AM EST
The federal government "should take consenting adults into consideration" as it crafts its response to the Supreme Court decision that declared three key prostitution laws unconstitutional, says one of the sex workers involved in the case.
In a unanimous decision released Friday, the court found that the laws that prohibit keeping a brothel, living on the avails of prostitution and communicating in public for purposes of prostitution are overly broad and infringe on prostitutes' Charter rights by depriving them of security of the person.
The laws will remain in place, however, as the court's decision is set aside for one year until Parliament decides how to respond: it can either amend the current laws or set the issue aside.
Speaking to CTV's Question Period in an interview that aired Sunday, sex worker and activist Terri-Jean Bedford said the government has three factors to consider as it looks at drafting better laws governing prostitution.
"First of all, they have to take consenting adults into consideration. What we can and cannot do in the privacy of our home with another consenting adult for money or not," Bedford said.
"Then they have to outline what a sex act is. And then draft laws that are fair and right, and that don't put people in harm's way, maim or kill them."
Sex workers hailed the court's decision Friday, saying that the laws as currently written put them in harm's way by making it impossible for them to take necessary measures to ensure their own safety.
Writing on behalf of the court, Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin agreed, noting that because prostitution is legal in Canada, the three provisions in question make it difficult for prostitutes to take safety precautions in their work.
Sex workers are forced to ply their trade in the streets rather than in a collective, and cannot hire bodyguards or other staff to ensure their own safety.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay said Friday he was "concerned" by the court's decision. He vowed to ensure that the law "continues to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution."
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney told Question Period that he is "disappointed" with the decision because "it is important that we put the rights of women, the human dignity and the respect of women at the heart of what we do."
Blaney said that he recently visited with Quebec RCMP officers, as well as provincial and municipal police, that investigate human trafficking, which "turns human beings into real modern slaves, which is what prostitution in many cases is all about."
Blaney said women who are caught up in human trafficking rings are forced into prostitution, and can fall into drug use.
"I think as a society we need to set rules that make sure that those women are protected and that as a society we are behaving in a responsible manner."
Writing for the court, McLachlin said that the current laws not only impose conditions on prostitutes, but impose "dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky -- but legal -- activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risks."
And while lawyers for the Ontario and federal governments argued that prostitutes could avoid the risks simply by choosing not to engage in sex work, the court noted that while some prostitutes freely engage in sex work, others do so out of financial need, to feed addictions or other reasons.
Advocate and former prostitute Valerie Scott said prior to the provision that prohibits communicating publicly for the purpose of prostitution, prostitutes worked in pairs or in threes and practiced safety measures such as taking down licence plate numbers in front of a customer before one of them drove away.
Striking down that provision and the one that prohibits living off the avails of prostitution will allow prostitutes to work together, which will improve their safety, Scott says.
"Prior to that we always had to work alone, bad clients knew this and they took advantage of it," Scott told Question Period. "We were afraid to call the police, and bad clients knew that."
Both Bedford and Scott agree that the answer is not the so-called "Nordic model," which makes soliciting sex by "johns" illegal.
Bedford warns that such laws put men at risk by, for example, opening them up to blackmail.
"I don't think men should be criminalized for obeying a natural need either," Bedford says.
Scott adds: "There's always money involved when it comes to sex, whether it's sex work or not. But men should not be criminalized and vilified…We're all adults here. Don't treat men like they are villains simply because they like to have sex."