Terri-Jean Bedford talks sex worker rights and law reform at Carleton

Photo taken by Karen-Luz Sison

By Karen-Luz Sison

On Dec. 2, Terri-Jean Bedford, known as “Canada’s most famous dominatrix,” came to Carleton to speak about sex worker rights and her own experience with sex work activism in federal law.

Hosted by the Carleton Human Rights Society and the Womyn’s Centre, Bedford was the keynote speaker in the Womyn’s Centre’s series of events entitled “Days of Activism and Action on Violence Against Women.”

Bedford began her speech by talking about the motivations of sex work clients, such as the desire to explore one’s sexuality without judgment or for sex without emotional attachment. She said there are a variety of reasons people choose to become sex workers, with the most basic being the need for more income.

Bedford went on to say if the government wanted to take away this motive, they would support welfare and other programs that help underprivileged women.

In 2013, Bedford was one of three sex workers that challenged the Canadian government in a landmark case that struck down Canada’s former prostitution laws outlined in the Criminal Code.

Bedford talked about the reasons for the abolishment of the old prostitution laws: they didn’t accomplish the purposes of reducing sex trafficking, they were only minimally enforced, and they were too broad. She said the judge concluded that striking the laws down would not increase prostitution.

A year after Bedford’s case ruling, the Harper government passed its controversial Bill C-36 to replace the old laws. Bill C-36 was passed with the aim of criminalizing and prosecuting customers of the sex work industry. While meant to protect sex workers, C-36 still illegalized the transaction, solicitation, and advertising of sex work.

“C-36 replicated the flaws of the old laws and was no less unconstitutional,” Bedford said.

She further criticized the Harper government’s professed aim of protecting women. “If Mr. Harper was really interested in protecting women as he claimed, he would at least spoken out against wife beaters, deadbeat dads, lack of daycare or affordable housing, high tuition for women students with non-privileged backgrounds, or shortages of women’s shelters.”

Bedford expressed hope for the new Liberal government and said, “They have already committed to repeal or amend Bill C-36.”

“They must begin by setting a timeline for the repeal of Bill C-36 and call for its non-enforcement until that happens.” She further talked about how the liberalization of prostitution laws in other countries was successful.

“We must never allow policies to be driven by morality as opposed to considerations of freedom, safety, and privacy,” Bedford said. “That’s the Canada I want.”

“I hope historians and other researchers would tell stories of those who for decades fought for the freedoms and protections that sex workers and the members of the LGBT community have been and are now in the process of achieving,” Bedford said. “The names that make the media are the tips of the icebergs. Great changes take time, money, effort, perseverance, savvy, and many people to come about.”

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