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Canada v Bedford: Case Summary
Canada v Bedford is a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision about the constitutional validity of three provisions of the Canadian Criminal Code. The case was brought forward by three former prostitutes, who argued that ss. 210, 212(1)(j) and 213(1)(c) were unconstitutional and infringe s. 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by preventing sex workers from conducting their work safely. The impugned provisions, which were created to prevent public nuisance and to limit the exploitation of prostitutes, are summarized below:
Section 210 makes it an offence to be an inmate of a bawdy-house, to be found in a bawdy-house without lawful excuse, or to be an owner, landlord, lessor, tenant, or occupier of a place who knowingly permits it to be used as a bawdy house.
Section 212(1)(j) makes it an offence to live on the avails of another's prostitution.
Section 213(1)(c) makes it an offence to either stop or attempt to stop, or communicate or attempt to communicate with, someone in a public place for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or hiring a prostitute.
The court held that the three provisions of the Criminal Code infringe the s. 7 rights of sex workers in that they deprive them of the security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. In doing so they examined the provisions in relation to three principles: Arbitrariness (where there is no connection between the effect and the object of the law), overbreadth where the law goes too far and interferes with some conduct that bears no connection to its objective), and gross disproportionality (where the effect of the law is grossly disproportionate to the state’s objective).
s.210 – prohibition on bawdy-houses The court found that the s. 210’s impact on the s. 7 rights of sex workers was grossly disproportionate to its objective of preventing public nuisance. The provision imposed limits on sex workers to the extent that their health, lives, and safety were at risk.
s.212(1)(j) – prohibition on living off the avails of prostitution The court found that s. 212(1)(j)’s impact on the s. 7 rights of sex workers was overbroad in that it captured individuals such as drivers and security guards who would actually enhance the safety of sex workers.
s. 213(1)(c) – prohibition on communication in a public place The court found that s. 213(1)(c)’s impact of the s. 7 rights of sex workers was grossly disproportionate to the objective of preventing public nuisance, in that the provision greatly impacted a prostitute’s ability to implement safety screening of prospective clients.
S. 1 of the Charter “guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”. The court held that the provisions were not saved by s.1 in light of their serious impact on the security of the person by inhibiting a sex worker’s ability to take adequate measures to protect herself. Consequentially, the Court held that the provisions should be struck down. The declaration of invalidity was suspended for one year at which point Parliament may choose, if it wishes, to implement new legislation.
Citation: Canada v Bedford  S.C.J. No. 72