Sex Worker Activism – Bedford case and Bill C-36

The sex work industry has been commonly known as one of the oldest professions and there are many issues surrounding this field of work. The sex work industry involves many different sectors such as prostitution, pornography, strip club employment, and escorts. There have been many issues surrounding this line of work as it is highly stigmatized for those involved. Consequently, this line of work has been dangerous for sex workers because there is a chance that they will contract sexually transmitted diseases/infections, face violence from customers, and face dangers of criminalization such as charges, arrest, and potential jail time. Sex worker activism is fighting for fair treatment among those who work in the field as if they were working in any other industry.

Sex workers activism is a broad movement that can be found in many countries across different time periods; however, we will be keeping this post within the contemporary Canadian context. Recently, there has been an increase of awareness about prostitution in Canada. The issues surrounding sex work became high profile in 2013 due to the Canada vs. Bedford case. In Canada, the act of prostitution (selling sex for money) is not illegal; however, there are many laws surrounding prostitution that makes life as a sex worker very difficult and dangerous. First, it is illegal to be keeping, or being found in a common bawdy house (Canada v. Bedford,2013). The practical problem with this law is that sex workers are unable to find a safe work environment; therefore, they are stuck working in dark alleyways and/or going to client’s houses. This can be extremely dangerous since sex services private interactions; no one will be there to save the sex worker from violence, rape, or even murder. Second, it is illegal to be living on the avails of prostitution (Canada v. Bedford,2013). It must be understood that this law was primarily formulated in order to combat the issues of pimps. However, in reality, the problem is that sex workers are unable to hire security or body guards because of this law as these personnel can be charged for their security services. Third, it is illegal to communicate in public for the purpose of prostitution (Canada v. Bedford,2013). The ability to communicate is a huge advantage for sex workers as this is the only way they can negotiate the terms and conditions of their services, such as what price and what the boundaries are. It should be noted that these laws were struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada as it was found to be violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Canada v. Bedford,2013). Many sex workers did not want or need the government to protect them, but they wanted the ability and option to protect themselves for their line of work. With the struck down laws, sex workers could provide stability and safety within their work. In Canada, there are sex worker organizations such as SWAAY (Sex Work Activists, Allies, and You) and SPOC (Sex Professionals of Canada) that argue and fight for decriminalization of sex work.

However, the conservative government has responded to the struck down laws in an opposing manner. The most recent news relating to the status of sex work is the Bill C-36 that was introduced on June 4, 2014. If Bill C-36 is passed, the consumers of sexual services will be arrested, charged and prosecuted. It is unclear as to what defines sexual services; therefore, it will most likely be determined case by case, by the judge. Bill C-36 also states that sex workers will be prosecuted for selling their sexual services (Parliament of Canada, 2014). In addition, there will be a ban on marketing and advertising their sexual services (Parliament of Canada, 2014). However, there is an exemption for those who want to advertise and sell their own sexual services (Parliament of Canada, 2014). As one can see, if Bill C-36 is passed, many sex workers will be forced to work in unsafe and dark environments once again. As of October 30, 2014, Bill C-36 has passed up to the third reading; in other words, there is high probability that the bill will soon pass and become a law.


Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, 2013 SCC 72, [2013] 3 S.C.R. 1101. Supreme Court of Canada decided 2013, December 20.

Parliament of Canada. 2014. “Bill C-36.” Retrieved October 14, 2014 (



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