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Sex worker Terri-Jean Bedford answers questions following an Ontario court ruling striking down prostitution laws Sep 28, 2010. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
Sex worker Terri-Jean Bedford answers questions following an Ontario court ruling striking down prostitution laws Sep 28, 2010. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Earlier discussion

Dominatrix takes questions on ruling against prostitution laws Add to ...

In a landmark decision Tuesday, an Ontario Superior Court judge struck down the core of a controversial anti-prostitution law, saying it actually endangers the very women it aims to protect. The decision made waves across the country, and if upheld on appeal the ruling would topple the use of the prostitution provisions across the country.

Dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford has been involved in the struggle to fight the law, and we're pleased she took your questions on what the new law means for sex-trade workers.

The Globe and Mail: Hello everyone. I'm Jill Mahoney, a reporter at The Globe. I'll be hosting our discussion today with Terri-Jean Bedford. We'll be getting under way momentarily. In the meantime, please start submitting your questions.

The Globe and Mail: Terri-Jean, thanks for taking the time to join us today. Yesterday's decision was a landmark ruling, and I know you've been involved in the legal battle for quite some time. Were you surprised by the judge's decision?

Terri-Jean Bedford: No. There were 2 years of hearings with dozens of experts. The law is clearly in need of change. Nothing can be worse than what we have now - whatever your values.

Guest: I understand the desire of sex workers to be able to work in safety, and i support that, but how do we (as a society) target those who are exploiting sex workers, such as pimps. Does Terri-Jean have any suggestions?

Terri-Jean Bedford: Allowing for the term pimp, several ways. Licencing them like gun dealers, druggists, massage therapists. Also, the law as the judge saw it should allow sex workers to report abuse without fear of the police.

Frances: Hi Terri-Jean - congratulations on the win. I am concerned about the 30 days where the laws will still be in effect - is there any concern that police in Ontario will lash out while they still have a chance? What steps can sex workers take to guard against this?

The Globe and Mail: Click here to read a story on the decision by The Globe's Kirk Makin.

Terri-Jean Bedford: I think the negative publicity that would result from any last minute frenzy of enforcement would deter them.

Guest: So do you see the solution as Government regulation of the industry? Am I going to one day find escorts wrapped in plain brown wrappers, or hidden out of sight at a check out stand?

Terri-Jean Bedford: That is what you are finding now. We are in the worst case scenario. I think government should have some role, like everywhere else, but that role should just be part of the coming changes.

Edgars: OK, so now that some of the hindering laws have been dropped, what laws would you reccomend be instituted to eliminate street level solicitation and indecency acts in public spaces that are associated to the sex trade?

Terri-Jean Bedford: I think the Prime Minister should answer that and then go to Parliament. The key here is for the government to be specific about what we can and cannot do.

The Globe and Mail: Terri-Jean, why did you get involved in the struggle to fight Canada's anti-prostitution law?

Terri-Jean Bedford: In 1994 I was shut down and reduced to poverty and to this day I do not know why. On my website, madamedesade.com you can read my open letter. This is the latest in my legal battles to get the government to make clear rules.

Guest: I noted in the Globe this morning that Provincial Governments seem to have no problem taking money from problem gamblers and regulating that particular "sin" industry. I suspect that it is only a matter of time before they begin regulating the sex industry too.

Terri-Jean Bedford: I think legal behaviour for money should be taxed. When I ran my facility I paid all taxes. If the activity is underground the incentive to do this is reduced.

The Globe and Mail: To take up Guest's point, do sex-trade workers plan to lobby for a regulation regime that would include things like workers' compensation, health standards and inclusion in the income tax regime?

Terri-Jean Bedford: I cannot speak for the various groups or their representatives.

Concerned Canadian: Do you think the reaction to this will be the Conservative government playing to their base and banning prostitution outright?

Terri-Jean Bedford: I don't know. Nor do I think it is just among their base that an aversion to prostitution exists. Opinions vary across the spectrum. I think the judgement acknowledged that.

Melissa: First off, congratulations! I was interesting in finding out the main differences, in your opinion, between legalization and decriminalization of sex work. Do you think legalization would allow for better protection of sex workers, or would decriminalization be prefered?

Terri-Jean Bedford: I think first of all that this is a question for lawyers, judges, scholars and above all the Prime Minister. But I do think that the answer would emerge when the full range of reforms is being considered.

Still Skeptical: Hello Ms. Bedford, I am pleased to see that prostitutes have been decriminalized, but I am concerned that this won't serve to protect prostitutes who are most vulnerable. Have you read Shelagh Day's report on prostitution (her research that indoor prostitution is not safer)? What do you say to feminist arguments for abolition?

The Globe and Mail: Click here for a link to a pdf of Ms. Day's report.

Terri-Jean Bedford: I have read the report and like so many others drummed up in opposition to our challege it is terribly flawed.

Guest: Further to my point, given the lucrative nature of sex trade, what would be the incentive for sex workers to give up a significant portion of their income?

Terri-Jean Bedford: I presume you are referring to payment of taxes. The same applies to numerous businesses and incomes. Why single out this type of service?

Vince: How are you doing now Terri. have you recovered from the government induced setback?

Terri-Jean Bedford: I did reopen a second facility in 1999 and closed it early in 2002. So I did get back on my feet, but since then my health failed and I am now essentially retired.

John: How do you believe the ruling will affect current escort operations? Do you believe most will now offer both in/outcall services or will most convert to incalls only to promote a safer environment?

Terri-Jean Bedford: I think at this date that largely depends on how the government responds to the decision. The Prime Minister has a choice. He can be decisive or he can hide behind the skirts of the woman judge and say its before the courts. Nonsense. It's before him.

Eileen: Hi Terri-Jean, congrats on the win. Will the legalization of sex work help curb the spread of HIV/AIDS and STIs?

Terri-Jean Bedford: Yes. Women will more freely seek advice and assistance and this is one of the ways they can protect themselves. This was also a health and safety matter.

Oralia: Can you comment on what seems to be the rising trend towards the criminalization of "the demand" or the people who purchase sex? I recently heard that at least two Latin American countries have approved the criminalization of clients, similarly to the steps taken in Norway and Sweden. And more countries seem to have proposed bills to discuss and finally approve similar laws. What do you think?

Terri-Jean Bedford: If the Prime Minister wishes to support that let him say so and let Parliament judge him. In my view, that would keep the activity underground and we are back where we are now. Nothing can be worse than that.

Melissa: Thank you for your answer... I am currently studying sex work in a philosophy course offered by Queen's University. We had a discussion with two women involved in sex work earlier last week; both women had different views regarding whether legalization or decriminalization would better protect those engaged in sex work. Hopefully new insight into which method would be more helpful will come to light soon. Overall, I think it would be helpful to have laws regulating sex work so as to promote this type of work in a healthy and safe manner. Thank you again for your comments and congrats again on the win :)

Guest: Hello. I think that violence against sex workers is very deeply set into the culture of this society through the obvious narratives of hatred of women as well as racism, classism etc. I personally remember jokes about "whores" going back to to my grade school. Do you think that explaining sex work should be part of sex education in schools as part of a larger program of normalizing the labour and dissolving harmful myths about it?

Terri-Jean Bedford: I am not sure that teaching about sex work in the early grades of school would be that helpful. Maybe in high school. It depends, again, on what the law will allow as sex work going forward.

Guest: This ruling is the first intelligent thing that has come along in quite a long while. Bravo!

The Globe and Mail: Thank you for joining us today, Terri-Jean. It's been a fascinating discussion. Keep following this story at globeandmail.com.

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