This is the prepared text of the speech delivered to the Law Union of Ontario by Terri-Jean Bedford on March 21, 2014. Following her speech she has asked her supporters to distribute the text to the media and general public. Miss Bedford is a plaintiff in Bedford Versus Canada, in which three of Canada’s key prostitution laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in December 2013. Reprinted with her permission.
Before I say anything else I want to acknowledge Dr. Henry Morgantaler, who died this summer. I appreciate what he was up against, not just because I have been in legal wars and in jail too, but also because both of us were advocating for women. Blessed be his memory.
Now, on the lighter side, let me tell you a little story I think you’ll appreciate. Some years ago I was whipping a client strapped to a bench. With each lash he had to call out “thank you mistress, another please” and he had to sound like he meant it. After he had wept to my satisfaction I removed his restraints and let him kiss my boots. Then I told him to get dressed and meet me at the front door. Now get this. When I let him out the door we said goodbye to each other. He said “Goodnight mistress”. I said,“Goodnight, Your Honour”.
Speaking of judges, our judges are now, thankfully, addressing the federal government’s so called “Tough on Crime Agenda”, which is a scam. The government itself is an offender if laws passed are unconstitutional, or contrary to Canada’s values. Is it patriotic to focus on length of sentences and ignore overcrowding in prisons? Ignore the misuse of warrants? Ignore the underfunding of legal aid? Ignore spousal abuse? Ignore the shortage of shelters for women, or of shelters that accept family pets so the wife beaters can’t use the family pet as a hostage? Is it patriotic to be caught by surprise by the sexual harassment scandals about women and minorities in the armed forces and the RCMP? And, my friends, is it patriotic to tell women they can only have sex if they have it for free?
Did you know that our constitutional challenge prevented a mandatory minimum prison sentence for keeping a common bawdy house? Even a sad sack like former justice minister Rob Nicholson should have realized that the law was flawed. Justice Himel struck down the law in 2010 and the government was caught completely off guard. They didn’t even know the decision was being released. I doubt if Mr. Harper and Mr. Nicholson even knew of the challenge. Yet, an appeal was announced within 3 hours of the release of the decision, despite the fact that Judge Himel said Parliament’s involvement was required. Same reflex reaction after losing at the Ontario Court of Appeal. Nicholson said the government’s position was still that the laws were constitutional. Beverly MacLaughlin and the Supreme Court, in my opinion, then confirmed that Mr. Harper and Mr. Nicholson and their cronies were either liars, who just wanted the issue to go away, or dummies. She did not say which. Take your pick. Then remember that this is the same gang that may be drafting new legislation.
Mr. Harper has replaced Mr. Nicholson with Mr. Mackay, the former defence minister. Women and minorities being harassed in the armed forces is more of a problem than enemy fire. Let that be Mr. Mackay’s legacy. Now it appears he is going to add to it by bringing in new laws that will not stand and will not be enforced or be obeyed, perhaps something like the so-called Nordic approach. If they bring that in it will blow up in their face. My fellow speakers will be telling you all about that shortly. But I want to make a couple of observations of my own.
For one, that approach targets men and Mr. Harper gets more support from men than women. The governments in that brought in that legislation are more left wing and more female supported than Mr. Harper’s government. It also means we women can accuse a guy who took us to dinner of trying to buy sex from us. The potential for blackmail of men is endless because women cannot be charged for selling sex. I’m sure Mr. Harper’s power base of white collar men will be thrilled to have that hanging over them.
And remember something else, something very important. The other countries who outlawed the purchase of sex acts, whatever they are, did not have a Himel decision which the Supreme Court has made a guideline for new legislation. Those very laws from other countries might be illegal in Canada. Discriminatory, too broad, overreaching, work against their stated objectives, blah, blah, blah and on and on against the Nordic approach; I think we get it.
Judge Himel said that laws other than the ones she struck down address the worst aspects of prostitution, aspects which, in large measure, resulted from the laws she struck down. So no new laws need to be introduced. The higher courts agreed. They seemed to say there was nothing less patriotic than to take the position the government has taken and is considering.
And of course law enforcement officials point out that serious criminals would go undetected and unpunished if resources had to be devoted to ensuring women only had sex for free.
And there’s more. Perhaps most important of all. New legislation must tell us what we cannot do in private as consenting adults for money or not. The Supreme Court said new laws, if vague, would not be viable, whatever the approach. When a new law comes in it will have terms of reference. It will say “for purposes of this act, a sex act is defined as” and blah blah. If the blah blah is not clear, the law is not itself legal. Thank you Beverly MacLaughlin. Home run girl!
Now tell me, what part of all this does Mr. Harper not get? Why didn’t Mr. Nicholson and Mr. Mackay, who are lawyers, resign rather than advocate laws that everybody knows are unworkable and are a disgrace to a free society? I cannot comment responsibly about Mr. Harper’s economic, foreign or environmental policies and so forth. But what I can say is that, in my opinion, on matters of criminal justice he has fallen beneath the dignity of many of the criminals he says he is getting tough on.
Not only that. Some of you may have heard that Mr. Harper keeps calling me and offering to appoint me to the Senate, as a government whip. Well, I am a convicted prostitute, and he keeps trying to buy me, so he would be a John. I will have to report him. No – means – no, Stevie! Bad boy!
Well, enough about him. I also want to talk tonight about lawyers and my long journey at their side. First I want to bring to your attention that I believe that Val Scott, Amy Lebovitch and I probably got too much credit for striking down the prostitution laws. Our legal teams got too little credit. Let me drop a few names: Professor Young, Marlys Edwardh (who fought for Dr. Morgantaler), Ron Marzel, Stacey Nichols, Sabrina Pingitore, Kendra Reinhardt, Katrina Pacey, Daniel Sheppard and other lawyers fought for our side directly and indirectly.
I have been fighting, and my lawyers have been fighting on my behalf, against the laws that were struck down for 20 years. In my youth I was too poor and lacked the support to contemplate challenging the laws. But in 1994, when I was raided in Thornhill that changed. I had support. You can read all about that in my book, but with that support I took a position. I was selling role play and refused to sell sex. Yet I was raided and charged as a prostitute. David O’Connor represented me at my bail hearing and did a good job. The late Ken Danson began my defence preparations and Morris Manning took over from him. Morris also represented Dr. Morgantaler. My supporters recommended that change and Ken was supportive. Ken told me, even after he was replaced, “Terri, you can’t plead guilty. Promise me you won’t”. Morris lived up to his reputation and at my trial he had the charges thrown out because they were too vague. Unfortunately that did not hold up on appeal. Murray Klippenstein took over. He worked with Charlie Campbell and was advised by Paula Rochman and assisted by Wendy Snelgrove. That was in part because I and my supporters felt that lawyers with a reputation as activists were going to be important as the matter became a high profile battle of attrition. During this time George Callahan, a true gentleman and pit bull as the situation required, assisted me in ensuring my private affairs were in order. He also joined Klippenstein’s team, which was then disqualified. They were ruled in conflict because they represented all the accused together. Fortunately, Osgoode Professor Alan Young signed on as an advisor to the team and was ready to take over if the Klippenstein team was disqualified and he did. He was assisted by lawyer Leah Daniels, who taught at Seneca, when my trial finally got under way in 1998. They spent all summer on the case and had a team of students assisting them.
It was a barn burner of a trial. The CNN truck and all the major networks staked out the courthouse in Newmarket, wherever that is. The trial went on for weeks and the questions to be decided, as some reporters said, were as fundamental as those raised in the recent Supreme Court decision – in my view more fundamental. Judge Roy Bogusky, with all the mass media assembled, gave a short oral decision. He said the people there had to make a living and were in a hurry to leave. What a fool. Even he was lucky to get a seat at the trial. He refused to say which of the things I did were not legal and what he did specify was for such poor reasons that no appeal that was not rigged would uphold such a disgusting miscarriage of justice. He said the misuse of the search warrant was an understandable reaction of young bucks. Rosie DiManno finished off his reputation for good in her column.
Professor Young and Paul Burstein (who needs no introduction) did the appeal in 1999. Well, Judge Finlayson of the Ontario Court of Appeal wrote the worst decision in its history. Read it some time. It was so poor, lawyers told me, that it meant that a stripper or waitress could be charged as a prostitute and it was almost impossible to have a search warrant that could be challenged. It was so poor that judges afterward threw out prostitution and bawdy house charges simply because my conviction and appeal decision were such garbage that they became precedents to cite when acquitting. Ever wondered why prostitution convictions fell steadily since, despite the rising population and the growth of the sex trade, whatever that is. Answer in part, Finlayson.
Some of this was pointed out by now Judge David Corbett, who sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. He worked with Lucy McSweeney and Timothy Banks, then an articling student, when David prepared his masterful factum in 2000. Unfortunately it was not heard.
Professor Young remained active for me, and when I reopened in downtown Toronto just after my conviction he asked the police if they had any objection to what I was doing, which was identical to Thornhill – which resulted in a massive raid and trial. I was open 4 years. No raid, no trial.
Another lawyer, Pierre Cloutier, advised me on and assisted me in the handling of the administrative matters of my business, like registration and minute books and so forth.
Just after I closed Professor Young told me he was considering challenging the constitutionality of some of the prostitution laws in court and wanted me to be one of the plaintiffs. Want to know what is involved in a Charter challenge? Try it some time. Half a million dollars for starters. Add to that tons of volunteer legal time. The work involved with the experts. Try 3 years of hearings and related preparation. Try dealing with government lawyers who do not hesitate to offer crap as evidence and argument. If you don’t believe it was crap ask Judge Himel and the Supreme Court. Try to deal with a government that orders their lawyers to make it go away by any means necessary and then orders them to appeal, when there are no grounds to appeal, simply to make the issue go away. A government that has no regard for Charter challenges.
Then try dealing with a portion of the media who in one breath points to the downsides of the sex trade, whatever that is, while turning a blind eye to the finding of the courts that the very laws they are fighting to retain are largely the cause of those evils. Try dealing with commentators who bring in obscure new studies or reports, not tested in court, to attack legalization of the sex trade, while ignoring the findings of a virtual 3 year public inquiry, with evidence tested in court, that resulted in the Himel decision and what it had to say about other countries. Barbara Kay and Margaret Wente are two recent examples of such cherry pickers who don’t even say in their columns if they have even read the decision. Rosie DiManno said “read the damn decision”, out of frustration with such lousy journalism.
It was never our intent to work our way to the Supreme Court. If Mr. Harper and his justice ministers were doing their jobs, they would have said that even if Judge Himel was partly right the laws needed changing, and not defending. They had the choice of acting all along. But they put themselves first.
In 2011 I published my memoirs, where I tell all about my legal battles. I got help from, you guessed it, a lawyer. Sender Herschorn and his staff were wonderful in ensuring I was within the law in writing the book, in what I said in the book and in advising me on drafts. He wrote to those mentioned in the drafts and sent them copies and made sure that no one had grounds to sue me. He also helped me with the writing and was encouraging throughout. He assisted me in private legal matters as well.
So you see, there is a great deal that lawyers can do for their clients in the sex trade, or those considering entering it, other that just react to charges or arrests. Lawyers can act proactively. Chanelle and Karen are going to talk about that, and believe me, they know their stuff and I am so grateful to share this time with them tonight because what they have to tell you is very important.
I want to conclude by sharing just one last thing about lawyers with you. It’s the same lousy joke I tell whenever I speak to audiences of legal professionals or law students. The one good thing about the joke is that it’s so bad it ensures I have to shut up and sit down immediately. Here’s the joke.
Question: What’s the difference between a dominatrix and a woman lawyer?
Answer: The dom returns phone calls.
Thank you all very much.