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2010 Hero: Terri-Jean Bedford, Valerie Scott, Amy Lebovitch, and Justice Susan Himel

201012-heroesandvillains-heroes-bedford-lebovitch-scott-himel-BL.jpg
Illustration by Brett Lamb/Torontoist.


Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.


When we call prostitution the “world’s oldest profession,” surely we’re being facetious. Dentistry is a profession. Teaching is a profession. Prostitution is a crime, right? Well, sort of. In fact, prostitution itself has been decriminalized in Canada since the ’70s, but there’s a catch. Almost any activity associated with prostitution is illegal: communicating to solicit clients, living off the avails, keeping a “bawdy house” (a term that perhaps gives away the vintage of these laws—it sounds like it was coined by the Wife of Bath). In case you haven’t noticed, this has all been entirely ineffective at stopping prostitution from existing. Forget about “profession,” and focus on the “world’s oldest” part. As in, “has existed in some capacity in just about every society everywhere ever.” And that includes penguin society!
Like it or not, hooking is here to stay, which means you have to ask what these laws actually do. Well, simple: they force an already marginalized and victimized group into dangerous, illegal situations on a constant basis. The “bawdy house” provision makes a working from home approach problematic, the “living off the avails” part means hiring any security is also a no-no, and the “communication” bit means a “client screening process” is often jumping into a car before a cop sees you. Worst of all, a sex worker fearing for her (or his) safety cannot dial 911 without risking incarceration themselves.
On Tuesday, September 28, things started to change. Terri-Jean Bedford, Valerie Scott, and Amy Lebovitch made a huge leap forward for sex workers’ rights in the province of Ontario. In a surprise decision, Justice Susan Himel declared all three aforementioned laws unconstitutional in the Ontario Supreme Court, right here in Toronto. Obviously, the decision was controversial. Reactionaries like conservative lobby group REAL Women of Canada (who are about as anti-feminist, anti-choice, homophobic, and transphobic as an organization that nominally supports women’s rights can possibly get) warn that decriminalization will lead to a tidal wave of streetwalking, human trafficking, and abuse, conveniently ignoring that it’s our current laws that force prostitutes onto the streets and make their jobs so unsafe. Squeamishness has no place interfering in such important jurisprudence. If you don’t think prostitution is “nice,” try not becoming a prostitute. Otherwise, what consenting adults choose to do with their bodies and their money is none of your business.
We haven’t reached the end of this story yet. Ontario’s Court of Appeals put a stay in place, meaning that these unconstitutional laws will still be enforced until April 29, 2011, giving the government ample time to react. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, of course, has already declared prostitution “bad for society.” And it may be a long time yet before the sex workers of Ontario are able to realize their dreams of forming trade guilds, and filing income tax (yes, this is actually a dream for some). You know, like professionals. But Bedford, Scott, Lebovitch, and Himel all put their necks on the line to strike down the kind of laws that allowed Robert Pickton to murder dozens of women for fourteen years before being arrested. And we think that’s fucking heroic.

Comments

  • http://twitter.com/MarisaTorre Marisa Torre

    Work is work.
    Everyone deserves to be paid for the work they do without fear of legal (or any) persecution
    Mechanics get paid for their services; cooks, models, photographers, carpenters, dentists, urologists, web designers, plumbers, etc… -ALL get paid for the work they do
    for people who cannot acquire these services free from significant others or do them for themselves.
    Some have no more training than the expertise they acquire in practice.
    As long as a woman CHOOSES to provide sexual services as a professional
    for people who cannot acquire these services free from significant others or do them for themselves
    she deserves to be paid for the work she does without fear of legal persecution.
    Instead of chasing prostitutes, law enforcers should be freed up to stop the real criminals who FORCE young girls and unwilling women into sex slavery.
    Makes me wonder where the REAL injustice 'lays'

  • http://twitter.com/thefwordmedia The F Word

    “What consenting adults choose to do with their bodies and their money is none of your business”? This statement is highly offensive and untrue. What happens to women and women's bodies is, as a woman, most certainly my business.

    This piece has erased a huge chunk of sex workers in your simplification of sex work as being, simply, about 'choice'. Survival sex work has very little to do with choice, in fact, and much more to do with having no other choice at all. It is not only the 'prudish' conservatives who do not support decriminalization, but also many feminists and Aboriginal women's groups: http://www.lacles.org/index.ph

    All too often sex work is treated as though it exists outside of the context of a patriarchal society wherein poverty, social status, and race impact our 'choices' and as such, those who do not support decriminalization are represented as anti-sex, right wing, prudes. It is not the case. You have not provided an accurate view of this issue at all, and while you have presented your bias clearly, you have not acknowledged this bias and, instead, have represented the 'controversy' surrounding this debate in a way that lacks truth, accuracy, and knowledge of the issues and argument.

    - Meghan

  • http://piorkowski.ca Jarek Piórkowski

    So sex work is outlawed and this is somehow enforced. Prior survival sex works do what?

  • torontothegreat

    So you feel that being a women, gives you the right to tell other women what to do? Can you explain this more? I'm unclear on where your logic is…

    It's also worth noting that men also provide sex for sale services, probably as much as women, cause you seem to be focusing solely on women.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MarisaTorre Marisa Torre

    Dear Meghan
    As much as I admire the spirit of sisterhood evident to me in your comment
    I think you missed the point I was trying to make in the same vain.
    It is not the women who actually do the work who should be persecuted, but the people who force women and usually girls to do the work for them while they profit. Pimps and purveyors should be hunted down, persecuted and punished for the criminals they are -even if some of them are indeed themselves women.
    Sex is not always fun, it is not always bad and it is not always the precious and emotionally sentimental commodity that greeting cards, movies, christianity and love songs have made it lucrative for them to have us buy into.
    If sex is the only intimacy in a committed relationship, it is not very meaningful as it has been played out in society til the 1960's. There are other equally meaningful ways for a couple to be intimate and exclusive.
    Work is work.
    Men need to respect that the way most women already do. If woman are allowed to choose their own line of work ON THEIR OWN TERMS, offering a full measure of work for a rate of pay with the skills they have to offer that men are willing to pay for, just like any other law abiding citizen, she should be respected for not being 'on the dole' from the gov't paying her with our taxes to do nothing.
    In fact the tax revenue generated by sex workers would indeed benefit all of society and even quite possible lessen the tax load on other citizens.
    I have every respect for your intention to protect the well-being of women inour society, but I think your methods are wrong.

    -Marisa.

  • http://twitter.com/MarisaTorre Marisa Torre

    in reply to The F Word

    Dear Meghan
    As much as I admire the spirit of sisterhood evident to me in your comment
    I think you missed the point I was trying to make in the same vain.
    It is not the women who actually do the work who should be persecuted, but the people who force women and usually girls to do the work for them while they profit. Pimps and purveyors should be hunted down, persecuted and punished for the criminals they are -even if some of them are indeed themselves women.
    Sex is not always fun, it is not always bad and it is not always the precious and emotionally sentimental commodity that greeting cards, movies, christianity and love songs have made it lucrative for them to have us buy into.
    If sex is the only intimacy in a committed relationship, it is not very meaningful as it has been played out in society til the 1960's. There are other equally meaningful ways for a couple to be intimate and exclusive.
    Work is work.
    Men need to respect that the way most women already do. If woman are allowed to choose their own line of work ON THEIR OWN TERMS, offering a full measure of work for a rate of pay with the skills they have to offer that men are willing to pay for, just like any other law abiding citizen, she should be respected for not being 'on the dole' from the gov't paying her with our taxes to do nothing.
    In fact the tax revenue generated by sex workers would indeed benefit all of society and even quite possible lessen the tax load on other citizens.
    I have every respect for your intention to protect the well-being of women inour society, but I think your methods are wrong.

    -Marisa.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MarisaTorre Marisa Torre

    Dear Meghan
    As much as I admire the spirit of sisterhood evident to me in your comment
    I think you missed the point I was trying to make in the same vain.
    It is not the women who actually do the work who should be persecuted, but the people who force women and usually girls to do the work for them while they profit. Pimps and purveyors should be hunted down, persecuted and punished for the criminals they are -even if some of them are indeed themselves women.
    Sex is not always fun, it is not always bad and it is not always the precious and emotionally sentimental commodity that greeting cards, movies, christianity and love songs have made it lucrative for them to have us buy into.
    If sex is the only intimacy in a committed relationship, it is not very meaningful as it has been played out in society til the 1960's. There are other equally meaningful ways for a couple to be intimate and exclusive.
    Work is work.
    Men need to respect that the way most women already do. If woman are allowed to choose their own line of work ON THEIR OWN TERMS, offering a full measure of work for a rate of pay with the skills they have to offer that men are willing to pay for, just like any other law abiding citizen, she should be respected for not being 'on the dole' from the gov't paying her with our taxes to do nothing.
    In fact the tax revenue generated by sex workers would indeed benefit all of society and even quite possible lessen the tax load on other citizens.
    I have every respect for your intention to protect the well-being of women inour society, but I think your methods are wrong.

    -Marisa.

  • http://twitter.com/MarisaTorre Marisa Torre

    in reply to The F Word

    Dear Meghan
    As much as I admire the spirit of sisterhood evident to me in your comment
    I think you missed the point I was trying to make in the same vain.
    It is not the women who actually do the work who should be persecuted, but the people who force women and usually girls to do the work for them while they profit. Pimps and purveyors should be hunted down, persecuted and punished for the criminals they are -even if some of them are indeed themselves women.
    Sex is not always fun, it is not always bad and it is not always the precious and emotionally sentimental commodity that greeting cards, movies, christianity and love songs have made it lucrative for them to have us buy into.
    If sex is the only intimacy in a committed relationship, it is not very meaningful as it has been played out in society til the 1960's. There are other equally meaningful ways for a couple to be intimate and exclusive.
    Work is work.
    Men need to respect that the way most women already do. If woman are allowed to choose their own line of work ON THEIR OWN TERMS, offering a full measure of work for a rate of pay with the skills they have to offer that men are willing to pay for, just like any other law abiding citizen, she should be respected for not being 'on the dole' from the gov't paying her with our taxes to do nothing.
    In fact the tax revenue generated by sex workers would indeed benefit all of society and even quite possible lessen the tax load on other citizens.
    I have every respect for your intention to protect the well-being of women inour society, but I think your methods are wrong.

    -Marisa.