Canada (Attorney General) v Bedford

2013 SCC 72

The applicants in this case, who were current or former prostitutes, brought a challenge to three provisions of the Criminal Code which criminalized various activities connected to prostitution: communication for the purpose of prostitution (s.213 (c)), operating a bawdy house (s.210), or living off the avails of prostitution (s.212 (1)). No provision in the Criminal Code criminalized prostitution itself. The applicants challenged the constitutionality of the Criminal Code provisions, claiming that they violated the s.7 rights of prostitutes by forcing them to work in secret and preventing them from implementing certain safety measures (for example, by hiring security guards), with the result that they worked under an increased threat of violence.

The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled the impugned provisions to be unconstitutional and not saved by s.1 of the Charter. The provisions were found to be overbroad and grossly disproportionate with respect to Parliament’s objective, which had been to regulate nuisances connected to prostitution. This relied in large part on a finding that the provisions did not just impose conditions on how prostitutes operate, but actually impose dangerous conditions on prostitutes in violation of their s.7 rights. As remedy, the Supreme Court granted a one year suspended declaration of invalidity to all three provisions.

SCC Reasons for Judgment

Faculty of Law Research and Commentary on Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford

Hamish Stewart, “Case comment: Bedford and the structure of Section 7,” (2015) 60:3 McGill LJ 575-594.

Kent Roach, “Dialogue between the Court and Parliament: a recent Charter trilogy,” (2016) 63 CLQ 251.

Kent Roach, “The changed nature of the harm debate,” (2015) 60 CLQ 321.


Date Document
2013/03/06 Appellant – Attorney General of Canada
2013/03/20 Appellant – Attorney General of Ontario
2013/05/28 Cross-respondent – Attorney General of Canada
2013/05/30 Cross-respondent – Attorney General of Ontario
2013/04/28 Respondents Terri Jean Bedford et al
2013/05/27 Intervener – Attorney General of Quebec
2013/05/30 Interveners – Christian Legal Fellowship, Catholic Civil Rights League and Real Women of Canada
2013/05/30 Intervener – Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto Inc
2013/05/29 Intervener – Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution
2013/05/29 Interveners – Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario
2013/05/29 Intervener – Institut Simone de Beauvoir
2013/05/30 Interveners – Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution
2013/05/28 Intervener – BC Civil Liberties Association
2013/05/30 Intervener – The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
2013/05/30 Interveners – Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society, PACE Society and PIVOT Legal Society
2013/05/29 Intervener – Secretariat of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
2013/05/27 Intervener – David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights