Canada’s Supreme Court to Hear Controversial Case Challenging Restrictions on Sex Work

Tomorrow, on June 13, 2013, Canada’s Supreme Court will hear a controversial case regarding the constitutionality of three criminal law provisions restricting sex work in Canada.   Although the proceedings are currently under seal, they will be broadcast live and archived on the Court website, here.  The hearing is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. EST.


Plaintiff Terri-Jean Bedford

Attorney General of Canada, et al. v. Terri Jean Bedford, et al.  will resolve a six-year court battle over this controversy, which began when three sex workers in Ontario challenged the constitutionality of three Criminal Code provisions in 2007.  The provisions at issue in the case prohibit brothels (“bawdy house” provision), “living off the avails” of prostitution, and communicating for the purpose of prostitution in public.  The applicants argue that these laws violate sex workers’ constitutional rights to security of person by forcing them to evade police notice and thus to engage in their (lawful) occupation in more hazardous environments.

Ontario Superior Court’s Justice Susan Himel agreed with the plaintiffs, holding that all three provisions are unconstitutional. (Her full opinion may be found here).  On March 26, 2012, the Court of Appeal for Ontario affirmed Justice Himel’s ruling with respect to the bawdy house provision of the Criminal Code, holding that it violates the constitutional rights of Canadian sex workers by forcing them to work outside, thus exposing them to greater risk.  However, the Court of Appeal reversed Justice Himel with respect to the communications provision, essentially outlawing street prostitution.  The Court also upheld the constitutionality of the “avails” provision but rewrote it to make clear that it applies only “in circumstances of exploitation,” and thus permits sex workers to take safety precautions, such as working in groups or hiring bodyguards.  (The full five-judge panel’s decision may be found here).  Both the government and the original plaintiffs appealed.

A number of advocacy organizations have intervened on both sides of the case, highlighting the ongoing public controversy regarding sex work and surrounding concerns about exploitation, human trafficking, as well as personal agency, gender inequality, and social morality. (Read more about the ongoing rift within the sex worker advocacy community here).  Thursday’s hearing will be an interesting next chapter of a debate that will shape the lives and safety of Canada’s sex workers and may well inform similar discussions in other countries struggling with similar regulatory challenges.

It is worth noting that all three provisions implicated in the case remain in effect pending the Supreme Court’s decision, a legal limbo that sex worker safety advocates argue endangers some of the most vulnerable individuals in Canadian society.

Call for Papers: Second Contemporary Challenges of International Environmental Law Conference


The Faculty  of Law at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia has issued a call for papers in connection with its Second Contemporary Challenges of International Environmental Law Conference, to be held on June 5-6, 2014.

Submission Details | Papers should address issues of environmental protection, including, but not limited to: Climate Change, Air Pollution, Protection of Oceans, Access to Water, Forests, Biodiversity, Sustainable Development, Human Rights and Environment, Protection of Environment in Armed Conflicts, Environment and Indigenous Peoples, Green Energy, Waste Management, and International Trade and Environmental Protection.  Abstracts for papers should be no longer that 350 words in length and must be submitted via email by Thursday, September 5, 2013. Each submission must include the name, title, and position of the author, the name and address of the author’s current institution of employment, and a short biography.  All papers presented at the Conference will be published in a conference book. More information about submitting papers may be found here.  Any inquiries should be directed to the Conference organizers.

About the Conference | The Contemporary Challenges of International Environmental Law Conference provides an opportunity for interdisciplinary academic debate among legal scholars and scientists from various fields concerned with issues of environmental protection.  More information about the Conference is available on the Conference web page.

Call for Applications: The Hague Academy of International Law’s 40th External Programme

The Hague Academy of International Law‘s External Programme was established at the end of the 1960s and has been held annually in countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  The Programme serves as a means for developing knowledge on topics of international law relevant for the region where it is held and for fostering dialogue among participants through interactive teaching and informal meetings.  It is aimed at young university teachers,  diplomats, and civil servants from Ministries of Foreign Affairs or other interested ministries with competencies in public international law.

The Hague Academy will be holding the 40th session of the External Programme from 1 to 8 November, 2013 at the Gujarat National Law University (GNLU) in Gandhinagar, India.  This year’s subject is “Stability and Change in the Law of the Sea: Challenges for the 21st Century.”  The session is free of charge for local and regional participants; the Hague Academy and GNLU will cover costs of travel and accommodation, as well as a per diem stipend for regional participants.

Local Participants | The Indian government will select approximately 20 participants.  Any interested individuals should contact the organizers at in order to apply.

Regional Participants | The Academy will select approximately 15-20 participants from the following countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.  Interested individuals can register online.

The closing date for applying is July 13, 2013.  All information, including a detailed program of events,  regulations, guidelines for applying, and the registration form for regional participants, can be found on the website of the Academy, here.

Jayne Huckerby to Direct Duke’s New International Human Rights Law Clinic

Photo of Jayne HuckerbyA heartfelt congratulations to Jayne Huckerby (right) (photo credit) on her appointment as Associate Professor of Clinical Law and director of a new international human rights law clinic at the Duke Law School!  Ms. Huckerby will bring to Duke a decade of cutting-edge human rights research and advocacy experience in the areas of gender and human rights, constitution-making, national security, human trafficking, transitional justice, and human rights in U.S. foreign policy.

Duke’s new clinic will offer students the opportunity to engage in four types of human rights projects: applying a human rights framework to domestic issues; advocating for human rights in foreign countries where human rights standards are nascent or absent; engaging with international institutions to advance human rights protections; and analyzing the human rights implications of U.S. foreign policy, including counter-terrorism initiatives that cause collateral gender-based harm.  The clinic will officially launch at the beginning of the spring 2014 term.


Spanish Supreme Court Overturns Municipal Ban on Burqas

In a ruling made public on February 28, the Spanish Supreme Court voided the Catalan city of Lleida’s 2010 ban on wearing the

Women wearing burqas in the street

Women wearing burqas in the street (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

burqa in public places, which included a fine of up to 600 euros. The Court held that the city lacked authority to limit constitutional rights such as freedom of religion, which could be curtailed only through Acts of Parliament, and that it had acted beyond the scope of local authority in enacting the law. However, the Court refused to reach the broader question of whether a national law prohibiting the wearing of burqas throughout Spain would be constitutional.

In so holding, the Court rejected the city’s contention that use of the burqa by Muslim women disrupts everyday life, finding no support for this proposition. The Court also rejected the city’s argument that the burqa should be banned because Muslim women are compelled to wear it, speculating that a ban could have the effect of forcing such women to stay at home because they would not be allowed to walk in public without it. Last, the Court contemplated the treatment of this question by other national jurisdictions but found no unanimity. The appeal before the Court was filed by the Watani Association for Liberty and Justice.

(Hat tip to Prof. Nicolas Zambrana Tevar for sending this report.)