Attorney General Chris Bentley spoke to Xtra about the Bedford decision, a case that proceeded through an Ontario superior court, where three sex workers argued that Canada’s prostitution provisions put sex workers at risk. In September they won, prompting Bentley to appeal.
While that case winds its way through the appeals process, Bentley publicly called on Craigslist — the world’s largest internet fleamarket — to remove sex work ads from its site.
Xtra: The sex work appeal. How was that decision reached?
Chris Bentley: The prostitution issue? As you know, when the law was challenged, the province intervened to uphold the existing protections. When the decision of the trial judge was reached, we joined with the federal government in indicating that we wished to appeal that and uphold the protections that exist.
We’re concerned about the vulnerable; we’re concerned about the young. We’re concerned about individuals who get lured in, or are preyed upon or manipulated by those who are in the sex trade and who just want money. And we’re concerned about communities.
Xtra: Sure. But the language that was used in the case was around protecting the vulnerable — that the sex work provisions are putting women at risk unduly. As in, if sex work is legal but communication is not, and keeping a bawdyhouse and living off the avails —
CB: Yeah, we take a different position on the assessment of risk with respect to the trial judge?s decision. That’s why we want this case to proceed to an appeal.
Xtra: It came up again recently with Craigslist. I wonder what effect — it doesn’t seem like removing the Craigslist adult personals would have a huge effect on sex work, or on the ability of young people to find sexualized material on the internet.
CB: Craigslist took steps in the United States to remove these listings. A very good case has been made by a number of attorneys general, a number of reports have been produced that in fact their service was being used to lure children, to prey on children. Children were subject to risk. Those were the allegations. Criagslist took steps in the United States to remove them, and all we want them to do is take the same steps to make sure there is no way their service could be used for those purposes in Ontario.
Xtra: Isn’t it the responsibility of the parent to make sure they’re monitoring the behaviour of their children on the internet?
CB: I think we all have a responsibility to some degree, but certainly parents have a level of responsibility, individuals themselves, the broader society does, the government does, and we’ve decided to exercise our responsibility when it comes to children.
What Craigslist did in the United States is remove these listings so they could not be used for any wrong purpose. And all we’ve called on them to do is the exact same thing as they’ve done in the United States. And it’s just concerning that they haven’t done that.
Xtra: Why stop at Craigslist? The internet is full of sexual material.
CB: Well, they’re the ones who’ve taken the steps. They’ve voluntarily removed this material, and it seems to me they would want to do the same in the province of Ontario. I don’t think they would believe that the people of Ontario are so fundamentally different than those of the United States. Kijiji, for example, took the step of removing this material, from my understanding.
Xtra: So, that doesn’t answer my question of why stop at Craigslist. You say Craigslist is a good place to start, because they’ve already offered to take down this material in other jurisdictions —
CB: Done it. Not offered, done it —
Xtra: Done it —
CB: That makes it a great place to start.
Xtra: And from there, would you move on to moving sex work ads off other places?
CB: I don’t know what we’ll do after that. We’re focused on Craigslist right now because they’ve voluntarily taken these steps in the United States, and I think it’s a good place to start.