Terri-Jean Bedford recognized for fight against new prostitution laws

Photo: Rémi Yuan

The former dominatrix most widely known for threatening to expose the submissive sexual practices of Canadian senators has been given this year’s Civil Liberties Award.

Given by the Ontario Civil Liberties Association (OCLA) Award, and the University of Ottawa branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Terri-Jean Bedford received the award for her work advocating for the rights of sex trade workers.

“I have to admit I was surprised by this honour,” said Bedford. “After all, you guys believe in freedom. I believe in bondage. You like free speech. I gag my clients. You support equality. I preach female superiority. You promote humane treatment of prisoners. I torture mine. But why fuss over details?”

Bedford spoke about her experiences as a sex worker, activist, and mother. At the age of 16, after moving out of the foster care system, Bedford worked several jobs to make ends meet. She became a sex worker. Discovering how people were willing to open up to her, led her to indulge in people’s fetishes, and she ultimately worked as a dominatrix.

“Of course it’s empowering,” she said of women who work in the sex trade. “That’s why the government doesn’t want you doing it. They would rather see you pregnant and barefoot than empowered and in the sex trade.”

Bedford transitioned to activism after her S&M dungeon business was raided and shut down by police. She was convicted in 1999 of operating a bawdy house.

In September she testified in front of the Canadian Senate to challenge the implementation of Bill C-36. The controversial act was passed in  June of this year, making it illegal to advertise and buy sexual services, sell sexual services in public places where minors could be present, and for third parties to profit from the sex work of others.

Bedford was kicked out of a Sept. 10 hearing for overrunning her speaking time. Before making her exit she said, according to the CBC, “If this law passes, I’m going to make you guys forget about (suspended senator) Mike Duffy. Because I got more information and proof on politicians in this country than you can shake a stick at. I promise.”

Joseph Hickey, executive director of the OCLA said Bedford has “worked tirelessly to protect the rights of workers in the sex trade, and that is why we are presenting her with this award.”

“I want to be remembered for standing against secret rules,” said Bedford. “My motto is that I’ll fight for my rights whether you like it or not.”