Social Science Evidence in Poverty-Related Charter Claims: An Example in Bedford v Canada

AuthorSydney McIvor
PositionA second-year JD student at Osgoode Hall Law School with an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Victoria
Sydney McIvor *
CITED: (2020) 25 Appeal 61
Social science ca n be a useful tool for courts when decid ing upon issues relating to poverty,
as it can provide informat ion about the societal rea lities of the matter in question.  is
paper explores the use of socia l science evidence in povert y law-related Charter claims,
looking at the specic e xample of Bedford v Canada (Attorney General). Bedford was a
Charter application that ulti mately struck down three provisions in the Cr iminal Code as
unconstitutional bec ause they interfered with sex workers’ abilities to protect t hemselves
against v iolence. Social science evidence played a vital role in t he decision, demonstrating
its eectiveness in t hese types of cl aims. e Supreme Court of Ca nada also made t wo
important ruli ngs in Bedford that increased t he Court’s recognition of the leg itimacy of
social science fact s. is paper concludes that social scienc e evidence is an essential a spect
of many poverty-related Charte r claim s and that a solution should be found for ensuring
that there is fund ing available for impoverished persons bringing the se claims.
Social science evidenc e can be highly valuable for trac king trends, gathering in formation,
and measuring t he impacts of public policy with respect to poverty. Whi le society views
courts as cons ervative institutions, there can b e little doubt that social science evidence is
a useful tool for cour ts to understand the i mplications of their decisions, par ticularly in
cases involving t he constitutionality of legislat ion. As social science develops sophistic ation
and public acceptance, it bec omes increasingly impor tant that the cour ts embrace this
form of evidence and develop consistent proce sses for its evaluat ion. For the purpose of
this paper, social science ev idence refers to evidence, regarding a pa rticular aspect of a ca se,
that is data-dr iven and seeks to understand some aspec t of society and social interactions.
is paper will e xplore the use of social science evidence in the ca se of Bedford v Canada
(Attorney General).1 Part I of this pa per addresses the soc ietal context that g ave rise to
the Bedford claim, including t he intersection of sex work and poverty in Canada . Part II
discusses t he factors that make poverty law cha llenges unique, and explains why Bedford
was selected for the di scussion in this paper. Part III discu sses the social science admitte d
* Sydney McIvor is a second-year JD s tudent at Osgoode Hall Law Schoo l with an undergraduate
degree in economics f rom the University of Victori a. Sydney conducted empirical resea rch
for her undergraduate thes is and is interested in the intersecti ons between statistics an d law.
Special thanks to Profess or Shelley Gavigan and Karen Andrews fo r their guidance in the writing
process and to Miscia Sullivan fo r her feedback on early draf ts.
1 2010 ONSC 4264 [Bedford SC ]; 2013 SCC 72 [Bedford SCC].

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