'David and Goliath' story of dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford coming to Windsor stage

·3 min read
Teri-Jean Bedford on the set of a new play based on her life as a dominatrix and pivotal player in getting Canada's sex-work laws changed. (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)
Teri-Jean Bedford on the set of a new play based on her life as a dominatrix and pivotal player in getting Canada's sex-work laws changed. (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)

A new play coming to the stage this week tells the story of famed former dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford, who was raised in Windsor.

"It's a David and Goliath story and it won't happen again, I guarantee," Bedford told CBC News.

Bedford co-wrote the play, Dominatrix On Trial, with local playwright Joey Ouellette. It is an adaptation of her memoirs and a book of the same name.

She ran a brothel in Thornhill, Ont., which was raided in the early 1980s, and ended up doing time for that and subsequent convictions she received for breaking laws at the time.

"I want people to know how to be safe and I want the veil lifted off the stigma," Bedford said. "Sex trade workers are people too, whether you're having sex or not."

In 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously struck down some of the anti-prostitution laws in a battle Bedford had been waging against for years. At the time, she joked about then-prime minister Stephen Harper making her a "government whip."

It's a victory she credits to her lawyer Alan Young.

"All I did was stand there and say 'I stand in solidarity. I walked this walk. I've talked this talk.' I've been there, I've done that," she said.

She said she hopes the play will show people the story behind the story.

"The adversity, the sorrow, the pain, the suffering... losing my anonymity and autonomy in one fell swoop — losing your house, your home, the respect of your friends and then coming full circle as a champion," she said.

Dale Molnar/CBC
Dale Molnar/CBC

Bedford said today, laws still need reform. In particular, she wants to see a repeal of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act — some Harper-era legislation Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he would revisit but has yet to do.

"I don't think his father would be very happy with him, because even his father agreed that the government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. The government has no place in the private lives of consulting adults," she said. "We are not criminals."

The play is being produced by the Waawiiyaatanong Feminist Theatre and has been six years in the making.

Twice delayed

It was ready to be staged two years ago but COVID-19 restrictions prevented it from opening twice in the past. Artistic director Patricia Fell said she held off on retiring from the theatre to see the project past the finish line.

"It's a constantly moving piece," she said. "You're going to laugh, you're going to cry. It's a really wonderful portrayal of the human moments in her life and her client's life."

Jacob Barker/CBC
Jacob Barker/CBC

Fell said taking on such a big story of national importance was a lot.

"You have to bite off what you can chew," she said. "So we chose to focus strictly on the human element so while we talk a lot about the laws, it's the emotion behind those laws that we are really working on."

The play will be premiering Thursday evening at the Kordazone Theatre and there will be two further performances on Friday and Saturday evenings as well.

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