Dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford, seen in June 2001, is challenging Canada's prostitution laws. ((Kevin Frayer/Canadian Press))

Three sex-trade workers, including a dominatrix, are challenging Canada's prostitution laws in a court case scheduled to start Tuesday in Toronto.

The trio — dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford and prostitutes Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch — plan to argue that prostitutes are professional women and the laws against keeping a common bawdy house and communicating for the purposes of prostitution perpetuates violence against women.

While prostitution itself is not illegal in Canada, almost everything associated with it is.

The women want the Superior Court to strike down the Criminal Code sections, saying they force them onto the street, where they are exposed to physical and psychological violence.

"This trial is really important to Canada [because] we deserve laws that are clear and fair to everyone and the existing bawdy house laws are neither," Bedford told CBC in an interview Monday.

"The laws we have now allow the authorities to control our behaviour in private if they choose…These laws don't allow women to protect themselves."

The Crown contends that prostitution is inherently dangerous, regardless of where it is practised and that decriminalizing it would result in Canada becoming a destination for "sex tourism."

Bedford disagrees. "The worst thing that can happen is for nothing to change. Nothing can be worse than what we have now," she said. "I think we really have a chance to win this."

The women also face opposition from religious and conservative groups opposed to loosening restrictions on the sex trade on moral grounds.