Canada’s Prostitution Laws

Prostitution was clearly barred in Canada in periods before the passage of Canadian Charter of Freedoms and Rights in 1982. This charter put forth provisions that challenged the legality of some prostitution laws in Canada. Other legal proceedings have since dealt with the ultra vires issues (the argument concerning whether some jurisdictions such as the municipality or Provincial government has constitutional mandate to legislate on the prostitution cases).


In 2013, the Canadian Supreme Court overturned three salient provisions of current laws with a 12-month stay of effect.


Current laws, introduced in 2014, prohibits the purchase of sexual services but makes it lawful to sell them. The results are being received differently though. The Department of Justice of Canada sees this shift in paradigm as prostitution being elevated from merely being seen as a nuisance by the Canadian Supreme Court to a social problem that is detrimental to girls and women empowerment. Interestingly, sex workers’ rights unions argue that the new law is a clear harm against sex workers hence unacceptable.


History of prostitution laws in Canada

Canada inherited all the laws from the UK. The first ever recorded laws addressing the issue of prostitution were enacted in Nova Scotia towards the end of 1759. Following the Canadian Confederation in 1867, all the existing laws were consolidated in batch in the Canadian Criminal Code in 1892. They mainly dealt with pimping, procuring, soliciting and operating brothels. Nevertheless, most amendments that have taken to date have mainly dealt with the soliciting offense; which was initially classified as a mere vagrancy offense. It was amended to full soliciting in 1972, and subsequently communicating in 1985. But since the Charter of Freedoms and Rights became law, the mandate and constitutionality of the country’s prostitution laws have been put to challenge more than once, successfully in 2013, an event that led to the new legislative approach enacted in 2014


Before the 2014 legislation, the following was prohibited


Owning, leasing, occupying, managing, or being found in the bawdy house, as stipulated in Section 197 (Section 210) declared invalid by the Ontario Court of Appeal, March 2012


Transferring or providing means of transport to anyone to the bawdy house (Section 211)


Conspiring to or procuring sex services (Section 212)


Living on prostitution premises that were declared invalid by Ontario Court of Appeal in March 2012, except in the circumstances of exploitation


Paying for sex and sexual services with a minor – a person below 18 years (Section 212[4])


Communication in any public place with the intention to procure or conduct prostitution (Section 213)


Transporting a person with an intention of exploiting the person or facilitating the exploitation of the individual (Section 279). This, however, does not specify the specific purpose, such as complete sexual exploitation or actual prostitution.


Today, all activities pertaining to sex work including operating sex work premises, procuring sex services, being found in sex work establishments soliciting sex services in the public etc. are prohibited. It is important to note that vehicles are viewed as public spaces under the Canadian law.

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