Sex, Work, Rights: Reforming Canadian Criminal Laws on Prostitution (full report)

Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
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Prostitution, the exchange of sex for money and other valuable consideration, is legal in Canada. However, it is difficult for sex workers and their clients to engage legally in prostitution. Four sections of the Criminal Code (sections 210 to 213) make illegal virtually every activity related to prostitution and prohibit prostitution in almost every conceivable public or private place. Sections 210 and 211 respectively make it illegal for a person to keep a “bawdy-house” – i.e., a place regularly used for prostitution – or to transport a person to such a place. Section 212 makes it illegal to encourage or force people to participate in prostitution (also known as “procuring”), or to live on the money earned from prostitution by someone else (also known as “living on the avails of prostitution”).

Section 213 makes it illegal for sex workers and customers to communicate in public for the purposes of prostitution. This includes stopping or attempting to stop a vehicle, impeding pedestrian or vehicular traffic, stopping or attempting to stop a person, or in any other manner communicating with a person for the purposes of engaging in prostitution or obtaining sexual services. In spite of these criminal prohibitions, there is every indication that thousands of people in Canada are involved in prostitution, including sex workers, customers and other people who profit from it.

This report is the product of a two-year project on criminal law, prostitution and the health and safety of sex workers in Canada. We conducted a literature review; interviewed key informants (including through a collaboration with the Native Friendship Centre of Montréal); and held a two-day consultation in February 2004 attended by sex workers, former sex workers, members of sex worker organizations, public health and social science researchers, and other community-based organizations.

This report focuses primarily on the criminalization of the activities of adult sex workers who choose to engage in street-based prostitution. An inordinate proportion of police resources directed at combating prostitution is targeted at street-based prostitution, and street-based prostitution has played a leading role in public and parliamentary debate and law reform initiatives.

In the national discussion and debate about how to solve the “problem” of streetbased prostitution, sex workers’ perspectives and experiences have sometimes been taken into account. However, these perspectives and experiences have too often been filtered through assumptions adopted in the debate and discussion, or through the methodologies and questions upon which research has been based. Little attention has been paid to the human rights of sex workers or to violations of these rights. As a result of the murder and disappearance in recent years of over 140 sex workers in Canadian cities, most notably in Vancouver and Edmonton, the public debate is beginning to consider the health and the human rights of sex workers.

On 24 November 2004, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness re-established its Subcommittee on Solicitation. The Subcommittee was mandated to review the Criminal Code provisions related to prostitution in order to improve the safety of sex workers and communities and to recommend changes that would reduce exploitation of, and violence against, sex workers.

Efforts to improve the health and safety of sex workers must be based, first and foremost, on a recognition of the individual agency, individual dignity and individual worth of sex workers as members of Canadian society. Community safety cannot legitimately be defined as distinct from the health and safety of sex workers, as sex workers are part of Canadian society and communities with the same entitlement to human rights as all others.


  • Introduction
  • Legal regulation of prostitution in Canada
  • Prostitution, sex workers and HIV/AIDS
  • Effects of criminalization on sex workers’ health and safety, including vulnerability to HIV/AIDS
  • International law and the human rights of sex workers
  • Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
  • Prostitution law and policy reform beyond the criminal law
  • Summary of recommendations

You can download this 124 page PDF resource above. This resource is in English.