Prostitution law in Canada

The law is not entirely clear on whether or not prostitution is illegal in Canada. However, the courts of Canada contend that all activities surrounding the presence of prostitution are illegal, so the act of prostitution must be illegal, as well. Still, loopholes exist that allow prostitution to occur in private places other than brothels (or bawdy houses) as long as solicitation did not occur in a public place or within public view. Please see the final section of this page for potential changes in the law.

History of prostitution in Canada

Before confederation, prostitution was quite the commonplace in various parts of Canada. Although the Nova Scotia Act of 1759 declared that imprisonment was the punishment for lewd behavior, the enterprise of prostitution continued. Mainly occurring in bawdy houses or brothels, prostitution was quite a normal business. However, vagrancy laws soon sought to keep the streets (and sometimes brothels) free of prostitution and other undesirable activity. The laws were written so that the arrest of brothel owners became legal.

Nevertheless, prostitution continued to prevail and occur. In the late 1800s, increasing pressures from organizations like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union began to cause officials to take action against brothels in the name of saving “fallen women”. Many prostitutes then took their business to the streets to avoid being “saved”.

Various laws and ordinances followed, but they were predominantly directed toward women. In 1972, laws changed to address the gender-neutrality of the law.

Criminal Code of Canada laws

According to the Criminal Code of Canada, the ownership or control of a bawdy house is illegal, along with the procurement of prostitutes and solicitation of prostitution in public places. Yet it takes no more than a few moments to find an independent prostitute or a brothel in any major Canadian city. Underage involvement of prostitutes is also severely punished.

Anyone who is connected to a bawdy house in any way may be convicted of breaking the law. The law states that anyone who is an inmate in a bawdy house may be convicted of a crime. Anyone who is found to be present in a bawdy house without a legal excuse to be there may be convicted of unlawful activity. Additionally, any person who is the landlord, tenant, lessor, occupier or person having control over a property may be charged with operating a bawdy house, which is punishable with imprisonment for up to 2 years.

It is also punishable by law to take, transport or offer to direct someone to a bawdy house, for the purpose of prostitution.

Canada lumps several crimes into its procurement statute. Ten crimes are included in the category of procurement, and all are punishable with a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The crimes include:

  1. Procuring or attempting to procure a person to have illicit sexual intercourse with another person.
  2. Enticing a person who is not a prostitute to come to a bawdy house for the purpose of committing prostitution.
  3. Concealing a person in a bawdy house.
  4. Procuring someone to become a prostitute.
  5. Procuring a person to leave his or her home in order to become an inmate in a bawdy house.
  6. Causing a person who has just arrived in Canada to go to a bawdy house for prostitution.
  7. Procuring a person to enter or leave Canada for the purpose of prostitution.
  8. Helping a person to engage in prostitution or exercising control of that person so that he or she may engage in prostitution, all for personal gain.
  9. Gives or forces a person to consume drugs or intoxicating liquor for the purpose of having illicit sexual intercourse with that person.
  10. Lives wholly or in part on the avails of prostitution of another person.

If any of these crimes are committed involving a person who is younger than 18 years old, the perpetrator may face imprisonment for up to 14 years.

Finally, the law also regulates the solicitation of prostitution. The law states that prostitutes may not solicit potential patrons by stopping motor vehicles, impeding the flow of traffic (pedestrian or vehicular) or stop people or passers-by.

Abolishment of Sections 210, 212 and 213

In 2009, three Canadian sex workers brought a legal case to the High Court challenging the existing laws. They said the laws directly endangered their health and physical well-being, in addition to forcing them to work in unsafe working conditions. Judge Susan Himel ruled in late 2010 that the existing law as it stood should be abolished for the safety of all sex workers. She said, “I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweigh any harm which may be faced by the public.” The ruling will not go into effect until April 29, pending the appeal process.

As a result, Sections 210, 212 and 213 were abolished from the Criminal Code of Canada.

Section 210 deals specifically with brothels. The law had formerly said that being found in a bawdy house without a lawful excuse was illegal. The abolishment of the law allows brothels and bawdy houses to legally exist and operate.

The abolishment of Section 212 makes it legal to live off the avails of a prostitute. This abolishment of the law allows spouses, family members and others who have close relationships with a prostitute to combine finances or be supported by funds derived from acts of prostitution.

Soliciting in public places becomes legal with the abolishment of Section 213. Street solicitation and other public communication for the advancement of prostitution is lawful under the new ruling.

Many of the arguments during court referred to prostitutes’ safety. It was testified to that prostitutes rarely seek legal help or assistance from law enforcement when abuse or mistreatment occurs because they are afraid of prosecution. This fear causes an injustice to be done to them that threatens their rights to security of a person and freedom of expression.

In March 2012, Ontario Court of Appeal found Sections 210, 212 and 213 unconstitutional.

The following Nevada counties have their own laws and regulations on prostitution:

Prostitution laws in US cities: