SEX WORK AND THE LAW IN CANADA
As service providers it is important to understand the legal context in which our clients do their work. Historically prostitution has not been a criminal act in Canada but most activities surrounding it were and still are illegal making it difficult to engage in sex work without breaking any laws. It is significant to note that the new laws passed in 2014 have now made it a criminal offense to purchase sex for the first time in Canada.
Stella in Montreal offers PDF print outs on their website that breakdown the laws in plain language and help to explain exactly how they affect individuals involved in sex work. The print outs breakdown the laws into helpful categories. Below is a summary of these handouts. This is not intended to be used as legal advice but just a guideline for understanding how the laws work.
The act of selling one’s own sexual services is not illegal in Canada. Nor is it illegal for sex workers to communicate in public for the purpose of selling sexual services UNLESS it is next to a daycare centre, a school ground or a playground. It is important to note that the law does not define what “next to” means, nor defines what constitutes the above three locations.
It is, however, illegal for a client of sex work to communicate for the purpose of purchasing sexual services anywhere- public OR private. The actual act of purchasing sexual services is also illegal.
Sex workers are allowed to advertise their own sexual services, whether it is on the internet, newspaper or another method. It is illegal for another person or business to advertise someone else’s sexual services though, such as a newspaper owner or website host. This means that individuals in sex work can also not advertise their colleagues’ services legally.
People who work with or for sex workers are considered third parties. This can be a driver, security, someone who books their appointments, rents out a room etc. These individuals can potentially be charged under a few different laws.
Third parties can be criminalized for gaining “material benefits from sexual services”, which means to benefit financially from someone else’s sexual labour. This is unless they can prove that the “material benefit” does not exceed the value of the service they provide (ie. that it is not an exploitative relationship between the sex worker and the third party).
Third parties can also be criminalized under the procuring law, which criminalizes any individual who “procures a person to offer or provide sexual services for consideration” or “recruits, holds, conceals, or harbours a person who offers or provides sexual services, or exercises control or direction over the movements of that person.” Although it is intended to protect sex workers from exploitative or coercive situations, this wide-ranging law can also be used to criminalize consensual third-party arrangements, as when agencies or booking agents direct a sex worker’s movements by hiring a cab or transportation to take her to an appointment.
Indoor sex work is technically legal in Canada; however clients are still committing a criminal offense by purchasing sexual services. Owners of indoor establishments, considered a third party, can also be committed of a crime for either financially benefiting from the sex worker’s labour or under the procuring law.
Romantic partners and roommates of a sex worker are somewhat protected from potentially being charged for financially benefiting from their work. There is an “exception” in the law that exempts individuals who are in a “legitimate living arrangement” with a sex worker and will, by default, benefit from their income.
It is important to note, however, that “legitimate living arrangement” has not been defined. It also gets blurry if the partner or roommate works as a third party in the sex industry because individuals who work in a “commercial enterprise that offers sexual services for consideration” (ie for money, goods etc.) are not exempt. Therefore, if the partner of a sex worker also works in the sex industry, for example a driver or security guard, they could potentially still be charged for “receiving material benefit”.
Children of sex workers are exempt from being criminalized for “receiving material benefit” as well as dependants 18 years or older that legally are still under their care.
For more information about the laws go to: