The act of prostitution in Canada is not illegal. But communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution is illegal for customers and prostitutes, as is living off the avails of prostitution.
"MUC police estimate that as many as 3,000 prostitutes operate on Montreal Island. Many work for escort agencies, in bawdy houses and in Massage parlors. Only about one-third are Street walkers."
The local Coalition for the Rights of Sex Workers estimates
that there approximately 5,000 prostitutes, escorts, strippers, masseuses
and phone-sex operators in the Montreal area. Their goal is to have the
sex trade subject to the same rights and guidelines as all workers in
The Legal Status Of Prostitution In Canada
Canadian Prostitution. Favorable Legal Situation. Similar
to Europe, Australia and most of the World. Very Different Than In the
In Canada, honest, full service, safe sex escorting (sexwork) is the accepted norm. Since Canada doesn't have the legal repressive issues as in the U.S. ads are usually honest, prices quoted are real - not the U.S. rip offs and scams. In general prices are far lower than in the U.S. since they don't have to include the large legal risk premium. Also there are more providers, choosing sexwork for the right reasons, since there is not the legal risk.
Everyone should have access to reasonable priced sexual relief of that normal sexual tension or sexual variety that is natural, from professional, caring, honest providers.
In most every country except the U.S. such services are legally available and not any big deal. U.S. laws are controlled by a religious agenda that has no biblical basis, only false traditions of sexual repression that have been incorporated into laws to deny healthy sexual service options. Those that oppose sexwork the most often are the ones participating in it but their guilt makes them lash out against it. They seek to deny everyone the healthy sexual services they are not suppose to enjoy based on their perverted traditions, that are lies with no legitimate basis.
Yes, even in the U.S. there are many great honest providers. But it is sometimes hard to find them among all the scams. Organized crime is also an issue in the U.S., while in Canada, most all of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, most of Asia, Latin America there simply is no "crime" to "organize"!
Canadian Prostitution Law
Prostitution is legal in all of Canada it has been part of the Federal Criminal Code since at least mid 1800s. It is similar to British law and laws in much of Europe. Local communities can establish brothels and have some other limited powers such as licensing and zoning but can not outlaw prostitution which flourishes throughout Canada. Many Canadian cities have required escort licensing. But all it does is raise money at the sexworkers expense, since there is no real advantage of being licensed other than to comply with a city revenue raising requirement since prostitution is legal anyway.
Under the Canadian Criminal Code:
(1) The act of prostitution is legal, i.e. you CANNOT be arrested for being a prostitute
(2) The practice of independent outcall prostitution is fully protected by Federal law. Third party involvement in solicitation of business or profiting from it is a crime But enforcement varies widely since the attitude is to support individual rights as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else.
(3) Advertising in public print is protected as a right of free speech which has been upheld by the Canadian Supreme Court. Advertising on television has not yet been tested but the issue is whether its in line with community standards.
(4) An independent outcall escort has the right to discuss specific acts of sex for money in private. Hotel rooms, telephones and private homes. The Canadian Supreme court has ruled that a land based telephone is a private communication. When one places a phone call, they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and that is the test. The same is easily extended to cellular phone communication. One would have to have special equipment to intercept such communication.
When you consider the "public communication" aspect
of the law it is really crafted to discourage street solicitation. The
more aggressive uses of the law have seen it applied to hotel bars, your
vehicle operating on a public street and other such places. Communication
btw also includes acts in furtherance as evidence of intent...i.e. you
pick a street walker up in your car is an act of furtherance.
While prostitution itself is legal how it is practiced is restricted and enforcement differs greatly in different cities. The Criminal Code of Canada restricts:
1. Communicating /Solicitation- to avoid street prostitution
by preventing soliciting or having sex in public.
In 1978, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that soliciting had to be "pressing and persistent" to warrant conviction. In 1985, this was replaced by the communicating law, which continues to outlaw any kind of communication for the purposes of prostitution, making it an easier offence to prosecute. A car was ruled to be a public place if it is parked in any place open to public view. This law forces prostitutes to move into more secluded, poorly lit areas to do their work.
The communicating offence was designed to deal with the nuisance caused by street solicitation. In 1990, the SCC held that while the communicating section is an infringement on the freedom of expression, it is justifiable infringement because of the importance of eliminating street solicitation and the associated social nuisances.
"Public place" is defined as "any place to which the public have access as of right or by invitation..... and any motor vehicle located in a place.... open to public view". Cyberspace is not a "place" any more than a radio or tv is.
Car sex is illegal unless in a very secluded location as one case pointed out. A telephone is private so you can discuss it freely. It is also perfectly legal for a prostitute to advertise in magazines, newspapers and websites, as they are not considered public (you choose to buy it, read it in privately and read what you privately decide to read). For example in Vancouver, there are many ads are in the Westender, Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Providence for providers. In Montreal the Mirror has many explicit ads as do other French publications. Many Canadian providers have websites and there are good discussion/review lists such as canbest.com. All all perfectly legal and without the concern of being a roadmap for vice cops to find legitimate providers, like in the U.S.
In Toronto one street prostitute was arrested for soliciting. The arresting officer had her on tape which was played for the judge. The tape showed the undercover officer asking her what she charged for a straight lay. She replied, If you would like to come to my motel room, I will tell you all the details, but if not, I won't tell you anything because it is illegal to solicit in a public place." The judge looked at the officer and said, "well it sounds to me as though she read the law to you?". The case was immediately tossed out. Source: www.ermail.org discussion thread 2722.
Section 213 of the Criminal Code states that communicating (in public) for the purpose of prostitution is a summary conviction offence. Summary offences are considered "less serious", carrying a maximum six-month jail term (seldom imposed), a $2,000 fine, or both. The offender does not receive a formal criminal record, nor are fingerprints or photographs taken.
Because communicating is a minor offense, street prostitution is a major problem in many Canadian cities. See extensive separate report on Canadian Street Prostitution at http://www.sexwork.com/montreal/street.html. While I highly support private prostitution as a choice for adults, I am totally against street prostitution, especially in residential areas. In my street report I discuss other options and my observations realizing I am an outsider, but monitor similar issues in other countries.
In February 1997 the Vancouver police announced that they no longer intend to arrest prostitutes for even street communicating, except if they are working near schools etc. The press release announcing this policy reasoned that: The root cause of Vancouver's street prostitution trade is the men who purchase or recruit and control (pimp) juvenile or adult sex workers.
In Montreal, cities adjacent to Vancouver including Burnaby and Surrey and others have enforced the public communicating restrictions and have set up stings against men soliciting undercover cops on the street.
In Vancouver, in the high priced downtown streets the hookers help the cops instead of being adversaries. So the enforcement of the restrictions varies greatly and can change over time. Downtown prostitution in areas long known for prostitution is less offensive than in residential areas.
In other parts of Canada people are very upset with all the street walkers in their area and point out the flaws in the communications law which they hope to change: According to the Identification of Criminals Act, fingerprinting and photographing of individuals are only permitted for indictable offences. Many of those charged under section 213 use false identities, so it is difficult for authorities to identify repeat offenders or runaways. Summary offences are often just slaps on the wrist, and fines become "the price of doing business" for many offenders. With little sense of deterrence, it is easy for prostitutes and johns (sex trade offender) to meet on the streets.
Lyla who hosts one of the best Canadian sexworker discussion sites lyla.com, in discussing street solicitation says:
"The law up here was actually *more lenient* when I first arrived in Canada. At that time, we had a "pressing and persistent" component to the law -- which meant that not only did a streetwalker have to pin a prospective customer, but she had to hold him down for a count of ten in order to qualify for a solicitation charge. ;-) "
But again it is not prostitution that is illegal, only the street solicitation. Prostitution itself is legal in all of Canada just how its done is restricted.
2."Bawdy Houses" are illegal. This provision was made part of the Canadian Federal Code in 1850. Yes, 1850. A bawdy house is a place kept, occupied or used by at least one person for the purposes of prostitution or indecent acts. Therefore incall service is illegal but enforcement of this varies in different cities from almost no enforcement unless also involves other activities such as drugs or illegal aliens, to even trying to use this provision to shut down swing clubs in some Eastern Canadian cities.
Most sex workers and government agencies agree the law against brothels prevents prostitutes from working safely. LCC president Nathalie Des Rosiers says, "If the idea is to ensure safety of sex workers, being in a group is better than being alone, because they can share information. The criminalization of brothels prevents this."
Any place regularly used for prostitution or "indecent acts" is considered a "bawdy house," which can include brothels, bathhouses and prostitutes' apartments if they bring clients. This means sex workers can only legally make outcalls to ad hoc places, leaving them vulnerable; even using the same hotel frequently can be illegal. Charges can be laid against "keepers" of bawdy houses; "found-ins" (usually johns); and "inmates" (anyone who works on the premises). Landlords can also be charged if they know "indecent" acts are taking place on the property.
It is illegal to be an "inmate" or a "found within") in a bawdy house. But this is very difficult to prosecute. In 2000 hundreds of Peal police raided 3 strip clubs in the Toronto area where illegal sex acts were observed (handjobs, oral etc). 74 were arrested mostly on "being an inmate" charges. All charges were later dropped.
To be charged with being found within a common bawdy house (s still a mens rea offence meaning you had to have had knowledge that you were in such a place. The prosecution is in a difficult position in the absence of statements by accused because when you're in your room in a massage place or in the VIP area of a strip club, you don't know whats going on in the other parts of the spa or club and accordingly how do you have knowledge if you can't see whats goig on. Now there are two tests, The known test, and the ought to have known test. A statement like "Oh come on...it was just a hand job." could sink you.
Massage Parlor Bawdy Issue confusing
Performing sexual services in a massage clinic may be illegal if the police can prove the clinic is a place which has as its purpose prostitution. If it is implied that a sex act is available but will cost the client extra and a discussion ensues about price for sexual services the masseuse and client are committing an illegal act (communication for the purpose of prostitution -- s. 213) unless the discussion occurs in a massage room. In that case, no illegal act has been committed. Source:
Note the "unless the discussion occurs in a massage room" !!
In another section they do indicate that if the massage parlour is frequently and habitually used for the purposes of prostitution, massage parlours can be prosecuted under the bawdy law.
In my experience in most Toronto MPs', as well as in other Canadian cities, you don't discuss any sexual act to get a hj. It is just done without any extra cost as part of the massage! There is no communication issue it seems.
So that leaves the "frequently and habitually used for the purpose of prostitution" issue. But there is no extra cost for the hj. And if the massage room is private for the purpose of communications, it there would seem to be an argument it would be private for the purpose of prostitution and therefore not subject to bawdy.
I realize this is regarding Criminal acts, not licensing bylaws.
If is well known that if the MP does anything sexual for a fee (including hj but this is commonly ignored), MP can be in violation of a licensing bylaw and risks the owner of fines and closure - but criminal bawdy house violation including just being in these places, seems open to interpretation and these charges are seldom brought it seems.
In 2003 the City of Brampton passed a bylaw outlawing nudity in massage parlors. But a Court issued a stay so that the bylaw can not be enforced until issue settled in Court. Here are comments on a public board discussing the Brampton bylaw:
There are many legal issues that support the MPAs. First,
and foremost is speech. Having a regulated/licensed nude spa is the right
of citizens, period. Therefore nudity cannot be regulated by a law. Secondly,
in the issue of health, an MPA can prove that such a licensed spa between
nude consenting adults can have private moments inside a space of such
consent. Since an MPA is considered a "private space" upon a
rental charge for the room, it is then considered as private. This is
why Edmonton adapted the code "inside a massage parlor as legal".
So those are the main points to be focused on. The right of speech and
the right of privacy inside a paid space (i.e.: rented) for the use to
be private, in which it is sterilized (i.e.: cleaned) afterwards can easily
be proven to show the by-law is unconstitutional. The correlation for
such a private space in relation to a hotel room is equal as both are
just rented spaces.
Many people think the 1850 bawdy restrictions should be abolished. It would be much safer for the provider to work out of her own home, or a commercial sex establishment, properly zoned and business licensed, then going to the customers home.
In general, Canadian police are paying progressively less attention to bawdy house violations and off-street prostitution in general and more on street prostitution (car sex) which understandably upsets neighborhoods. This public sex is far different than private consenting adult sexual services, for which there should be no legal barriers.
In Canada, prostitution law enforcement tends to be complaint driven. The complaints are predominantly about street prostitution, not incall (bawdy houses) or agencies.
Outcall sexual services of an independent provider is absolutely legal in all of Canada under long-established Federal Law. Canada is much more the land of the sexually free than the U.S.!
3. "Procuring and living off the income (avails) of prostitution" is illegal with its source back in the 1800s. Currently most of the enforcement of this law is against pimps living off the income of street prostitutes often also associated with drug crimes. The procuring restriction seeks to protect individuals from exploitation. It covers pimping, child prostitution and importing foreign sexworkers illegally often as almost slaves to those that got them into Canada often to escape conditions in their own country.
But it can also be applied to legitimate escort agencies that screen and offer some protection for the provider. Again enforcement varies widely and many think agency services should be allowed to protect the provider.
On the other hand it helps keep costs much lower than in the U.S. where the agencies often make a great deal of money the customer has to pay when using. It also helps eliminate the concern that "organized crime" groups would be involved in prostitution. Where it is legal like in Canada, there isn't the same profit potential as in the U.S. where all sexwork is a crime. Eliminate the "crime" in "organized crime" and that can solve the problem!
Canadian agencies might avoid the legal problem of living off the income of prostitution by just charging a reasonable flat service fee for listing, advertising and appointment setting, unrelated to the providers income. Interestingly Agencies are far more common in Montreal and there seems to be no enforcement of the bawdy restrictions as has been accepted for many years. In Vancouver it is mostly independent escorts, and Toronto seems to have a good mix of both. While agencies are technically illegal they are usually tolerated unless they are involved in other crimes such as drugs or hiring illegal aliens.
It's not illegal for a sexworker to live off her own income from prostitution -- only for someone else to live off (receive any financial benefit) from her prostitution income.
4. The sexual procurement and purchasing sex from children and youth. More recently there has been more concern with children (under age 18) in prostitution. The age of consent in Canada is a uniform age 14 UNLESS for financial reward. In the U.S. every state sets its own age of consent which varies from 13 to 18. In Canada be sure you don't have sex with anyone 14-18. It is not statutory rape if over 14, but a different offense which can result in 10 years prison time. Even tougher penalties if the provider is under age 12 which I totally agree with.
Supreme Court of Canada Upholds Lap Dancing as Legal In
I have a separate very detailed report on the lap dancing situation in Canada at http://www.sexwork.com/montreal/lapdancing.html
The problems in Canada revolve around the agency and bawdy house restrictions being too rigid. But often police/cities don't enforce these restrictions if there are no complaints. Otherwise the laws are in line with what we propose (at sexwork.com decriminalization section) in the U.S. In fact, our proposals would address all of these issues and should be very acceptable to citizens in general given the proper facts and public education.
In Canada the problems with prostitution are far less than in the U.S. and there seems to be agreement that criminalization would only make the matter worse...just like in the U.S.
Canadian sexwork laws are similar to British and French laws since France is one of the countries that colonized Canada. It is also quite similar to laws in the rest of Europe, Australia and most other countries. In Asian and Latin America in the countries where it is illegal it is usually tolerated and law not enforced.. In fact in many countries (parts of Mexico, Philippines, Thailand and many others) even where "illegal" the government licenses providers (Guest relations officers like in PI) and requires STD and HIV testing. In Thailand the Entertainment Act of 1960 basically makes most all tourist sex legal as "special services" Thailand wanted to protect all the U.S. service men resting. and recreating in Thailand during the Vietnam war since sexwork brought (and still does) so many needed economic benefits. Mexico has its zones where it is legal, and only a few states regulate it at all.
Other people's responses:
The tac that the law takes in Canada is to prohibit those forms of prostitution that are recognizable public nuisances, and/or lead to exploitation or encourage participation of "criminal elements" and activities.
The result has been lower prices, better quality of providers and services, and in many cases LE working with both providers and clients to make a safer environment for all concerned. The rip off factor in Canada is extremely low, and there are reported instances of the law attacking rip off scenarios in defense of both clients and providers. Of course there are many escorts in the US that fear any moves in this direction. Now they would have to actually tell a client the exact nature of their services..no longer could they hide behind this "fee for time" nonsense.
Arguably, if prostitution is a private matter practiced amongst consenting adults, the government has no right to criminalize the act. A federal statute protecting that basic right is appropriate under the law, just as the right to abortion is protected under federal statute. The only legitimate objection is when such practice takes place in a public venue.
The laws in Canada are based on the concept of "consenting adults in private" and that the government has no business regulating this behavior in private. But society does have the right to regulate and ban prostitution in public. Sounds reasonable to me. And you get great service at a fair price without all the LE and Ripoff BS, in Canada. I never use U.S. escorts anymore. I got tired of paying $200+ for an "air-dance".
There are some great and honest providers in the U.S., but it seems as if many 'escorts' are against legalization because it would cause them to have to be honest and upfront about their service. Cozy little system we have in the States, isn't it?
For extensive information on the legal situation in the
U.S. and ideas for decriminalization see
The Morality Police vs Common Sense Sexwork Article
In Toronto of course not the U.S. where police use no common sense when going after consenting adult sexworkers.
globe & mail editorial: the legality of escorts advertising
The importance of being earnest and doing nothing
Tolerance May Be Best Policy
Monday, April 22, 2002 - Print Edition, Page A11
The morality squads of the nation stir from time to time, raised from their appropriate torpor by the scent of exploitable outrage or affronts to official decency.
This month, it is the "discovery" that many escort agencies are agents of prostitution: "On the face of it, escort services are legal enterprises unless they're offering more than just the escort," says one Toronto police officer after arresting 12 people for "living off the avails." Their crime was not the provision of sexual services for money, which is quite legal in Canada. It was managing a business to do so.
The personal columns of the interesting publications in Canada are chock full of explicit ads by prostitutes offering the illusion of affection and the promise of release.
These ads and what they deliver are quite legal for three reasons:
(1) They are placed by self-employed individuals. No one manages their work or shares in their revenue, so no one is living off the "avails" of prostitution -- a criminal offence.
(2) The self-employed sex worker offers nothing but home delivery. The act of sexual commerce is not habitually concluded in the same place. Thus, we avoid the Criminal Code's prohibition on "keeping a common bawdy house" -- defined by a place regularly used for commercial physical gratification or acts of "gross indecency" (another can of worms).
(3) The ads are placed in paper or electronic publications that do not qualify as a "public place" when it comes to soliciting. Soliciting is a crime only when it scares the horses, slows traffic, threatens property values or otherwise gets up the noses of tourists or the bourgeoisie. Soliciting in public is a portentous crime; soliciting in the classified ads is a legal convenience.
The escort services that fatten the ad budgets of the Yellow Pages and colourful journals risk the attention of morality squads because of their structure: These businesses are managed, which means that the executives of those that provide prostitutes "live off the avails." It doesn't matter that the businesses may be well-managed, or that the sex workers may be safer or better cared for there. If the police are stirred from their torpor in these cases, it is an easy hit under the Criminal Code.
To be fair, the police may prefer to ignore these realities, accepting how constructively hypocritical they really are. But then someone comes along and lays a complaint, and what are the police to do -- especially if it involves a minor? Attention must be paid and then, we hope, the importance of seeming earnest and doing nothing returns, and the business of adult prostitution is left to serve the public comme d'habitude.
This is one of these cases where hypocrisy may be better than reform in dealing with public policy and social change. Because prostitution itself is legal, the Criminal Code regulates it through various prohibitions -- no public soliciting, no managing, no habitual locale, no recruitment, no minors. Observe the rules and it's full steam ahead. Offend the least sensible rules -- living off the avails -- while running an otherwise admirable operation, and the police will generally let you be.
The alternatives are either messy amendments to the Criminal Code that require MPs to vote for a liberalized sex trade, or appeals to the courts under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, claiming affronts to freedom of expression or such. The first is unrealistic, and the second is improbable, so official tolerance is the best option, with all the risks of arbitrary enforcement of the law that this implies.
There is a parallel in the application of laws against marijuana use, though the police remain oddly more vigilant on this file than they do on commercial sex. You assume you can relax in enjoying a joint or two at a weekend party, secure in the assumption that the police have grown tired of pretending that the Criminal Code should apply to this, whatever its formal status. Yet, many Canadians are still dragged before criminal courts for simple marijuana possession, clouding their futures with silly convictions at ridiculous cost. If we cannot insist on more hypocrisy in the application of this law, it might actually have to be changed.
Discretion is the soul of justice, and sometimes discretion effectively suspends whole sections of law in the face of changing values. Remember how we refused to execute murderers for years out of sheer abhorrence, despite the existence of the death penalty? Now we would do so out of simple humility, given our demonstrated skill in convicting the wrong people.
Ignoring the law can be wiser than enforcing, interpreting or revising it. The same principle applies to many other aspects of life.