A primer on Ottawa’s prostitution bill C-36

OTTAWA – The House of Commons Justice committee is examining Bill C-36, the federal government’s proposed new prostitution law. Some facts:

Why a new law? Last December, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down all three of Canada’s prostitution-related prohibitions — keeping a brothel, living on the avails of prostitution and street soliciting — as violations of the constitutional guarantee to life, liberty and security of the person.

The decision upheld a 2012 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that said the law exposed sex workers to added danger by forcing them onto the streets. It also rejected the argument that the old law was meant to promote the values of dignity and equality.

And it found that the purpose of banning communication for the purposes of prostitution — a measure intended merely to take the practice out of public view — created an unacceptable risk to its practitioners.

Deadline: The government has until December to establish a new law.

Options: In some countries, such as New Zealand, prostitution is legal and regulated under labour and public health laws. In the United States it is illegal in all but a few counties in Nevada. The so-called Nordic model, followed in Norway, Sweden and Iceland, makes buying sex illegal, while selling it is not.

Money: Spending on social services for prostitutes is part of the Nordic model. Ottawa has pledged $20 million over five years to help sex workers get out of the industry — a “woefully inadequate” sum, says Calgary police chief Rick Hanson.

Old law: Selling sex was legal, but living in a bawdy house or brothel was illegal, as was living off the profits of another’s prostitution and soliciting sex in public.

New law: Selling sex remains legal, but buying it becomes a criminal offence. It will also be illegal for anyone to communicate for the purpose of prostitution and prohibits advertising the sexual services of others.

Pros: The government says the bill will protect vulnerable women and keep communities safe by allowing prostitutes to rent apartments, screen clients, hire a receptionist or security guard, and advertise their own services.

Cons: Sex workers say that because buying sex remains a criminal offence, the new law will drive prostitutes back into dark alleys and industrial zones, leaving them at risk.


“Some people talk about prostitution as employment, as if it were a job like any other. It isn’t. Legitimate employment has laws against sexual harassment and discrimination. It does not allow hiring a woman based solely on her breast size or hair colour or weight.” — Casandra Diamond, program director, BridgeNorth

“I want to say that in 40 years of policing, and in a number of those years, even today, there’s nothing I enjoy better than walking into schools and talking to kids. In those 40 years I’ve never had a young kid come up to me and say, ‘When I grow up I want to be a drug addict, a criminal or a hooker.’ It never happens.” — Calgary police Chief Rick Hanson.

“I would never want to take away the option of sex work from someone, but I would want to create more options so that everyone can make the decision whether they want to do sex work or they don’t want to do sex work, and that people who do sex work can do it safely.” — Emily Symons, chairwoman, Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau Work Educate & Resist (POWER)