Prostitution is legal?!

I was in Las Vegas recently and, if you’ve been there, you’ll probably remember the ‘business cards’ that depict semi-nude women and that cover the sidewalks like raindrops. It’s shocking actually, how many of these ‘cards’ cover the ground. And, in addition to depicting women, these ‘cards’ quote a ‘price’ (seemingly for sexual services).

Seeing these cards led me to think of this week’s column topic: is prostitution legal in Canada?

To start, here’s something you already know: prostitution is BIG business. Here are the numbers:

  • 7% of Canadian men have paid for sex;
  • 15-18% of American men have paid for sex; and
  • Over one million people in America have worked as a prostitute.

Keep in mind though, that numbers in this area are hard-to-get and estimates should be treated with caution.

With that said, though, there’s no question that prostitution is BIG business. But, is it legal? That’s the million-dollar question…

And here’s your answer: prostitution (i.e. buying or selling sexual services) in Canada is NOT illegal.

HOWEVER, here’s the kicker: the activities that SURROUND prostitution ARE illegal.

So, what do I mean by that?

Well, I’ll go through the list…

  • Communicating with someone in a public place for the PURPOSE of prostitution (like ‘negotiating for sexual services’) is illegal;
  • It’s illegal to live in, be a landlord, or be found (without a good excuse) in a “bawdy-house” (i.e. brothel);
  • Transporting, like driving, someone to a brothel is illegal; and
  • It is also illegal to live off (i.e. make money off) of the ‘avails of prostitution’.

So, let’s get this straight: paying for sex is legal, but all the activities that SURROUND the act of paying for sex are illegal? It’s weird, I know.

Obviously, the current laws are confusing. And, here are some illustrations to further show the confusion:

  • Negotiating in a public place about the purchase of sex is a crime (and is commonly referred to as ‘solicitation’). And, a vehicle on a street is considered a public place. So, negotiating with a prostitute in such a vehicle is illegal. BUT, someone negotiating over the telephone is less likely to be found guilty for ‘solicitation’. Is this fair?
  • Living off the avails of prostitution is illegal. This law is really to combat against ‘pimps’. But, consider this: if a prostitute has an accountant (who charges and makes money from the prostitute), then the accountant is technically committing a crime. Does that sound right to you?

At this point, you might be thinking, “This guy’s arguing to decriminalize prostitution!”

If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re wrong. I am not telling you that…you need to make up your own mind.

I am, however, arguing that the laws need to be clearer…much, much clearer. And that leads me to this: a lot of this confusion will soon be addressed in the landmark case, Bedford v. Canada.

In the Bedford case, the Supreme Court of Canada is currently deciding whether some of the laws that SURROUND the act of prostitution should be changed. And, believe it or not, the laws surrounding prostitution could change A LOT in the near future (depending on what the Court does).

And now you know.


**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

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About the Author

Jeff Zilkowsky is a lawyer practicing at MacLean Law in the Lower Mainland and in Kelowna, and focuses his practice on family law and litigation.  

In his column, Jeff provides information about current legal events or points of interest or concern relating to the law. 

The information contained in Jeff’s column should not be used or relied upon as legal advice.

Comments are always appreciated and encouraged, so don’t hesitate to email Jeff at [email protected]

Visit Jeff’s website at www.jeffzilkowsky.com or visit the website of MacLean Law.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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