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JUST Committee Report

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Prostitution is an issue that gives rise to intense debate. The extensive testimony that the Subcommittee heard across the country during its study of prostitution laws reflects a diverse set of opinions. The topic of prostitution raises issues of morality, sexuality, organized crime, health and public safety, the exploitation of women and children, inequality between men and women, and human rights, among others.

Adult1 prostitution is not illegal in Canada, yet most of the activities surrounding it are, making it virtually impossible to engage in prostitution without committing a crime. As a result, persons selling sexual services2 or coerced into adult prostitution in Canada risk criminal sanctions for engaging in an activity that is not itself illegal. Those most likely to be criminalized are primarily vulnerable women facing various difficulties including poverty, homelessness and drug dependency. They also engage in the most dangerous type of prostitution, street prostitution.

It should be noted from the outset that our report pertains exclusively to adult prostitution — minors and children involved in prostitution3 are victims of sexual exploitation and this type of exploitation must remain illegal and criminal at all times. The Subcommittee is therefore proposing a zero tolerance policy in such cases and rigorous enforcement of current legislation.


On June 6, 2006, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights gave our Subcommittee the mandate to continue the work begun by the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws during the 38th Parliament and to report to the Standing Committee by December 8, 2006.4 The dissolution of Parliament in November 2005 had prevented the Subcommittee from finalizing its report and hence from carrying out the mandate assigned to it by the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, which was “to review the solicitation laws in order to improve the safety of sex-trade workers and communities overall, and to recommend changes that will reduce the exploitation of and violence against sex-trade workers.”5

This study was the second attempt to deal with a motion presented in the House of Commons in February 2003 during the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session by Libby Davies, MP for Vancouver-East, which was unanimously adopted. The Subcommittee decided early on to adopt the testimony heard by its predecessor, whose work had begun on October 2, 2003 and ended after just five meetings due to the prorogation of Parliament. The list of witnesses who appeared during that session of Parliament is provided in Appendix B.

In carrying out its mandate, the Subcommittee reviewed the relevant literature and heard testimony from approximately 300 witnesses at public and private hearings and meetings in Ottawa, Toronto, Montréal, Halifax, Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg, from January 31 to May 30, 2005.6 Dozens of researchers, academics, policy experts, private citizens, social service and health care workers, lawyers, police officers and persons involved in prostitution7 appeared, some as private citizens and others representing advocacy associations, government services and non-governmental organizations.

During its investigations, the Subcommittee also visited various programs and services for persons selling sexual services and for children and young people subject to exploitation for the purposes of prostitution. During these visits, witnesses interested in the well-being of those selling sexual services provided information about their varied experiences.

The Subcommittee also met informally with more than a hundred individuals from different parts of the country who were involved in prostitution at the time of the study or had been in the past in order to hear their views on the impact of the criminalization of activities relating to prostitution on their daily lives and quality of life. The life experiences of these individuals, the problems they face and the solutions they recommend to reduce exploitation and violence in prostitution were extremely valuable and informative.

Throughout this report, their comments are reported anonymously. Most of the witnesses appeared before the Subcommittee anonymously and in camera, fearing the potential legal repercussions of their testimony under the current legislative framework. These individuals said that “selling sex for money or some other gain is not a crime in our minds nor is it under the law, yet as sex workers we are always regarded as criminals.”8

Another important part of the Subcommittee’s work was to speak to residents who are exposed to the harmful aspects of street prostitution. Many residents from all over the country shared their fears and frustrations. They mentioned the risks of used syringes and condoms littering local parks and schoolyards, the unsafe environment caused by rivalries between pimps and drug sellers, the continual harassment of clients, the prevalence of drug trafficking and drug abuse in the streets and the explicit sexual behaviour of some prostitutes. The residents also provided balance to the testimony heard by the Subcommittee, helping it carry out its mandate and in turn, address the needs and concerns of prostitutes and Canadian communities alike.


The report is divided into seven chapters, including this introduction.

Chapter Two: Overview of Prostitution — This chapter provides an overview of prostitution in general and those involved in it, including people selling sexual services, clients, pimps and organized crime.

Chapter Three: Prostitution and its Effects — This chapter outlines the experience pertaining to prostitution in Canada and it’s impact on society in general, women and residents of neighbourhoods where street prostitution is prevalent.

Chapter Four: The Legal Response to Prostitution — This chapter looks at the history of the criminalization of prostitution in Canada, the current legislative framework and the problems associated with its application. The sections of the Criminal Code pertaining directly to prostitution are discussed, as well as the general provisions that are used to manage prostitution, including those relating to sexual assault, extortion, intimidation, trafficking in persons and organized crime.

Chapter Five: Impact of Our Criminal Legislation on Persons Practising Prostitution and on Communities in General — This chapter addresses the positive and negative impact of the criminalization of certain prostitution-related activities under sections 210 to 213 of the Criminal Code.

Chapter Six: Models for Reform — Evidence from Other Countries — This chapter outlines the pros and cons cited by witnesses as to the various legal approaches to prostitution taken in Sweden, New Zealand and the Netherlands.

Chapter Seven: Difficulties in Achieving Consensus — Recommendations and Conclusions — This chapter presents the comments and recommendations of the Subcommittee members — consensus, majority, and minority views.

1Unlike adult prostitution, child prostitution is specifically prohibited in subsection 212(4) of the Criminal Code, which states: Every person who, in any place, obtains for consideration, or communicates with anyone for the purpose of obtaining for consideration, the sexual services of a person who is under the age of eighteen years is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of six months.” The same is also true of the offence of procuring the sexual services of a person under the age of eighteen years. That offence is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years. Therefore, the Criminal Code establishes at 18 years the legal age of consent for prostitution purposes. R.S.C. (1985), c. C-46.
2The phrases “persons practising prostitution,” “persons selling sexual services,” “prostitutes,” and “sex workers” are used interchangeably throughout the report. 
3The expression “commercial sexual exploitation of minors” will be frequently used in this report to discuss the involvement of children in prostitution.
4That, pursuant to Standing Order 108, there be established a Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws; that the Subcommittee be composed of six (6) members including 2 members of the Conservative Party, 2 members of the Liberal Party, 1 member of the Bloc Québécois and 1 member of the New Democratic Party to be named by the Committee, in consultation with the whips; that the Subcommittee ensure that all published evidence submitted to the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws in the 38th Parliament be thoroughly referenced in their report; that the Subcommittee consider if additional hearings are needed to clarify previously submitted evidence in the 38th Parliament; that the Subcommittee report to the Committee by December 8, 2006; and that the Subcommittee have all the powers of the Committee under Standing Order 108(1)a) except the power to report directly to the House.
5A copy of the letter from the Honourable Irwin Cotler calling upon the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to create a Subcommittee to review prostitution laws in Canada is provided in Appendix A.
6The list of witnesses who appeared at the Subcommittee’s public hearings is provided in Appendix B.
7Most of the witnesses involved in prostitution who appeared before the Subcommittee sold sexual services. A few of them sold the sexual services of others (pimps) or purchased services from prostitutes (clients).
8In camera, testimony by a group of “sex workers”, 2005.