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Legalities of the Sex Trade Industry

There are often misconceptions about what is and is not legal when dealing with the sex trade. Below you will find information on the legalities of exchanging money for sex.

What is Legal?

The selling of sex in Canada is legal, but the purchasing of sex is illegal in all circumstances. 

The New Sex Trade Laws December 2014:

(Information taken from Department of Justice Canada)

Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act

(CIF: December 6, 2014):

  • Treats prostitution as fostering demand for sexual exploitation, views prostitution as a dangerous and exploitative practice, harmful to those involved (disproportionately women and girls), communities and society.

Legislative Objectives:

  • Reduce incidence of prostitution, with a view to abolishing it to the greatest extent possible.
  • Protect those who sell their own sexual services, encourage them to report incidents of violence and leave prostitution.
  • Denounce third party profiteering, especially in commercialized contexts, e.g., strip clubs, massage parlours and escort agencies.
  • Protect communities from harms brought by prostitution.

Prostitution Offences:

Section 286.1:

Purchasing sexual services, or communicating in any place for the purpose of obtaining for consideration, the sexual services of a person,

  • Penalty (adult victim): hybrid offence, 5 year maximum on indictment, 18 month maximum penalty on summary conviction, mandatory minimum fines ranging from $500 to $2,000 (subsection 286.1(1)).
  • Penalty (victim under 18 years): indictable offence, 10 year maximum, 6 month MMP for first offence and 1 year MMP for subsequent offences (subsection 286.1(2)).

Section 286.2:

Receiving a financial or material benefit obtained by or derived from commission of purchasing offence.

Exceptions for non-exploitative relationships (subsection 286.2(4):

  • Legitimate living arrangements (e.g., children, spouses, roommates)
  • Legal/moral obligations (e.g., supporting a disabled parent, gifts)
  • Goods and services offered to general public (e.g., accountants, landlords, pharmacists, security companies)
  • Goods and services offered informally (e.g., protective services)
  • No exceptions where violence, coercion, abuse of power, procuring, commercial enterprise offering sex services

Penalty (adult victim): 10 year maximum penalty

Penalty (victim under 18 years): 14 year maximum penalty, 2 year Mandatory Minimum Punishment

Section 286.3:

Procuring a person to offer or provide sexual services or recruiting/harbouring a person/exercising control, direction or influence over the movements of a person to facilitate purchasing offence.

Section 286.4:

Advertising an offer to provide sexual services for consideration

Not applicable to sellers of sexual services

Publishers/website administrators can be held criminally liable as parties

Section 286.5:

Immunizes from criminal liability those who sell their own sexual services regarding the part they play in purchasing, material benefit, procuring and advertising offences

Subsection 213(1.1):

Communicating for the purpose of selling sexual services in public places that are or are next to school grounds, playgrounds or daycare centres

Paragraphs 213(1)(a) and (b):

Stopping motor vehicles/impeding pedestrian/vehicular traffic in public places for purpose of purchasing or selling sexual services

Commercial Enterprises:

  • New purchasing offence makes commercial enterprises based on purchase of sexual services illegal.
  • Third parties who receive material benefits in the context of commercial enterprises are criminalized.
  • Receiving material benefit in a commercialized context is aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.
  • Procuring offence may also apply if third parties actively involve themselves in provision of others’ sexual services.
  • Selling sexual services independently or cooperatively with others (e.g., pooling resources) does not constitute “commercial enterprise”, provided that sellers retain only proceeds from sale of their own sexual services BUT purchasers always criminalized.