Canada: Pass legislation to prevent the sexual exploitation of women & girls

23 JUNE 2014 UPDATE: On 16 June, the government’s bill reforming Canada’s prostitution laws passed its second reading in the House of Commons and was referred to the Justice Committee (note: bills must undergo three readings and a committee stage in the House of Commons and also pass in the Senate, and then receive Royal Assent before becoming law). The Committee will meet the week of 7 July to hear testimony on the bill. This will be a good opportunity for the bill to be amended to truly protect the human rights of people in prostitution. Please continue to call on the Canadian government to ensure that the bill fully decriminalizes people who sell sex, while maintaining criminalization on pimps, brothel-keepers and those who buy sex.


6 JUNE 2014 UPDATE: Thousands of you called on the Canadian government to introduce a law to better protect women and girls – in line with the Nordic model– and we can report that we’re halfway there! On 4 June, Canadian Justice Minister Peter MacKay introduced a bill to reform Canada’s prostitution laws. The bill criminalizes those who buy sex, pimps, brothel-keepers and those who advertise another person for prostitution. The government has also pledged C$20 million in funding for support services, with an emphasis on assisting those who would like to exit prostitution. Both measures are vital in helping to rectify the stark gender, race, ethnic and socio-economic inequalities evident in the prostitution industry.

Equality Now and our Canadian partners welcome these measures, but we are very concerned that the bill does not fully decriminalize those who sell sex. While the bill protects people in prostitution from criminal sanctions in many areas, it also maintains some criminalization. We and our partners – including survivors of sexual exploitation, many of whom entered prostitution as children – recognize that, more often than not, prostitution is not entered into out of choice, but rather through lack of choice. Any criminalization of people in prostitution would result in the added punishment, further victimization and increased marginalization of many who are already victims of heinous crimes and human rights violations.

We are working to ensure that Canada enacts legislation that will truly protect the human rights of people in prostitution while preventing future exploitation in the commercial sex industry. Stay tuned for further updates and information on how you can help.


On 20 December 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada declared Canada’s prostitution laws unconstitutional. The Canadian Parliament now has until December 2014 to enact new laws or prostitution and the inherently exploitative activities surrounding it, such as brothel-keeping and pimping, will be decriminalized. Activists throughout Canada and around the world are calling on the Canadian government to seize this crucial opportunity to enact legislation to help protect women and girls from exploitation and violence. While people in prostitution should never be criminalized, full decriminalization of the sex industry does not prevent exploitation or further the human rights of people in prostitution, especially in a context marked by inequality.

“If we decriminalize prostitution we’d be saying it’s open season on our women, especially our marginalized and vulnerable, when it’s them we should be protecting the most” says Trisha, a survivor of sex trafficking and founder of EVE (formerly Exploited Voices now Educating), a Canadian non-profit that advocates for the abolition of prostitution. Trisha was exploited for 15 years in the sex industry in Vancouver, starting from when she was just 13 years old, in illegal and legal “establishments” both indoors and outdoors. She has since become a leading activist, and is among the many survivors advocating for Canada to pass legislation that criminalizes those who pay for sex while decriminalizing and ensuring support for women in prostitution. Known as the “Swedish” or “Nordic” Model, this legislative and policy framework recognizes the power inequality between the buyer and the person in prostitution and seeks to rectify it by:

  • Decriminalizing people in prostitution (i.e. people selling sex),
  • Criminalizing those who pay for sex acts, brothel-keepers, pimps and procurers, and
  • Mandating robust funding for services for people in prostitution, including assistance for those who wish to exit prostitution.

This framework is gaining traction throughout the world and has been adopted in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland, and is currently being considered by the parliaments of France, Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Right now, the Canadian government has a vital opportunity to better protect people in prostitution and help rectify the stark gender, race, ethnic and socio-economic inequalities evident in – and sustained by – the prostitution industry. Precise numbers are difficult to obtain, but it is clear that the vast majority of those in prostitution in Canada are women, and that many – like Trisha – enter into prostitution as children. Further, women and girls from marginalized communities, including Aboriginal communities, are disproportionately represented.

By passing legislation in line with the Nordic Model, Canada can join other socially progressive countries by effectively advancing gender equality and addressing exploitation in the commercial sex industry, in line with its international legal obligations.

Please join Equality Now and our Canadian partners EVE, Sextrade101, and the London Abused Women’s Centre, in calling on the government to enact legislation in line with the Nordic Model.

The Honourable Peter MacKay

Minister of Justice

Mike Wallace

MP & Committee Chair, Standing Comm on Justice & Human Rights

Françoise Boivin

MP & Committee Vice-Chair, Standing Comm on Justice & Human Rights

Sean Casey

MP & Committee Vice-Chair, Standing Comm on Justice & Human Rights