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

9 SEPTEMBER 2014 UPDATE: The bill to reform Canada’s prostitution laws, Bill C-36, is making its way through Canada’s legislature and is currently in the Senate, Canada’s upper house of parliament. In early July, our partners gave powerful testimonies at the House of Commons Justice Committee hearings on the bill, detailing the realities of prostitution and emphasizing that the decriminalization of people in prostitution, combined with the criminalization of buyers, pimps and brothel keepers, is the most effective way to reduce sex trafficking and exploitation. Though the House made changes to the bill, we remain concerned that Bill C-36 still allows criminalization of people in prostitution.

The Senate’s Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is holding hearings on the bill between 9 -11 September. Equality Now and our partners need your support to help ensure that the bill adequately addresses sex trafficking and protects the most vulnerable! Please take part in our social media campaign and call on the key Senators below to ensure that the bill fully decriminalizes people who sell sex, while maintaining criminalization on pimps, brothel-keepers and those who buy sex. During the upcoming hearings, please also watch and support our partners EVE, SexTrade101, and the London Abused Women’s Centre when they testify on 10 September (all hearings will be streamed live ). Thank you! (For additional updates, click here.)


On 20 December 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada declared Canada’s prostitution laws unconstitutional. The Canadian Parliament has until December 2014 to enact new laws or the inherently exploitative activities surrounding prostitution, 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 [the] prostitution [industry] 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 decriminalizes and ensures support for women in prostitution while criminalizing those who pay for sex. 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. Currently it is 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 Senator Bob Runciman

Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal & Const Affairs

The Honourable Senator George Baker

Deputy Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal & Const Affairs

The Honourable Senator Mobina S.B. Jaffer

Member of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal & Const Affairs