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Is Sex Work Legal In Canada?

Posted on April 21, 2021

Ross Lutz Barristers sex work Featured

Is sex work illegal in Canada? This is a question that many have asked, and while Bill C-36 outlines prostitution offences, there are many grey areas in sex work for both sex workers and their customers. In this article, we will outline Bill C-36 and some of the most common questions about sex work regarding the purchase and soliciting of prostitutes along with the legality and protection for sex workers. Bill C-36 received Royal Assent on November 6, 2014 and is now law.

What Is Sex Work?

Sex work is defined as the exchange of sexual services for money or goods. These services are income generating even if they are not the individual's primary source of income. Sex work includes a wide range of individuals including prostitutes, cam-workers, strippers, sugar babies, and more. Understanding how Bill C-36 affects sex workers and their customers is essential to avoid criminal charges.

What Is Bill C-36?

Introduced in 2014, Bill C-36 had three objectives in mind:

  • Protect Sex Workers (Those That Sell Sex As A Service);
  • Protect Communities & Children From The Harms Caused By Prostitution; and
  • Reduce Demand For Prostitution By Criminalizing The Purchase Of Sex.

This bill canvassed prostitution offences such as purchasing, advertising, material benefits, as well as procuring and communicating offences. It also considered penalties for human trafficking for sexual purposes.

sex work

Purchasing Offences

The purchasing offences in Bill C-36 cover the purchase of sexual services, the consideration and communication involved in obtaining sexual services. Under the purchasing offences, sex workers are protected as the selling of their own sexual services are not criminalized in this bill.

However, if you are trying to purchase sexual services from an adult, you could be facing a maximum of five years in prison or a fine starting at $500 for a first offence. The minimum fine goes up if the charge is a subsequent offence, prosecuted by indictment, or was committed in a public place next to schools, parks, churches or anywhere children are reasonably expected to be present.

If you are trying to purchase sexual services from a child victim, you could be facing a minimum of six months and a maximum of 10 years in prison for your first offence. Any subsequent offences require a minimum of one year of imprisonment.

The purchasing offences clause in Bill C-36 criminalized prostitution as every time a transaction is considered or completed, the purchaser is committing an offence.

Advertising Offences

Section 286.4 of the Criminal Code covers advertising offences. Anyone that is knowingly advertising sexual services for purchase is guilty of an indictable offence. They are additionally liable for a term of imprisonment of less than five years or an offence that is punishable on summary conviction.

Advertising offences do not apply to those that are advertising their own sexual services. Individual sex workers cannot be charged for the advertising offences. Only institutions, such as erotic massage parlours, strip clubs, or pimps promoting the sexual services of someone else, can be held liable.

Material Benefits Offences

Anyone who receives a financial or material benefit by commissioning off the purchase of a sexual service is liable to a maximum of 14 years in prison. Sex workers are exempt from this offence if the financial or material benefit is from the sale of their own services. The material benefits offence covers institutions or persons profiting off the sale of sexual services such as an erotic massage parlour or a strip club.

The material benefits offence does not stop sex workers from using their profits in legitimate business situations. For example, they can use their material benefits to buy gifts for others, support their family, pay for shared accommodations, or hire an accountant or lawyer's services. Those who receive material benefits from a sex worker in these contexts will not face criminal charges.

However, none of the exceptions above apply if any of the following occur:

  • Using, Threatening, Or Attempting To Use Violence Against The Sex Worker
  • Abusing A Position Of Trust, Power, Or Authority
  • Providing Intoxicating Substances (Drugs, Alcohol, etc.) To Continue & Encourage The Sale Of Sexual Services
  • Engaging In Conduct That Would Amount To Procuring
  • Receiving The Benefit As A Commercial Enterprise That Offers Sexual Services For Sale

This allows sex workers to continue to use their material benefits as any other individual and protect them from institutions that would otherwise exploit their sexual services to make a profit. However, it's important to note that it is illegal to earn money under this law by owning, managing, or working in a commercial enterprise where sexual services are purchased.

Procuring Offences

Procuring offences cover the procuring of another individual to offer sexual services. These offences also include recruiting, holding, or harbouring an individual who offers or provides sexual services for purchase. This is especially true in contexts where you are controlling, influencing, or directing the movements of that individual.

This offence criminalizes the active involvement in the prostitution of others. For example, a pimp could face charges for both procuring and material benefit offences. Since they are involved in both the procuring and directing of sex workers and profiting off their sexual services, they are guilty of both offences.

Similar to the other offences, the sex workers themselves cannot face charges in this offence. However, the pimp in this scenario could be facing a maximum of 14 years in prison.

Communicating Offences

The communicating offences in the Criminal Code exist to criminalize the discussion and offering of sexual services for purchase in public places. Specifically, this offence applies to public places next to parks, playgrounds, schools, or other areas designed for use by children.

Trafficking In Persons Offences

The trafficking in persons offence covers recruiting, transporting, holding, harbouring, directing, or influencing individuals to exploit them for sex work. These charges are serious because they are typically combined with kidnapping and physical and sexual assault charges. You could be facing charges of four years to a maximum of 14 years.

Is Buying Sex Illegal?

Yes. As mentioned above, Bill C-36 criminalized the purchase of sex. The offender in each scenario is the purchaser of the sexual service. If you are purchasing, or trying to purchase, sexual services you could face criminal charges.

sex work

Is Stripping Illegal? What About Tipping Strippers?

Stripping itself is not illegal. Strippers act as entertainers in strip clubs, and it is perfectly legal to tip them or pay for private dances. However, if you get into a private room at a strip club and pay for sexual services, the act becomes illegal.

What Are Sugar Babies & Is It Considered Sex Work?

Sugar babies describe individuals that have arrangements with rich or affluent individuals to provide them with company. It's a transactional dating arrangement between two people. This is a grey area of sex work and is largely not considered prostitution. Sugar babies are not technically paid for sexual services but instead are given gifts or money within the confines of a mutually agreed-upon relationship. It is considered dating rather than a situation where sexual favours are being paid for.

Are Erotic Massage Parlours Illegal?

Under Bill C-36, both the person purchasing a sexual service at a massage parlour and the institution profiting off the service, i.e. the massage parlour, would be committing an offence. The person buying a sexual act could be charged with a purchasing offence while the parlour would be charged with a material benefits offence. Though these erotic massage parlours exist in every city, you could face criminal charges if you accept and purchase any sexual services from them.

Why Does The Criminal Code Criminalize Prostitution?

Many people wonder why the Criminal Code seeks to criminalize prostitution rather than legalize it. The bill criminalized the purchase of sex while decriminalizing the selling of sex. Within Bill C-36, the goal was to reduce the demand for sex workers and the purchase of sexual services. By criminalizing the purchase, they hope to discourage individuals from seeking out sexual services while also trying to protect vulnerable sex workers within the system.

If you are currently facing charges for purchasing, procuring, advertising, or profiting from sexual services, you must seek an experienced lawyer. These charges are life-changing, and we are here to help protect your reputation and your freedom. Contact us at Ross Lutz Barristers today to see how we can protect you.