Know Your Options

Our last Safety Tip summarized the outcomes of the recent Bedford Decision, which involved striking down the unconstitutional provisions relating to sex work. To recap, the provisions were:

–          CC s. 210: Bawdy-House Laws (prohibiting keeping a brothel)

–          CC s. 212(1)(j): Living on the Avails of Prostitution

–          CC s. 213(1)(c): The Communication Law (communicating in public for purposes of sex work)

These provisions were found to violate the human rights of sex workers, forcing them into dangerous situations while working.

The Federal Government of Canada now has a year to present solutions to amend the current laws; first steps taken included a public consultation that wrapped in March.

There are various models the government can refer to in the coming year. We will look at the different models that are used worldwide in summary: Nordic (aka Swedish Model), Legalization, and New Zealand.

The Nordic Model:

  • Holds that prostitution violates a person’s human rights
  • May call for the decriminalization of sex workers themselves, but encourages the criminalization of customers and procurers. Criminal law and enforcement may be used to reduce the numbers of sex workers
  • Sex workers encouraged to transition out of the trade
  • Regulates clients, managers, owners/operators of brothels or agencies using criminal law
  • May be illegal to work indoors, to work with others, to profit from the avails of prostitution, to advertise
  • Essentially: makes it legal to sell sex, but not to buy


  • Regulates sex workers and related activities while using the criminal law, labour law and other legislation
  • Treats prostitution as a legal occupation, but controls it by a set of rules that govern who can work and under what circumstances
  • Regulation of trade typically involves work permits and licensing
  • Compulsory medical check-ups for prostitutes
  • Bawdy houses registered and size limited
  • Maintenance of pimping and procuring laws
  • Limitations on street prostitution

New Zealand Model

  • Regards sex work as no different than other jobs
  • Based upon a harm-reduction framework
  • Brothels, living on the avails and communication are legal activities for sex workers and buyers
  • Regulates sex workers and related activities without using criminal law, while recognizing labour rights and responsibilities
  • Workers, managers, business establishments regulated using:
    • Provincial labour standards legislation
    • Occupational health and safety codes
    • Zoning regulations
    • Better business bureaus
    • Landlord and tenanct acts
    • Unionization
    • Professional associations
    • Human rights codes
    • Only the most disruptive and abusive activities and behaviours would be regulated using criminal law explicitly designed to deal with them (e.g. disturbances, extortion, assault, etc)
    • Decriminalization in Canada would involve repealing all criminal law relating to prostitution

The Government of Canada has said it will be prepared to table the new legislation in December 2014, and has shown leanings toward adopting the Nordic Model. Sex work advocates and related organizations have been mounting public awareness campaigns, fearing the Swedish Model would potentially further harm sex workers, and are encouraging an adoption of the New Zealand Model.

To read the decision in full, it is available here:


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