I'm confused, is prostitution in Canada legal or not?

I've been looking, but have up till now only gotten mixed messages when it comes to it's legality; just a jumble of legislative actions, court rulings, and public statements all wrapped in a confusing multi-year timeline and many vague/assuming articles in the press.

So... is it? And what are the nuances of it?


1 Answer 1


Yes and No

Selling your own body for sex is legal. Buying sex is illegal. Therefore the transaction as a whole is legal on the part of the seller and illegal on the part of the buyer.

See Prostitution in Canada and Prostitution law in Canada.

If you think this is odd, you are not alone '... one judge referring to the laws as "Alice-in-Wonderland" and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court referred to the situation as "bizarre"'.

In the circumstances, although I know of no case law on this, it would appear that any contract for prostitution would be void for illegality. Presumably, to enforce payment for services rendered the service provider would need to pursue a quantum meruit claim in equity.

  • 2
    @Tirous I imagine that would differ from location to location and time to time. Police have discretion as to what crimes they investigate and what they don't, prosecutors likewise.
    – Dale M
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 1:53
  • 8
    Wow, that is weird! If the situation was something like that in the US, I'd think that selling sex would still be indirectly illegal as it'd qualify as a conspiracy to commit a crime, specifically by assisting the buyer in their intent to commit the crime of buying sex. I guess that the law doesn't work that way in Canada? This is, prostitutes can't be held responsible for assisting (or even inciting) their clients to commit the crime of buying their services?
    – Nat
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 2:50
  • 28
    I don't find it weird. Criminalising the buyer allows for prostitutes that want to leave to seek help from authorities without fearing prosecution. It's a model that has been used in Scandinavia too.
    – James K
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 6:15
  • 8
    It's similar spirit to penalizing selling drugs, so the state can take down dealers, without penalizing (or penalizing less) buying and taking drugs, so the state can help addicts get clean. Look at "possession with intent to distribute" vs mere "possession".
    – Agent_L
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 8:56
  • 2
    @Nat on a similar idea, in Italy selling alcohol to minors is forbidden, but minors do not get prosecuted for buying it. I've been told that this is not the case in the USA and I personally find that to be extremely weird. Commented May 29, 2017 at 15:55

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