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Say NO to the NORDIC MODEL and YES to DECRIMINALIZATION of sex work in Canada

This petition had 1,925 supporters

In December of 2013, The Supreme Court of Canada struck down 3 sections of the Criminal Code regarding sex work:

s. 210 keeping or being in a bawdy-house
s. 212 living on the avails of prostitution
s. 213 communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution

Their ruling focused on the safety and security of sex workers and was a huge win in a years-long battle against archaic and dangerous laws. 2

The SCC unanimously found these laws to violate Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, ruling them “overbroad”, “grossly disproportionate” to their objectives, and therefore unconstitutional. The provisions denied the Charter rights of sex workers by prohibiting them from taking vital precautions that can reduce their risk of becoming victims of violence. The SCC has given Parliament one year from the date of the ruling to draft new legislation should they so choose, “as long as it does so in a way that does not infringe the constitutional rights of prostitutes.” 3



Our Minister of Justice, Peter MacKay, has indicated that he plans to introduce what is known as the “Nordic” or “Swedish Model” of prostitution. The Conservative government views sex work as “sexual exploitation” and slavery.4 

The Nordic model criminalizes the buyers of sexual services, and not the sellers, based on the notion that such laws protect those who sell sex {primarily women}. Those in the sex trade are regarded as ‘prostituted persons’, misguided, coerced, or merely victims of sexual violence. Buyers of sexual services are viewed as aggressors and victimizers.

No sex workers were consulted in the creation of the Swedish law. The approach taken removes any agency or autonomy from those selling sex, while ignoring reasons why many enter the sex trade. It also ignores deeper social issues related to poverty, gender inequality, access to social, health & protective services, race, and discrimination.

Those who support the Nordic approach rely on reports based on flawed methodology, which conflate trafficking with sex work, and purport to show a decrease in the size of the sex trade without the evidence to support this claim.

“In light of the ambiguity concerning the Swedish law’s ability to achieve its objective of eradicating sex work and promoting gender equality, over ten years’ worth of evidence of its harmful impact on sex workers in Sweden, emerging evidence concerning the harmful impact of police sweeps targeting clients under Canada’s current communicating provision, and the correlative deprivation of sex workers’ security of the person, a Nordic model of asymmetric criminalization that maintains a criminal prohibition on the purchasers of sex workers’ services should be deemed grossly disproportionate in its impact on sex workers’ constitutional rights.” 6



In order to honour the spirit of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Canada requires a different model: Decriminalization.

Decriminalization is the removal of criminal sanctions from both sellers and buyers of sexual services. New Zealand decriminalized adult sex work in 2003 and passed a new civil law with the input of sex workers that protect their health and safety. The Decriminalization model is not only touted by sex workers and sex work organizations around the world but also by the United Nations, Amnesty International, and the World Health Organization.   

A Decriminalization Model customized for Canada would enable sex workers to enjoy the same health, safety and legal protections that are available to all other industries. Municipal by-laws, drafted in conjunction with the sex work community, can ensure that sex work is regulated in a safe and fair manner, consistent with other businesses. Canada must also recognize and address issues within sex work surrounding marginalized communities that suffer from discrimination and prosecution based on race, gender, social and economic factors.

The Criminal Code already covers the serious issues of trafficking, exploitation and violence in other sections, so there is no need for additional criminal laws governing prostitution.



The Supreme Court ruling was about Section 7 of our Charter, Security of the Person. Instituting the Nordic Model would flagrantly reinstate this infringement.

We are petitioning the Justice Minister to pass no new criminal laws around sex work, and to listen to the voices of sex workers and sex work organizations to determine how best to protect sex workers and the communities they live and work in.

Please sign with us to help propel Canada into the future in terms of the rights and freedoms afforded to all of us by our Charter. What our government decides will affect not only Canadians, but others worldwide.

We would like to recognize those who are unable to sign this petition due to personal constraints involving access, as well as fear resulting from stigma and persecution.



Sonya JF Barnett,
BC Coalition of Experiential Communities
Big Susies
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
Joyce Arthur, FIRST Decriminalize Sex Work
Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP)
Good For Her
Jean McDonald, Maggie’s – Toronto Sex Workers’ Action Project
PEERS Victoria
Providing Alternatives Counselling and Education (PACE) Society
Prostitutes Involved, Empowered, Cogent – Edmonton (PIECE)
Stella, l'amie de Maimie
Stepping Stone, Halifax
West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals (Vancouver)


twitter: #CdaDecrimNow @AfterBedford




1 For example, the “bawdy house” law {with language showing just how antiquated the laws are} prohibits even one person from providing sexual services in the privacy of their own home; The communications law endangers street-level workers because in order to avoid detection/arrest, sexworkers cannot take the time to properly vet clients before entering their vehicles.

Canada (Attorney General) v Bedford 2013 SCC 72

3  Ibid.

4 Conservative Convention Policy Floor Resolutions: Canada’s Social Fabric 2013, pg 17

Sex Work Law Reform in Canada: Considering Problems with the Nordic Model, by Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network pg 105

Sex Work Law Reform in Canada: Considering Problems with the Nordic Model, by Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network pg 122

7 International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe


For more information on the Decriminalization and/or how current laws affect Canadian sex workers and those abroad, please read:

10 Reasons to Decriminalize Sex Work, by Open Society Foundations

The Swedish Sex Purchase Act: Claimed Success and Documented Effects

Sexwork Law Reform in Canada: Considering Problems with the Nordic Model, by Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

Voices for Dignity: A Call to End the Harms Caused by Canada’s Sex Trade Laws, by PIVOT Legal Society}

Beyond Decriminalization: SexWork Human Rights and a New Framework for Law Reform, by PIVOT Legal Society



Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

NSWP: Global Network of Sex Work Projects

PLRI: New Directions in Sex Work Research

Abel, Gillian, Lisa Fitzgerald, Catherine Healy & Aline Taylor, Taking the Crime Out of Sex Work: New Zealand Sex Workers’ Fight for Decriminalisation (Portland: Policy Press, 2010).

Global Commission on HIV, “HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights & Health” (New York, UNDP, HIV/AIDS Group, 2012) Online:

NZ, “Prostitution Law Reform in New Zealand”, July 2012, Online: NZ Parliamentary Library


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