Bill C-36: A backgrounder

Bill C-36: An Act to amend the Criminal Code in response to the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Attorney General of Canada v. Bedford and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

The Government of Canada has consistently misrepresented Bill C-36 by saying that this legislation only targets clients and exploitive third parties, while not criminalizing sex workers and others who may enhance sex workers’ safety. In fact, Bill C-36 will result in sweeping criminalization of the sex industry, targeting sex workers, clients, and third parties, and will have the effect of increasing sex workers’ vulnerability to violence and other forms of abuse.

Bill C-36 targets sex workers, clients, and third parties in various ways and will have the following harmful effects:

  1. The prohibitions on public communication (sections 213 and 286.1(1)) will result in displacement of street-based sex workers to dangerous, isolated areas where they are unable to properly screen clients and will continue to face barriers to police protection.
  2. Due to the prohibition on the purchase of sexual services (section 286.1(1)), sex workers will be unable to properly screen clients, will have diminished access to police protection, and will be unable to work in safe indoor venues because it will be against the law for their clients to attend their place of business.
  3. The safety of sex workers will be impacted by the amended procuring provision (section 286.3(1)), which is extremely broad and will capture many safety-enhancing relationships with third parties (such as managers, drivers, and booking agents). Third parties are also criminalized by the prohibition on materially benefitting from another person’s sex work (section 286.2(1), (3), (4), (5), and (6)), which captures people who are in a management role, including those who increase the safety of sex workers. In addition to being unnecessarily vague, this provision is extremely complicated, making it virtually impossible to know if a third party is captured by the law or not.
  4. Sex workers’ safety will be impaired because it will be virtually impossible to work indoors when sex workers cannot promote their services. The advertising ban (section 286.4) targets newspapers, websites, magazines, and other forms of media that may carry sex industry ads, third parties who advertise other people’s sexual services, and sex workers who wish to advertise collectively.

Bill C-36 proposes a regime of total criminalization that will recreate and exacerbate all of the harms faced by sex workers under the provisions that were at issue in Canada v. Bedford. Bill C-36 is an unconstitutional variation of the recently struck laws, and it imposes the same or increased danger, criminalization, and stigma on sex workers. 

Reckless Endangerment

Co-written by Pivot Legal Society, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Stella, l'amie de Maimie, this updated document answers key questions about what changes Bill C-36 would make to the law if it were passed: What conduct related to sex work would be prohibited? In what circumstances? Who could be prosecuted? 

Read the updated Q & A on Bill C-36. French version is available here. The June 2014 versions can be found here (English and French versions available).