Prostitution survey finds support for making selling sex legal

The federal government is expected to table new prostitution laws soon. An online survey conducted by the Justice Department found that a majority of people think buying sex should be illegal, but not selling it.

Justice Department online poll find majority of people think buying sex should be illegal

The federal government is expected to introduce new prostitution laws before Parliament rises for the summer break. Valerie Scott, left, Amy Lebovitch, centre, and Terri-Jean Bedford speak with the media in Ottawa after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down anti-prostitution provisions in the Criminal Code on Friday, Dec. 20, 2013. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

A majority of people who responded to a Justice Department online survey on prostitution earlier this year felt that purchasing sexual services should be a criminal offence.

However, two-thirds of them said selling sex should not be an offence.

A majority also said that benefiting economically from the prostitution of an adult should be illegal.

The findings are expected to influence the government's upcoming response to a recent Supreme Court ruling that said Canada's legal regime around prostitution was offside.

Respondents who felt prostitution should be legal did support restrictions, including regular medical testing and a system of regulation, taxation and licensing.

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the survey, which was conducted between Feb. 17 and March 17 and attracted 31,172 responses. Of those, 27 came from outside the country and were dropped from the overall analysis.

The survey is set to be made public today, and new legislation is expected to be tabled soon.

"The volume of responses to the department's online consultation on prostitution-related offences is indicative of the significant level of public interest in, and engagement on, the issue of prostitution in Canada," the report said.

The survey was commissioned after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down three key sections of the prostitution law in December.

The department asked respondents if they thought buying or selling sex should be illegal and if there should be exceptions. It asked those who support legal prostitution if there should be limitations.

It also sought opinions on benefiting economically from the prostitution of an adult.

Tallying the response, the department found that 56 per cent felt purchasing sexual services should be a criminal offence, while 44 per cent thought it shouldn't be criminal.

But 66 per cent said selling sex should not be a criminal offence, while 34 per cent though it should be.

And 62 per cent felt that benefiting economically from the prostitution of an adult should be a criminal offence, while 38 per cent said no.

Supporters of legal prostitution were asked about limitations and their responses were sorted by key words. The largest response dealt with public health and supported regular medical testing. Almost as many mentioned taxation, licensing and regulation.

"The terms 'brothel,' 'bawdy house' and 'red light' were often mentioned, with most of these respondents suggesting that prostitution should only take place in these contexts," the department said.

In its December ruling, the Supreme Court struck down the Criminal Code sections covering bawdy houses, living on the avails of prostitution and soliciting in public.

The justices said these laws violated prostitutes' right to security of the person by preventing them from taking measures to protect themselves while engaging in a risky, but legal, activity. Protective measures include selling sexual services indoors, hiring bodyguards and drivers and negotiating safer conditions for the sale of sexual services in public places.

The court put its decision on hold for a year, giving the government an opportunity to come up with new laws.

The survey was part of that process.

The report did not include a discussion about a possible distortion of results given that respondents were self-selecting and had to make the effort to visit a government website in order to participate.


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