Is Canada Embracing the Nordic Model? New Prostitution Legislation Sparks Further Debate

There is much debate as to whether new Canadian legislation will protect women in the sex trade or put them in more danger. Every judge and criminal lawyer in Vancouver, B.C. is following the story with interest.

June 27th: There is much debate amongst journalists and legal professionals as to whether new prostitution legislation will protect vulnerable citizens or put the lives of women in danger. Every judge and criminal lawyer in Vancouver, B.C., is no doubt following the story closely.

Survey of Canadian Opinion

A national survey, undertaken by the justice department has found that 56% of people feel that the purchasing of sex should be illegal. 66% of people feel that the selling of sex, on the other hand, should be legal. This supports the argument that the client should be punished rather than the prostitute, who inversely should be treated as a victim. The crux of the debate is whether or not women in the sex industry will be safer if these new laws come into effect.

New Legislation

Naturally new laws mean new charges, new pleas and new defenses. Lots for a criminal lawyer in Vancouver to digest. Any overhaul of prostitution legislation is likely to see a move towards targeting clients and pimps, allowing prostitutes themselves to go unprosecuted. This type of legislation was first introduced in Sweden, before spreading to the other Nordic countries. The latest survey suggests widespread support for such a policy in Canada. Opponents say that keeping any aspect of the transaction illegal endangers the women involved, by driving the practice further underground.


Some people favor more extreme options such as outright decimalization and regulation, as exists in countries like the Netherlands and New Zealand. Supporters of decimalization say that it is the only way to tackle the fundamental issue of human trafficking and exploitation. But it is difficult to imagine sufficient support for such a model.

In contrast, the Nordic model seeks to eliminate the practice altogether. In effect, Vancouver police have been leaning towards policies of this kind since at least January 2013, when they formulated new guidelines on eliminating the “demand” for prostitution.

Opponents to the Legislation

A recent study published in a British medical journal claims that strategies that target clients actually increase the vulnerability of women in the sex trade, putting them at further risk of violence and STDs. The argument goes that criminalizing the client drives the practice underground. It becomes distributed to increasingly isolated and unsafe locations, away from population centers. It is often difficult in these conditions to properly screen clients, and police protection is harder to come by. Meanwhile the stigma surrounding the sex trade increases.

Legislating for “the world’s oldest profession” is likely to remain a divisive issue for politicians and press, throughout B.C. and indeed throughout Canada. Every criminal lawyer in Vancouver will no doubt look on with interest as a long running story continues to develop.


John Buchanan is a criminal defense lawyer in Vancouver, B.C. He defends cases such as fraud, theft, assault and marijuana-production. With over thirty years’ experience in criminal law, his clients can avail of a vast range of knowledge and resources.

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