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Canadian Sex Work Laws Timeline


July 1, 1867

Canadian Confederation. Canada inherits anti-prostitution laws from Britain.




December 28, 1985

Bill C-49 introduces a new criminal provision prohibiting communication in public for the purposes of prostitution.



Reference re ss. 193 and 195.1(1)(c) of the Criminal Code (Man.), [1990] 1 S.C.R. 1123 In response to constitutional questions about whether the public communication law (s.195.1) violates freedom of expression, the Supreme Court rules that eliminating prostitution is a valid legislative aim and upholds the law.



A constitutional challenge to Canada’s prostitution laws is launched in BC. The applicants are ruled to not have “public interest standing” and are tied up in appeals regarding standing for the next 5 years.

Applicants: Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV), an organization run by and for current and former sex workers in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, and Sheryl Kiselbach, an activist and former sex worker. Represented by Pivot Legal Society.



Bedford v. Canada, 2010 ONSC 4264 In the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, an application is brought forth by three former and active sex workers challenging the prostitution laws as unconstitutional.

Applicants: Terri-Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott.



Judge Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice strikes down three key provisions of Canada’s sex work laws, deeming them unconstitutional.


June 13-17, 2011

Ontario Court of Appeal holds three-day hearing on government appeal of Himel decision. Still tied up in the courts regarding their own constitutional challenge, SWUAV, Pivot Legal Society, and PACE Society form a coalition to intervene on behalf of Bedford et al.

March 26, 2012

Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, 2012 ONCA 186
The Ontario Court of Appeal upholds Himel’s judgment on the bawdy house provision, but modifies her ruling on the provision about living on the avails to exclude exploitation, and reverses her decision on the soliciting provision.


September 21, 2012

Canada (Attorney General) v. Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society (SWUAV)
The Supreme Court of Canada rules SWUAV and Kiselbach should be granted public interest standing to challenge the prostitution laws. This case is significant because it paved the way for community organizations to have standing to launch constitutional challenges on behalf of marginalized people and groups who are unable to access the justice system on their own.


December 20, 2013

Canada (Attorney General) v Bedford 
The Supreme Court of Canada throws out all three provisions, deeming them unconstitutional for violating the guarantees to life, liberty, and security of the person. Parliament is given one year to draft a replacement law that complies with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


December 31, 2013

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations were amended to prohibit temporary foreign workers from being hired by employers “who, on a regular basis, offer striptease, erotic dance, escort services or erotic massages”.


June 2014

The Harper Government proposes Bill C-36: Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.


June - November 2014

Bill C-36 goes before the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.


November 6, 2014

Bill C-36 receives royal assent.


December 6, 2014


December 6, 2019

A comprehensive review of PCEPA is supposed to occur within 5 years after coming into force. This requirement was written into the Act itself in s. 45.1(1). Five years pass without a review.


February 21, 2020

R v Anwar & Harvey 2020 ONCJ 103
First constitutional challenge to PCEPA is launched in the Ontario Court of Justice in a criminal case against owners of an escort agency. Three prostitution-related laws are found unconstitutional, but only as related to this particular case. 


March 2021

A Notice of Application is filed at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, seeking to strike down five of the provisions in PCEPA (S.213; S.286. 1(1); S.286.2(1); S.286.3(1); S.286.4) for violating sex workers’ constitutional rights to security, personal autonomy, life, liberty, free expression, free association, and equality.

Applicants: Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform (CASWLR), Monica Forrester, Valerie Scott, Lanna Moon Perrin, Jane X, Alessa Mason & Tiffany Anwar.


February - March 2022

PCEPA goes before the House of Commons Standing Committee for Justice and Human Rights for a comprehensive review, more than 2 years overdue.


June 2022

The Standing Committee for Justice and Human Rights releases their report including recommendations to the Government of Canada regarding PCEPA.


October 3 - 7, 2022

CASWLR et al v Canada (Attorney General). The Ontario Superior Court of Justice holds public hearings for the first constitutional challenge to PCEPA initiated by sex workers.

A ruling is pending.


October 20, 2022

The Government Response to the report of the Standing Committee On Justice And Human Rights is released.

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