Understanding the Law

In December 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada (Canada v. Bedford) struck down all three sections of the Criminal Code that outlawed prostitution, on the grounds that the laws violated sex workers’ right to security of the person. In other words, the laws prevented sex workers from employing precautions that would increase their safety on the job. The Court gave the government one year to make new laws. 

Enacted in December 2014, The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) makes it a crime to
– purchase sex;
– communicate for the purpose of purchasing sex;
– habitually keep the company of or benefit materially from a sex worker,  unless you are in a legitimate family or business relationship, provided you can prove that you are not forcing or encouraging the sex worker to sell sex; you are not involved together in a commercial sex enterprise; and you are not providing alcohol or drugs -sex workers are prohibited from working or communicating near schools, playgrounds, day-care centres -it is illegal to advertise sex services provided by anyone but the sex worker, and his/her advertising must not explicitly offer sex for sale.

Municipal and provincial governments do not have jurisdiction over regulating sex work, although some of their laws and policies affect places where sex work takes place.

The role of the police

The police are the main body that enforces prostitution laws. In Vancouver, this is carried out by the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). The focus of the police is to ensure the safety of all citizens, including sex workers, business people and residents. The work of the VPD in regards to sex work is guided by their Sex Work Enforcement Guidelines which were adopted by the Vancouver Police Board in January of 2013. While some activities related to sex work are illegal, anybody is free to stand in public spaces, such as in front of businesses, at bus stops or on sidewalks. If you have concerns or think your business is being affected, see Tools for Residents and Businesses.

The police department deals with sex work and youth sexual exploitation in areas such as:

  • Sex worker liaison—A police officer provides support and intervention for sex workers, provides referrals and works closely with sex worker organizations.
  • Youth services—This department pursues a safe, secure and positive environment for youth through asset building, youth programs, prevention initiatives, interventions, information gathering and community partnerships.
  • Sex crimes and child abuse—A dedicated child and sexual assault/assault team, with an in-house counsellor, deals with these issues.
  • Domestic violence—The police and Family Services of Greater Vancouver collaborate to support women and children who are experiencing violence in their relationships.
  • School liaison program—Police officers are assigned to schools to serve in a liaison role between schools and the criminal justice system and deliver safety and crime prevention information about sexual exploitation to students, staff and parents.
  • Counter Exploitation—The Counter Exploitation Unit investigates files related to child exploitation, Internet luring, child pornography, street-level sex work, bawdy houses, pimping and human trafficking.
  • Diversity—A Diversity Unit works with specific populations, including sex workers, who have significant public safety issues.
  • Sister Watch Project – a multi-faceted operation, is designed to combat violence against women in the Downtown Eastside and make the community safer for everyone who lives and works there.
  • Gang crime—a Gang Crime Unit disrupts the criminal activity of street gangs, ethnic-based gangs, organized-crime groups and outlawed motorcycle gangs through enforcement and prosecution.
  • Community response teams—Several teams and cars provide services for specific groups of youth (Yankee 10 for youth probation, Yankee 20 for high-risk youth, Car 86 for child protection and Car 87 for mental health).
  • Missing persons—This unit investigates missing persons (adults, children and youth).

There is more information, on the Vancouver Police Department’s website or call 604-717-3535.

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