The False Promise of the End Demand Model: Why Bill C-36 Is Failing Sex Workers in Canada

Opinion by Katso Ramodimoosi.

Canadian law regarding sex work and prostitution follows an end-demand model. Sometimes referred to as the Swedish or Nordic models, end-demand laws for sex work aim to target the market and not the sex-workers themselves. The logic prevailing here is that ending demand for sex-work inevitably reduces the supply of sex work and any human rights violations sex workers may experience.


"Conflating sex work to human trafficking is a political tactic that has long been used as an effective strategy to enforce harmful laws to the industry. While it is true that trafficking is a problem in the sex industry, the data and statistics cited are often heavily skewed and misrepresent the reality of sex work (4)."

Bill C-36 promised to do just that - end the demand for sex work which would, in theory, protect vulnerable communities. The bill came to pass in 2014 following the Bedford case, where three sex-workers challenged Canadian sex work laws as being unconstitutional (1). Their win resulted in amendments to Canadian sex work laws through the formation of Bill C-36. In an attempt to protect sex workers, the bill decriminalized the selling of sex, yet the purchasing of sex remains illegal (2). Under this law, sex workers are not penalized but their clients are. However, because prostitution involves the purchase and selling of sex, the livelihood of sex workers remains illegal.


The logic of the bill is highly flawed. It operates under the guise of fighting exploitation and suggests that all sex workers are victims. Politicians and sex-work prohibitionist often use sex slavey and human trafficking to drive their campaigns against sex work as they are more likely to garner support this way (3). Conflating sex work to human trafficking is a political tactic that has long been used as an effective strategy to enforce harmful laws to the industry. While it is true that trafficking is a problem in the sex industry, the data and statistics cited are often heavily skewed and misrepresent the reality of sex work (4).


"The bill makes it illegal to negotiate sexual services in public spaces including near schools, daycares or playgrounds (7). This makes it incredibly difficult for sex workers to safely find clients. Instead of negotiating prices and locations before entering the client’s vehicle, sex workers jump in before their clients flee for fear of getting arrested (8)."

Protecting sex workers from prosecution has reduced aggressive policing of sex workers by law enforcement but it has done little to protect them from the negative effects of the criminalization of prostitution. Research shows that the criminalization of clients has increased the vulnerability of sex workers. A study carried out in Vancouver confirmed that following Bill C-36 police had eased on charging and arresting sex workers and showed increased concern for their safety (5). However, the research also revealed that Bill C-36 endangers the safety strategies of sex workers by forcing workers to rush their screening processes, increasing workers vulnerabilities to HIV/STIs and displacing them to areas with increased risk of violence (6).


The bill makes it illegal to negotiate sexual services in public spaces including near schools, daycares or playgrounds (7). This makes it incredibly difficult for sex workers to safely find clients. Instead of negotiating prices and locations before entering the client’s vehicle, sex workers jump in before their clients flee for fear of getting arrested (8). Under this model, workers have to take more risks to protect their clients from detection by police. Their concern for losing a potential client may lead them to not notice or ignore warning signs. More often than not, protecting their clients from prosecution puts sex workers in vulnerable positions.


Over the past 20 years, the sex work economy has migrated online, with workers heavily relying on digital platforms to screen and verify clients before meeting in person. Online forums have also been used by sex workers to share resources, avoid high-risk activity and protect each other (9). Bill C-36 criminalizes advertising sexual services on behalf of someone else and financially benefiting from the selling of other’s sexual services (10). This has resulted in a shutdown of all online spaces where Canadian sex workers operate. These platforms fostered a community among sex workers and without them many have been forced to resort to more dangerous ways of getting clients (11). Under Bill C-36 screening and identification, processes are being completely skipped because clients fear being outed and potentially prosecuted. Forums, where sex workers shared information on violent or dangerous clients now, are now considered illegal. In a darkly ironic way, Bill C-36 compromises the health and safety of those it was intended to protect.


"An abundance of research from reputable organizations such as UNAIDS, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International advises those who are truly interested in reducing exploitation in the sex industry to decriminalize prostitution (17). The success of this policy approach is visible in Australia and New Zealand, which both decriminalized prostitution in 1995 and 2003 respectively. Government studies found that five years after the legalization of prostitution in these countries there had been no incidents of recent trafficking (18)."

Liberal campaigns in the 2015 election promised to repeal Bill C-36. Former candidate Bill Morneau, who would later become the federal finance minister, condemned the bill saying that it “puts people in danger, and [The Liberal Party of Canada] would not stand for it (12).” Once in government former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told reporters of her commitment to review prostitution laws (13). It has been almost 7 years and no change has been affected despite promises from the liberal party. Speculations have been made that other issues such as the legalization of cannabis took precedence over sex work law reform in the liberal party. Put crudely, “You can’t be the party of weed and whores. You have to pick one,” said Sandra Wesley, executive director of Montreal sex work advocacy group Stella (14).


"Additionally, there has been no significant reduction in the number of people purchasing sexual services in Sweden since they adopted the end demand model (20). This suggests that the end demand model does not kill the market for sex work but rather pushes it to the shadows. The failure of the model and subsequently Bill C-36 to end the demand for sex work points at its false promise to solve the harms of the sex work industry and protect vulnerable communities."

The Liberal Party faced more criticism for its lack of attention to sex work law reform in its 2019 campaign. Brenda Cossman, a law professor and director of the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto attributes this to the fact that “Stepping up in favour of sex work decriminalization is not something that seems to get the Liberals votes (15).” Despite the criminalization of prostitution being at the intersection of public health issues, including drug abuse, poverty, murdered and missing Indigenous women, and the lack of adequate health services for black and transgender women, it is still severely underrepresented (16). The five-year review for Bill C-36 came and went in 2020 with no action being taken to review the policy. Despite abundant evidence of the inefficiency and dangers of the end-demand model, it is still represented as a solution for a situation it exacerbates.


Many sex workers and sex work advocates have called for Canada to completely decriminalize the purchase and selling of sex. An abundance of research from reputable organizations such as UNAIDS, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International advises those who are truly interested in reducing exploitation in the sex industry to decriminalize prostitution (17). The success of this policy approach is visible in Australia and New Zealand, which both decriminalized prostitution in 1995 and 2003 respectively. Government studies found that five years after the legalization of prostitution in these countries there had been no incidents of recent trafficking (18). While reliable data for the sex work industry is limited, evidence from the Swedish government shows that the decrease in street-based sex work in Sweden was accompanied by an enormous increase in the online economy of sex work (19). Additionally, there has been no significant reduction in the number of people purchasing sexual services in Sweden since they adopted the end demand model (20). This suggests that the end demand model does not kill the market for sex work but rather pushes it to the shadows. The failure of the model and subsequently Bill C-36 to end the demand for sex work points at its false promise to solve the harms of the sex work industry and protect vulnerable communities.


While the selling of sex has been decriminalized under Bill C-36, the scope of sex work criminalization has expanded. What the end-demand model for sex laws fails to consider is that it is the worker who compromises. Demand for sex has not been proven to reduce in Canada but research as proven increases risks and vulnerabilities to the workers (21). Complete decriminalization recognizes sex work as work. It allows sex workers to defend their labour rights, report instances of violence and seek medical attention in ways that Bill C-36 does not. Decriminalization will not solve all the hardships and stigma faced by sex workers, but it is a step towards protecting their health and human rights.

  1. Casavant, Lyne, and Dominique Valiquet. 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. Library of Parliament, 2014.

  2. Government of Canada, Department of Justice. Technical Paper: Bill C-36, Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, March 8, 2017. https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/other-autre/protect/p1.html#sec1.

  3. Browne, Rachel. “Demands Grow for Canada to Decriminalize Sex Work after the Election.” Global News. Global News, February 27, 2020. https://globalnews.ca/news/5970549/canada-sex-work-decriminalization/.

  4. McNeill, Maggie. “Lies, Damned Lies and Sex Work Statistics.” The Washington Post. WP Company, May 3, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/03/27/lies-damned-lies-and-sex-work-statistics/.

  5. Krüsi, Andrea, Katrina Pacey, Lorna Bird, Chrissy Taylor, Jill Chettiar, Sarah Allan, Darcie Bennett, Julio S. Montaner, Thomas Kerr, and Kate Shannon. "Criminalisation of clients: reproducing vulnerabilities for violence and poor health among street-based sex workers in Canada—a qualitative study." BMJ open 4, no. 6 (2014): e005191.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Government of Canada, Department of Justice. Technical Paper: Bill C-36, Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, March 8, 2017. https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/other-autre/protect/p1.html#sec1.

  8. Browne, Rachel. “Demands Grow for Canada to Decriminalize Sex Work after the Election.” Global News. Global News, February 27, 2020. https://globalnews.ca/news/5970549/canada-sex-work-decriminalization/.

  9. Tung, Liz. “FOSTA-SESTA Was Supposed to Thwart Sex Trafficking. Instead, It's Sparked a Movement.” WHYY. WHYY, July 10, 2020. https://whyy.org/segments/fosta-sesta-was-supposed-to-thwart-sex-trafficking-instead-its-sparked-a-movement/.

  10. Government of Canada, Department of Justice. Technical Paper: Bill C-36, Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, March 8, 2017. https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/other-autre/protect/p1.html#sec1.

  11. Browne, Rachel. “Demands Grow for Canada to Decriminalize Sex Work after the Election.” Global News. Global News, February 27, 2020. https://globalnews.ca/news/5970549/canada-sex-work-decriminalization/.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Ibid.

  16. Ibid.

  17. Kohn, Sebastian. “‘End Demand’ Laws Don't Work.” Open Society Foundations, June 2, 2017. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/false-promise-end-demand-laws.

  18. Donovan, Basil, C. Harcourt, S. Egger, L. Watchirs Smith, K. Schneider, J. M. Kaldor, M. Y. Chen, C. K. Fairley, and S. Tabrizi. "The sex industry in New South Wales: a report to the NSW Ministry of Health." Sydney: Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales (2012).

  19. Government of Sweden. “Prostitutionen i Sverige 2014 – En Omfattningskartläggning.” Länsstyrelsen Stockholm, 2015. https://www.lansstyrelsen.se/stockholm/tjanster/publikationer/2015/prostitutionen-i-sverige-2014---en-omfattningskartlaggning.html.

  20. Kohn, Sebastian. “‘End Demand’ Laws Don't Work.” Open Society Foundations, June 2, 2017. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/false-promise-end-demand-laws.

  21. Krüsi, Andrea, Katrina Pacey, Lorna Bird, Chrissy Taylor, Jill Chettiar, Sarah Allan, Darcie Bennett, Julio S. Montaner, Thomas Kerr, and Kate Shannon. "Criminalisation of clients: reproducing vulnerabilities for violence and poor health among street-based sex workers in Canada—a qualitative study." BMJ open 4, no. 6 (2014): e005191.