Half of Canadians Willing to Allow Adults to Engage in Prostitution

Respondents are divided on whether the federal government should appeal the recent Ontario Superior Court judge’s decision.

The debate over the state of prostitution in Canada continues to be polarized by gender, with a large majority of men voicing support for decriminalization, and women not entirely convinced that allowing consensual prostitution is a good idea, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

The online survey of a representative sample of 1,001 Canadian adults also shows that younger respondents are not as willing to legalize prostitution as their older counterparts.

The Court Decision

Overall, almost half of Canadians (48%) agree with the recent decision from an Ontario Superior Court judge to strike down three Criminal Code provisions related to prostitution: Making money off of the prostitution of others; Publicly communicating for the purposes of prostitution; and Owning, running, occupying or transporting anyone to a bawdy house (or brothel).

Conversely, one third of respondents (34%) disagree with the recent decision.

The federal government has said it will appeal the Ontario Superior Court judge’s decision on prostitution. Canadians are almost evenly divided on whether the government is taking the right course of action (Agree: 39%, Disagree 43%). Practically half of Albertans (49%) back the federal government on this matter, while roughly the same proportion of British Columbians (48%) rejects its rationale.

How to Deal with Prostitution

There are some striking differences in the way Canadians perceive the issue of prostitution. One-in-ten respondents (10%) would only punish the “clients”, while one per cent would exclusively punish the prostitutes. More than a third (36%) believe both the prostitutes and their “clients” should be punished. However, more than two-in-five respondents (45%) believe nobody should be punished and that adults should be allowed to engage in consensual prostitution.

While three-in-five men (59%) state that nobody should be punished, only a third of women (32%) concur. In fact, women are more likely to endorse an approach that punishes both prostitutes and “clients”.

A majority of Canadians (54%) endorse the argument that prostitutes should be allowed to work indoors or in brothels because this will make them safer, and stop them from working on the streets. A third of respondents (34%) disagree with this idea, and claim that this course of action would lead to a legitimization of prostitution, which could turn Canada into a safe haven for sex tourism.

Once again, the gender gap is evident. While men support the notion of prostitutes working indoors by a large margin (65% to 25%), women are almost evenly divided on this issue (44% to 42%).

On a question that provides three policy options to deal with the issue of prostitution in Canada, half of Canadians (49%) would opt to decriminalize some of the actions surrounding prostitution that are currently illegal and allowing adults to engage in consensual prostitution. One-in-four respondents (24%) would prohibit prostitution entirely, and make it illegal to exchange sex for money. Only 15 per cent of respondents would keep the status quo, which criminalizes some of the activities surrounding prostitution.

Three-in-five men (60%) voice support for the decriminalization of prostitution, compared to two-in-five women (38%). Respondents aged 35 to 54 (56%) and those over the age of 55 (51%) are more likely to support allowing adults to engage in consensual prostitution than those aged 18 to 34 (39%).

Our 2009 survey on prostitution can be accessed here.

Full Report, Detailed Tables and Methodology (PDF)

Methodology: From October 14 to October 15, 2010, Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online survey among 1,001 randomly selected Canadian adults who are Angus Reid Forum panellists. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current age, gender and region Census data to ensure a sample representative of the entire adult population of Canada. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.

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