1759 was the first year Canada took a stance on pimping, procuring, operating brothels and soliciting – it was in Nova Scotia.
To give you a background of the era, the brothel law in Canada started right after Confederation, right after all men were expected to join the Militia. (At the time, if you were between 16 and 60, and living in Nova Scotia, defending the Province was part of your duties as a citizen after the Nova Scotia Assembly passed An Act for Establishing and Regulating a Militia.) It made sense that the Nova Scotia would be a good spot to set up a brothel, since it was a thriving port town.
In 1958, a year after the brothel law started in Canada, Charles Lawrence, the governor of Nova Scotia, proclaimed a resolution passed by the provincial council to organize the first legislative assembly. Nova Scotia was all about the rules and regulations.
In Nova Scotia in 1857 a decorated officer, Issac Sallis (soldier, tavern keeper, drayman, and florist) bought his freedom to civilian life. Biographi.ca states that Canadian Salis “The close association between public drinking and prostitution, tavern keeping and receiving stolen goods, low dram-shops and disorderly behaviour soon drew Sallis into police court to defend himself against liquor-licence violations and charges of brothel keeping and assault. Extant data indicate that Sallis was tried at least 39 times in the police, city criminal, and supreme courts between 1857 and 1880. Most of the convictions were settled by the payment of a fine, an indication of his material success in underclass Halifax.”
Twelve persons were hung in Halifax in 1785, one for stealing some potatoes, work houses were started and criminals sent abroad, including prostitutes. There was overwhelming poverty in the area and it was said women turned to prostitution in order to feed their families so that children wouldn’t have to go to the work house.
In 1892 the finalized version of the Canadian Criminal Code had more definitive terms about the vagrancy provisions (which outlawed street walkers and bawdy houses (brothels)) were incorporated under the guise of protecting young women and children. It could have been Temperance or Protestant who found it all indignant. Interestingly, if you have someone in your family history that has a “vagrancy” charge – they may just have been a prostitute or someone living off the avails. The 1901 Census records on Ancestry.ca could show “prostitute” as a profession.
Interestingly, prostitution numbers were up in World War 1 and down in World War II. The Canadian Encyclopedia claims it was likely due to poverty and then with the war industries there wasn’t enough need for prostitution as the women had the war industry to make money. The dictionary claims, “in the Nova Scotia Act of 1759 authorizing justices of the peace to commit disorderly persons, vagabonds and persons of lewd behaviour to a house of correction – was designed to make the status of being a prostitute or streetwalker an offense. In comparison to the criminalization of the NONMEDICAL USE OF DRUGS which occurred in 1908, the criminalization of prostitution has a relatively long and varied history. Social and legal responses to it fall into five clearly distinct periods: pre-confederation (1759-1867), Victorian (1867-circa 1920), post-Victorian (1920-1970), rise of sex work advocacy (circa 1970-1990), and contemporary (circa 1990-present).”
In 1947, the bawdy house laws changed slightly to include people transporting prostitutes, only women were criminalized for selling sexual services, and only 66 men per year were charged with procuring sexual services.
In 1983, Canada’s federal government appointed a committee who recommended stronger laws against street prostitution which was passed, but they recommended the decriminalization of the Canada’s brothels up to four people, which was denied.
The Canadian Encyclopedia states:
“The prostitution legislation enacted during this period changed the wording of the Criminal Code in four areas.
First, street prostitution ceased to be a status offence. The vagrancy provision was repealed and replaced by a soliciting law in 1972 and then by a communicating offense in 1985. In the process, the legal understanding of the offensive behaviour (soliciting had to be “pressing or persistent”) was expanded to include simple communicating and even “attempting to communicate” for the purpose of prostitution.
Second, the liability for engaging in prostitution was extended to men, both as prostitutes and as purchasers. A definitional amendment in 1983 provided that prostitute meant “a person of either sex engaging in prostitution” and the new communicating section clearly included customers. It stated that every person communicating for the purposes of engaging in prostitution or of obtaining the sexual services of a prostitute is liable.
Third, the protection of women under the procuring offence was extended to both men and women and persons of either sex could be charged with procuring and living on the avails of prostitution.
Fourth, customers of juvenile prostitutes and pimps who engage youths were singled out for more severe sentences in 1988.”