Nineteenth-Century Canadian Prostitution Law: Reflection of a Discriminatory Society

Constance B. Backhouse

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section


Social History/Histoire sociale 18:36 (1985) 387-423

The History of nineteenth-century Canadian Law reveals that legislators and social reformers took three distinct approaches to the problem of prostitution. They attempted to regulate the trade in sexuality through a Canadian Contagious Diseases Act which sought to control venereal disease in prostitutes. They attempted to prohibit the commercial sale of sex through systematic criminal enactments meant to abolish all features of prostitution, from the selling and buying of sexual services to the procuring, pimping and profiteering from the business. They attempted to rehabilitate prostitutes and would-be prostitutes by establishing asylums, women's prisons and juvenile detention institutions. None of these approaches was ultimately successful and each worked substantial injustice upon individual prostitutes. Discrimination on the basis of class, race, ethnic origin and sex featured predominantly in the formulation and application of each approach, and served as a hallmark of the Canadian legal response to prostitution.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 37

Keywords: prostitution, sex work, sex trade, nineteenth century, 19th century, history, social history, Canada, Canadian law, criminal law, rehabilitate, pimping, profiteering, women's prison, discrimination, classism, racism, sexism, feminist, feminism, disease

Open PDF in Browser Download This Paper

Date posted: May 11, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Backhouse, Constance B., Nineteenth-Century Canadian Prostitution Law: Reflection of a Discriminatory Society (1985). Social History/Histoire sociale 18:36 (1985) 387-423. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2263368

Contact Information

Constance B. Backhouse (Contact Author)
University of Ottawa - Common Law Section ( email )
57 Louis Pasteur Street
Ottawa, K1N 6N5

Feedback to SSRN

Paper statistics
Abstract Views: 1,650
Downloads: 389
Download Rank: 58,527