WebPosted Monday, July 31, 2000

Alberta court strikes down child hooker law

Lawyer Bina Border

CALGARY — An Alberta judge has struck down a controversial provincial law that allowed authorities to temporarily lock up children suspected of working as prostitutes.

Some other provinces have been eagerly awaiting the decision — including British Columbia, which passed similar legislation three weeks ago.

Law let authorities lock up children for 72 hours Premier Ralph Klein's government had argued the law was an effective way to keep young people safe from pimps and the streets.

But on Friday, Provincial Court Judge Karen Jordan ruled that the legislation is unconstitutional on several grounds.

She said it did not let the children answer the allegations against them or appeal their detention before the courts. The judge also said it violated people's rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

The Protection of Children Involved in Prostitution Act was passed by the Alberta legislature 1 1/2 years ago.

It categorized children involved in prostitution as "sexually abused," and authorized police to enter buildings without a search warrant if they had reasonable grounds to believe kids were working as hookers.

The youngsters could be taken away to "safe houses" without a court order, and kept there for three days for counselling. Under the law, they did not have the automatic right to talk to a lawyer.

The legislation was challenged by two 17-year-old girls who were picked up during a police raid in 1999 and taken into "protective custody" against their will.

Alberta's Minister of Child Services, Iris Evans, called it a "black day" for youngsters who need protection from prostitution.

She said the government will now review the judgment to decide whether to appeal, or amend the legislation to address the court's concern.

During arguments, the girls' defence lawyer said the legislation effectively takes three days away from a person's life because they can be locked up without any judicial recourse.

"Even someone charged with murder has to be given a bail hearing," said Bina Border, who described the "safe houses" as "jails."

She said the government should crack down on customers and pimps instead of locking up young people.

Supporters of the legislation argued the government was simply offering protection to some of society's most vulnerable citizens.

"Child protection outweighs the concern for children's rights," Evans said before Friday's ruling. "I mean, you don't give knives to babies, and you don't leave poison in a place where a child can find it."

The provincial government said the program helped get hundreds of young girls off the street, pointing out that some of the child prostitutes volunteered to take part. Many received counselling for drug abuse, Evans said.

Critics, however, said the legislation offered only a short-term solution because some of the children eventually returned to the street to sell their bodies.

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Created: December 6, 2000
Last modified: January 15, 2001
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