Friday, December 22, 2000

Daryl Slade
and Raquel Exner

Judge upholds child hooker law

Heather Forsyth
Heather Forsyth

The province's controversial legislation to combat child prostitution has been upheld, giving police and child welfare authorities legal backing to detain suspected child prostitutes.

A judge Thursday overturned a lower court decision made last summer that ruled the law unconstitutional.

The decision was heralded by those working to keep child hookers off the street.

"I'm absolutely thrilled," said Calgary Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth, a longtime proponent of the Protection of Children Involved in Prostitution Act.

"It's a great day for kids, a bad day for johns and pimps."

The legislation, which came into effect Feb. 1, 1999, gave police and child welfare officials authority to apprehend children believed to be involved in prostitution and hold them as abused children for up to 72 hours to conduct an assessment.

The law has since been amended to allow children to be detained for up to seven weeks.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice John Rooke, in his 26-page ruling of a judicial review released Thursday, said provincial family and youth court Judge Karen Jordan exceeded her jurisdiction in considering sections of the act that were not placed before her on the facts of the case in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms argument.

Jordan had ruled the legislation violated the Charter because it did not allow teens the right to answer allegations or appeal the decision to detain them.

Rooke said Jordan was correct in finding that two 17-year-old girls who challenged the legislation were deprived of their liberty when they were apprehended from what police believed was a trick pad. But Rooke added Jordan was incorrect in her analysis of what principles of fundamental justice require in a child welfare context.

"As a statutory court, the provincial court is limited to interpreting or applying the law necessary to deal with the issues before it, and cannot grant a formal declaration of invalidity, which is a remedy excercisable only by a superior court," wrote Rooke.

Harry Van Harten, lawyer for the two girls who challenged the law back in September 1999, said he was disappointed in the ruling. However, he said it would not be appealed because of amendments the Ralph Klein government made to the act late last month. The amended legislation is expected to be proclaimed in the spring.

In the wake of Jordan's initial ruling, the government revised the get-tough law to allow authorities to detain suspected child prostitutes in safe houses without charges, treating them as abused children, for up to seven weeks. The amended law also laid out an appeal process for detained children.

They can be held for five days when first apprehended, then authorities can apply to extend detention for two additional 21-day periods.

Since the act was proclaimed, 454 apprehensions have been made involving 222 girls and boys — including 91 children who were apprehended more than once. Most were aged 15 and 16, but there were several 12-year-olds.

Justice Minister Dave Hancock said the ruling was a victory for the Alberta government, which has defended the legislation, initially created to get children off the streets. And he added the amendments make a good law even better.

"(The court) has upheld (its) constitutionality, basically saying that protecting young children is a valid objective of the provincial government."

Alberta Children's Services Minister Iris Evans said the ruling will make it easier for police and child welfare agencies to do their jobs effectively. She doesn't regret having made amendments to the legislation, saying the law is now stronger.

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Created: December 22, 2000
Last modified: January 17, 2001
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