Friday, July 28, 2000

Child prostitution law in jeopardy

EDMONTON — A law the Alberta government says is a progressive way to keep child prostitutes safe could be struck down in court Friday.

Law allows authorities to lock up children for 72 hours Bill 1 allows police and social workers to put underage prostitutes into a locked facility for up to 72 hours. Some people say that's a violation of their constitutional rights.

"Because it's a locked facility, because they are not given an opportunity to explain themselves, they are effectively losing three days of their lives," said Bina Border. She's a lawyer challenging the law on behalf of two girls.

"Even someone charged with murder has to be given a bail hearing."

But others say the law offers protection for some of society's most vulnerable.

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

And Evans says the program works to get these kids off the street.

"With over 300 apprehensions and a number of young girls that have actually volunteered for more treatment on the substance abuse side, this is a successful program," she said.

But that's an argument Border doesn't buy. She says the law takes teens off the street, but it doesn't keep them off.

"People are going through more than one time, so the act doesn't work," she said. "What it's doing is satiating the public's need to believe something is being done about child prostitution, but it's doing that at the expense of these children."

Edmonton's police chief, for one, hopes the bill is upheld when Justice Karen Gordon hands down her decision.

"If it isn't (upheld), naturally for us, that creates a problem in terms of us being able to deal with child prostitution issues," said Chief Bob Wasylyshen. "We're back to square one again and our hands are tied."

Other provinces will be watching for the decision, especially British Columbia, which passed similar legislation three weeks ago.

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