Wednesday, November 22, 2000

John Cotter

Alberta introduces amendments to quashed anti-child-prostitution law

EDMONTON (CP) — Suspected child prostitutes in Alberta could be detained without charges for up to seven weeks under amendments introduced Tuesday to a child protection law quashed by the courts. The changes will both toughen the Protection of Children Involved in Prostitution Act and ensure it respects a child's legal rights under the Charter, said Children's Services Minister Iris Evans.

"These amendments will simply strengthen the act and enhance its effectiveness," she said.

Last July family court Judge Karen Jordan ruled the legislation violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it did not allow teens the right to answer to allegations or the right to a judicial appeal.

The law, enacted in February 1999, allowed authorities to treat suspected child prostitutes as abused children, immediately locking them in safe houses for up to three days without court orders.

The idea is to protect a child prostitute from a pimp and give the child time to get some help to get off the street permanently.

Under the amendments, detained children will now be informed in writing about the reasons for their confinement and to their right to legal representation. The time period for confinement has been increased to five days. Authorities can also apply to extend the confinement for two additional periods of 21 days each.

While the province asked for a judicial review of Jordan's decision that is still pending, the amendments should address her concerns, said Justice Minister Dave Hancock.

"We have reviewed the legislation, found ways to strengthen it, and to deal with the concerns that were brought up in a manner that we think is consistent with those concerns," he said.

Hancock said the province decided not to wait for the results of the review because it has been more difficult to help child prostitutes since Jordan's ruling.

The longer confinement periods called for in the amendments are based on recommendations from police and social workers who believe it will help break the cycle of abuse and speed recovery.

Although the act was quashed, authorities have continued to detain suspected child prostitutes using the Child Welfare Act, which carries a stricter burden of proof. Authorities must prove the child has been physically or sexually abused or there's substantial risk of such abuse.

The government's decision to take action now is perfectly legal but won't prevent even more court challenges in the future, said Barbara Billingsley, an assistant law professor at the University of Alberta.

It is also not clear if the amendments will satisfy the concerns expressed by Judge Jordan, she said.

"Anything that increases the access of the children who are being held to a lawyer or legal advice will help. Whether it will be enough is another question."

Premier Ralph Klein said while he hoped the amendments would satisfy the courts, his government is determined to maintain the law even if it means a prolonged legal battle.

"We believe in this bill very strongly," he said. "We are not going to give up."

He said the province wouldn't rule out using the Charter's notwithstanding clause to protect the legislation.

"Hopefully it won't come to that. I think it is premature to talk about it."

Since the act was proclaimed, more than 427 apprehensions have been made involving 194 girls and boys. Most were aged 15 and 16, but there were several 12 year-olds.

Front-line social workers, such as safe-house worker Madelyn McDonald, said the government's decision to forge ahead will allow them to get on with helping abused children.

"We've been in limbo for quite some time for what we want to do," she said. "I think it gives us service providers direction as to where we are going with these young people."

Heather Forsyth, the Conservative member of the legislature who sponsored the original law, said other Canadian provinces including Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have expressed interest in Alberta's legislation.

On Monday an international report said flawed legislation and an overall lack of planning by the federal government are turning Canada into a venue for the sexual exploitation of children.

The committee to End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking report applauded Canada for trying to pass anti-child pornography laws but said its overall performance lags behind many other countries.

So far Alberta has spent more than $6 million to implement the legislation and run safe houses in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, High Prairie, Lac la Biche, Rycroft and Lethbridge.

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