Friday, December 22, 2000

John Cotter

Judge upholds Alberta law that allows authorities to detain child prostitutes

EDMONTON (CP) — Alberta's controversial law to fight child prostitution was upheld in a court decision released Thursday.

The law, which allows authorities to detain child prostitutes without charges, was declared unconstitutional by family court Judge Karen Jordan last summer. She ruled it did not allow teens the right to answer the allegations or the right to a judicial appeal. However, Justice John Rooke of Court of Queen's Bench quashed that with his ruling. "Judge Jordan did not have the jurisdiction to strike down certain parts of the (Protection of Children Involved in Prostitution Act)," Rooke wrote.

"Jordan was in error in holding that the procedures employed by the Act to confine children in need of protection, although they did infringe on the liberty interests of the children, were contrary to the principles of fundamental justice."

Rooke's decision is a victory for the Alberta government, which has steadfastly defended a law it enacted in February 1999 to help get child prostitutes off the streets.

The idea is to protect a child prostitute from a pimp by putting such kids in a secure environment where they can receive counselling and other support to return to a normal life.

Despite Jordan's ruling, police have continued to apprehend child prostitutes to safe houses for up to three days.

However, the province also amended the law last month to address some of Jordan's concerns.

"This ruling has upheld the integrity and constitutionality of the original Act," said Justice Minister David Hancock. "The amendments made a good law even better."

Those amendments state that detained children must be informed in writing about the reasons for their confinement and to their right to legal representation.

The children will be detained for five days when first picked up off the street, up from three days. After that, authorities can then apply to extend the confinement for two additional periods of 21 days each.

Most of the amendments are to be proclaimed this spring.

A group than runs a safe house for child prostitutes in Calgary applauded Thursday's judgment.

"We always felt it was a good law and have always been concerned about incarcerating kids," said Terry Steward, spokesman for Woods Homes. "We have had some reasonable success with the law."

Some legal experts were more cautious.

While no one can argue against the basic idea of protecting children, the law does give police sweeping powers, said Chris Levy, a law professor at the University of Calgary.

"Police can pick up and detain child prostitutes without any check or assessment of whether the kids are indeed child prostitutes," he said. "It gives the police carte blanche."

Such laws must be monitored closely to ensure they are applied fairly, he said.

Liberal justice critic Gary Dickson said even though the court decision vindicates the government, the process prompted the Justice Department to improve the law.

"They built in some of the procedural safeguards that some of us had been looking for and wanted to see," he said.

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

Other provinces have introduced similar laws or have expressed interest in Alberta's legislation, said Children's Services Minister Iris Evans.

"It appears that the legislation that Ontario and other provinces are considering is exactly the legislation that we have in place," she said. "I think that is something Alberta can celebrate."

If passed, Ontario's proposed law introduced earlier this week would allow police to remove children who are being sexually exploited in massage parlours, X-rated entertainment facilities and on the Internet.

Harry Van Harten, the Calgary lawyer who represented two 17-year old girls who challenged the Alberta law in Sept. 1999, said he doubts his clients will appeal Thursday's ruling.

"I'm disappointed in the decision but it doesn't matter because the legislation has been changed," he said. "There is not going to be an appeal."

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