Friday, December 22, 2000

Neil Waugh

A Christmas present for Alberta's children

Just when it appeared that the whole justice system had turned against right-thinking Canadians, there's a glimmer of hope.

The wise and popular decision by Court of Queen's Bench Justice John Rooke to toss out provincial court Judge Karen Jordan's ruling that declared the province's child prostitution law unconstitutional was — in the words of Children's Services Minister Iris Evans — "a wonderful Christmas present for the children of Alberta."

Evans said, "I think it's a day when the sun is shining."

And if there was somebody in the audience in the Legislature media room, where Evans and Justice Minister Dave Hancock were celebrating their victory yesterday, who still doubted her happiness, read on.


"It's something Alberta can celebrate," Evans beamed.

But if you were an Alberta Liberal who tried to eviscerate the legislation when it was being amended in the fall session, or a crusading civil rights lawyer who sees Pierre Trudeau's ill-thought-out Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a mechanism to impose your unpopular beliefs on Canadians, it was truly a sad day.

At the same time, it's almost a shame that the Protection of Children Involved in Prostitution Act — which gives police and social workers the power to apprehend kids and hold them in safe houses — didn't get to run its course to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Because Premier Ralph Klein indicated earlier that he was itching to test the province's constitutional referendum act. And ask Albertans to vote to choose whether politically appointed justices — or the people's representatives in the legislature — were the supreme authorities in the country.

Judge Jordon reckoned that the law somehow violated the constitutional rights of two kids found by police who were looking for stolen property. In the sealed and sanitized world of lawyers these arguments about the Constitution take on a huge importance.

Luckily Justice Rooke brought it back into perspective when he described the conditions in which the police discovered the two kids, identified only by their initials.

"K.B. and M.J. were allegedly found in a trick pad which consisted of a mattress on the floor of an apartment with condoms and drug paraphernalia strewn about," he wrote in his judgment.

"One can only imagine the horrors of being sexually exploited, especially in these conditions.

"In my view, the emergency apprehension of a child whose life is endangered because he or she is engaging in prostitution is rationally connected with protecting that child from sexual abuse and exploitation," he ruled — sending the previous court decision into File 13.

And the lady that Klein put in charge of looking after Alberta's abused kids couldn't agree more. "I have people say to me, aren't you worried about children's rights?" Alberta's Children's Services minister snapped. "What if that was your child in that horrible situation?

"I would hope that 100% of people would want a child removed from that kind of despicable thing," Evans continued. "I see things like that and I feel sick," she snapped.


Me too, Iris, and I suspect about 100% of Albertans would agree that the law, which was a labour of love by Calgary Tory MLA Heather Forsyth, is a great one if they were ever allowed to vote on it in a referendum.

Certainly the judgment was a minor victory for the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. Alberta's aloof Justice bureaucrats need any win they can get after their recent Alberta Treasury Branches bribery fiasco. With the much more politically damaging West Edmonton Mall investigation on the horizon, the gang's dismal white-collar-crime record remains intact.

"We don't need to withstand (his word not mine) the charter to protect children," Justice Minister Hancock said about the ruling. "The province is operating in an area where it is legitimate to operate."

But sometimes you wish that Hancock would stop being a lawyer and welcome a political showdown on the notwithstanding clause.

This would allow ordinary Albertans to decide if they fundamentally agree with the decisions of the judges. Sooner or later that day will come.

[Edmonton 2000] [News by region] [News by topic]

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