Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Jill Mahoney
Alberta Bureau

Alberta defies court on prostitution

Will continue to enforce disputed law as it appeals, says young sex workers need protection

EDMONTON — In a move some observers slammed as spitting in the face of the courts, the Alberta government announced yesterday it will continue to enforce a child-prostitution law that was deemed unconstitutional by a judge last week.

The government — which will modify its legislation to address some of Provincial Court Judge Karen Jordan's concerns — also said yesterday it will appeal.

"We're not taunting the courts but what we're saying is we cannot allow children in Alberta to continue to be abused while we go through the court process," Justice Minister Dave Hancock said.

The Alberta law, which took effect in February, 1999, allows police and child-welfare workers to seize suspected sex-trade workers between the ages of 12 and 17 inclusive and place them in locked safe houses for up to three days.

Authorities do not have to obtain search warrants or convince a judge of the merits each time a young person is taken into custody. Nor are they told they can call a lawyer.

The government's decision to proceed under its law after Judge Jordan's ruling shows disregard for the courts and "smacks of a police state," said Bina Border, a Calgary lawyer who challenged the Protection of Children Involved in Prostitution Act on behalf of two 17-year-old girls who were apprehended last September.

"I don't understand how you're supposed to have any respect for your government when it places itself above the law," she said.

Stephen Jenuth, president of the Alberta Civil Liberties Association and a Calgary lawyer, agreed: "They think they're somehow immune from the law, and that's sad."

A noted constitutional law expert said he understood the government's rationale in continuing to enforce the law because Friday's ruling was from a low-ranking court.

Still, Bruce Elman, a former University of Alberta constitutional law professor who is the new dean of law at the University of Western Ontario, called the decision "a bit unusual."

"To some extent they're being very cavalier about the court's decision here," he said.

On Friday, Judge Jordan ruled that the legislation violated the Constitution because of an alarming lack of "procedural safeguards" and gave children — who are regarded under this law as victims of sexual abuse — less protection than accused criminals.

She found that it violated three sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Children cannot answer to the allegations against them. As well, they are apprehended in warrantless searches that are not subject to judicial review and they are detained without the possibility of having the action judicially reviewed.

The Alberta government said it would issue directives today instructing police officers and child-welfare authorities to inform each young person of his or her right to legal counsel and to appear before a judge. The directive will not say that if the young people choose to go to court, it must occur immediately. Opponents criticized this, saying they can still be held for the better part of the 72 hours.

Mr. Hancock said making it mandatory that each case go to court — which is the case when children are apprehended under the province's Child Welfare Act — would be a waste of money.

"We're interested in using resources to protect children, not to fill the courts," he said.

Mr. Hancock said the Alberta government decided against amending the legislation because it hopes a higher court will overturn last week's decision.

"There is no worse or insidious form of abuse than abuse by sexual perverts. We're going to stop that and we're going to do everything we can to make sure that the law is strong enough to do that," he said.

The opposition Liberals yesterday urged Premier Ralph Klein to call an emergency sitting of the legislature so amendments that comply with the Charter can be introduced. They also want provisions that will measure the effectiveness of the act and a comprehensive follow-up treatment plan for young prostitutes.

On the weekend, Heather Forsyth, the Calgary Progressive Conservative MLA who sponsored the act, said she did not care about the Charter.

"They should take the Charter and shove it. I'm absolutely sick," she said.


Bruce Elman is the new dean of law at the University of Windsor. Incorrect information appeared in yesterday's editions.

(Wednesday, August 2, 2000, Page A2)

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