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"Secure Care" — Provincial Child Prostitute
Protection Legislation, 1998-2001

Secure Care Legislation

Over the past three years there has been an unforeseen bout of cooperation between the provinces of Canada to stamp out "child prostitution," fuelled by Cherry Kingsley and Senator Landon Pearson's Save the Children Canada. Since 1998, several provinces have passed or drafted legislation which allows them to apprehend and detain any person under the age of 18 years who is suspected of being involved in prostitution. In the absence of any criminal charges and with no judicial trial process, young people can be arrested, incarcerated and forcibly tested and/or treated for alcohol and drugs — clearly an infringement of this country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. "Secure care" legislation has already been passed in Alberta, and British Columbia and is soon to take effect in Ontario. Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia are considering similar legislation. At a meeting of the provincial premiers in Quebec City, August 1999, it was agreed that the child prostitution problem was a top priority and that the provinces must create a legal atmosphere that is homogenous across the country. This is probably the first time ever that the provinces have agreed that an issue required national legal consistency; a redundant procedure since we already has a mechanism for ensuring such consistency. It's called the Criminal Code of Canada.

Under the Canada's constitution, all legal matters pertaining to moral issues are under federal jurisdiction and thus do not fall within the purview of provincial legislation. Provincial governments, however, do control such matters as child welfare, social assistance, medical care, employment standards and transportation. The various provincial child welfare acts already give authorities the power to apprehend young people who may be at risk of harm. The new youth prostitute "protection" legislation is designed to significantly extend these powers. The Alberta government also talked about legislation that would also allow police to charge and convict of child abuse anyone who pays someone who is under the age of 18 for sex, a matter also already covered under the federal Criminal Code. As well, B.C. made changes to it's Child Family and Community Service Act to "make it clear that assisting or coercing a youth into prostitution is child abuse," according to then Minister for Children and Families Lois Boone. This change in legislation was designed to allow social workers to apply for restraining orders for "pimps."

There is one other area where provinces are using prostitution as a prybar to usurp power from the federal government. Traffic and highways acts in several provinces are being ammended to allow police to seize, impound and sell vehicles used in picking up prostitutes on the street. Manitoba has already passed such legislation and Nova Scotia is considering a similar law. Ontario has proposed a law that goes even further, allowing police to seize any property deemed to be the proceeds of crimes such as prostitution and drug trafficking without even laying criminal charges.

What frightens me most about this power grab by the provinces, is that they seem to be preparing for the eventual removal of prostitution from the Criminal Code, by demonstrating some of the mechanisms at their disposal for the regulation of the sex industry.

Sex work activists have been pushing for the decriminalization of sex work. But what the Canadian Organization for the Rights of Prostitutes, the Sex Workers' Alliance of Toronto and the Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver have advocated is that the regulation of prostitution be governed by labour standards legislation rather than by the Criminal Code.

Personally, I have some serious concerns with the recent popularity of the decriminalization argument, and some real fears. I am considering seriously the results that would follow decriminalization.

Who would hold the power to regulate sex work then? Will we end up with a regulatory system that changes region to region, dictated by a vocal moral minority of lobbyists? This goes against the purpose for having a national criminal code. I believe that the federal government might all too happily throw this carrot of legislative power to the provinces.

Provincial governments would argue that they can't enact employment standards legislation because the current provisions of the code do not allow for legal workplaces for prostitutes. Could this hypocrisy on the part of provincial governments be a sign that sex worker activists are in a Catch 22 situation? If prostitution is not removed from the Criminal Code, sex workers will never be afforded its protections and will continue to be murdered and assaulted. Those who survive assaults and have the nerve to come forward and press charges are subsequently incriminated. But if prostitution is removed from the Criminal Code, prostitutes will be more likely to face draconian provincial and municipal legislation aimed at the erradication of prostitution, rather than protection from labour exploitation.

Stringent regional regulation will do nothing to protect sex workers from exploitative underground businessmen, and may create a more dangerous underground sex trade.

So who loses in the end? What about the woman who needs those tax-free trick dollars for shoes for kids, and school supplies and repairs to her car? Welfare isn't enough for anyone to live on in this country. Most places it won't even pay all the rent. The real social safety net in this country is the underground economy — turning tricks, selling drugs, working under the table in whatever way. What will happen to those people if these options are deleted?

There must first be an alternative proposal for regulation, before the laws are removed. Hammering one out that everyone can stand, is probably an impossibility.



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British Columbia

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Displayed throughout Vancouver, this bus shelter ad for CRIME STOPPERS shows what looks to be someone cruising a young prostitute. These photos are of the busstop beside the Vancouver Art Gallery, on Howe Street.
Bus Shelter Campaign, Summer 1998 — Displayed throughout Vancouver, this bus shelter ad for CRIME STOPPERS shows what looks to be someone cruising a young prostitute. These photos are of the busstop beside the Vancouver Art Gallery, on Howe Street.


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Nova Scotia


  • Bill 6, 1999: Protection of Children involved in Prostitution Act/Loi de 1999 sur la protection des enfants qui se livrent à la prostitution.
    Mr. Bartolucci (L./Sudbury). First Reading October 26, 1999. Second Reading May 11, 2000. Ordered referred to the Standing Committee on General Government.
  • Bill 18, 1998: An Act to Protect Children Involved in Prostitution/Loi de 1998 sur la protection des enfants qui se livrent à la prostitution.
    Mr. R. Bartolucci (L./Sudbury). First Reading May 12, 1998. Second Reading May 28. Ordered referred to the Standing Committee on Social Development. Considered June 22. This private member's bill in the Ontario Legislature was the subject of public hearings by the Standing Committee on Social Development which were held in Sudbury, August 17; London, August 18; and Toronto, September 28,1998. The bill has been selected as a "Private Member's Public Bill."
  • Bill 176, 2000: Protecting Children from Sexual Exploitation Act, 2000/Loi de 2000 sur la protection des enfants contre l'exploitation sexuelle.
    Hon. Mr. Flaherty (Attorney General). First Reading December 19, 2000.
  • Bill 155, 2000: Remedies for Organized Crime and Other Unlawful Activities Act/Loi de 2000 sur les recours pour crime organisé et autres activités illégales.
    Hon. Mr. Flaherty (Attorney General). First Reading December 5, 2000.  Order for Second Reading discharged pursuant to S.O. 72 and Ordered referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Social Policy December 20.

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Created: January 19, 2001
Last modified: May 9, 2003
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