Monday, May 15, 2000

Daniel Sieberg

p. B01.

Law to detain teens pending treatments still an option

The government is keeping the door open for legislation that would permit authorities to detain drug-addicted teens and juvenile prostitutes in an effort to treat them, Gretchen Brewin, B.C.'s minister responsible for children and families, said Sunday.

The legislation, the subject of lobbying efforts for several years, would mean child protection workers and police could forcibly bring the youths to a secure care facility, where they could be held against their will for 72 hours.

"This piece of legislation was under consideration when I came into the office, and it is still under consideration," Brewin said in an interview Sunday, following up on remarks she made earlier on the weekend.

Speaking to the annual meeting of the B.C. Association of Social Workers, she implied that secure care was no longer being actively discussed this year because it is "too controversial."

In the later interview, she said the legislation is "very unlikely to come forward in the spring session" of the legislature. "But there is a real possibility that it will be on the fall agenda. I think we need to have more discussion about it. You never say never."

Brewin said she was previously advised by certain officials that the legislation is "too controversial" and "problematic" and she was told there are concerns regarding the legal ramifications. As a result of those recommendations, Brewin said she decided to look into it further before making a decision.

"What's important here is the protection of all our children," said Brewin. "We're reviewing a number of possible choices that does include legislation."

Diane Sowden, executive director of the Children of the Streets Society, said Sunday she would be "extremely disappointed" if the legislation is scrapped entirely.

"We have to make it controversial for them not to go forward," said Sowden. "I'm outraged when they say it's controversial. Controversial for who? We're talking about children's lives here, and this is the minister of children and families."

Sowden said she has received support from various groups, including the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and other social organizations that deal with child prostitution.

"We're not talking about putting a child in lockup," said Sowden. "We're talking about children who are in situations that they could die from. There is no tool to intervene in the province and that's shocking."

Sowden was feeling somewhat emotional Sunday, partly because of a Mother's Day fax she received from her daughter, who now lives outside the province.

From the time she was 13 years old, Sowden's daughter spent her life in the Vancouver sex trade and had to sustain a $300-a-day heroin addiction.

But this month marks a full year that her daughter has been clean. She turns 20 in June.

"She wanted to thank me for the tough and unconditional love and for sticking by her," said Sowden of the Mother's Day poem she received from her daughter. "That's what saved her."

A particular frustration, said Sowden, is the revolving door of ministers who have held the children and families portfolio since Sowden began lobbying the government in the mid-1990s, beginning with Penny Priddy in 1996. Sowden said both Priddy and her successor, Lois Boone, appeared interested in the legislation before Brewin was appointed a couple of months ago.

"It takes a lot of energy when they keep changing portfolios," said Sowden, adding that she was dismayed to learn of Brewin's seeming lack of conviction.

"She's the minister and she'd better have an opinion about it. She's responsible for the kids in this province. At least give us some reasons and not just say it's controversial."

Brewin said Sunday she is willing to meet with Sowden to discuss the issues in detail.

Dr. Dean Vause, a leading Canadian expert on addiction who is the executive director of a program in Calgary called the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre, said Sunday he was disappointed to discover that B.C. may not be proceeding with the legislation.

The AARC has been acknowledged as one of the best models of a treatment centre for addicts and has been endorsed by Sowden and praised by Boone.

Boone visited Alberta in August 1999 to gather information about its unique legislation, which recognizes children involved in prostitution as victims of sexual abuse and provides increased fines and jail terms for pimps and customers of juvenile prostitutes.

The highest fine under the Child Welfare Act in Alberta rose to $25,000 from $2,000 while the maximum jail term jumped to two years less a day from six months.

Vause said AARC has experienced a "phenomenal success rate" and he is encouraged by the number of children who are saved by its approach. He said there has been minimal negative response from the community.

"These are sick kids who can't make good choices and they're getting destroyed by their addiction and a system that can't intervene," said Vause, adding that two B.C. families have moved to Calgary in the past month just to attend his program.

"Anything new is going to be controversial. The government could make huge steps to help these kids."

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Created: June 7, 2001
Last modified: June 7, 2001
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