Monday, July 31, 2000

Kevin Griffin

p. B01.

B.C. moves ahead with secure-care legislation

B.C. will forge ahead with secure-care legislation despite a ruling by a Calgary judge striking down as unconstitutional a similar law that allowed police to lock up child prostitutes, B.C.'s manager for child protection policy and standards said Sunday.

Although Mark Sieben cautioned that ministry staff and legal counsel haven't had a chance to read the Alberta decision released Friday, he said the B.C. legislation includes procedural safeguards that should protect it from a similar legal challenge.

"We think we have drafted a piece of legislation that pays particular attention to due process," Sieben said from Victoria.

An Alberta court ruled that the province's Protection of Children Involved in Prostitution (PCHIP) Act, enacted Feb. 1, 1999, lacked "procedural safeguards" and violated three sections of the Charter of Rights. Alberta's legislation inspired B.C. to create a similar law.

Under PCHIP, children involved in prostitution could be apprehended by police without a search warrant and locked up in a protective safe house for 72 hours.

B.C.'s secure-care law isn't expected to come into effect until spring 2001.

What B.C.'s law has is a "meaningful review," Sieben said. This means that a parent or guardian who believes a child in their care is at risk can apply to the proposed secure care board for a certificate allowing for a child to be apprehended for a period of no longer than 30 days.

If there is an emergency where a child may be at risk of serious and immediate harm, the director of the new board can order a child detained for up to 72 hours. But the director's decision would itself have to be reviewed by the board within 72 hours.

Diane Sowden, a member of the task force struck to help devise the B.C. act, had a 13-year-old daughter who in 1993 was sweet-talked by a 27-year-old pimp into a life of drug addiction and prostitution.

Sowden said by including an appeal process for children who are apprehended, B.C.'s legislation includes what the court criticized Alberta for lacking.

B.C. police may pick up the children, but approval to detain them "has to be given through the child welfare ministry," Sowden said.

"Police should not be allowed to work arbitrarily," she said. "Some of the concerns of the judge are being addressed in the B.C. act."

She said parents are "powerless" to intervene to protect their children.

Sowden recalled when her husband tried to physically take his 13-year-old heroin-addicted daughter off the street while she was working.

"We were warned by police not to do that. We discussed breaking the law and holding her against her will. We decided against it because we have other children and feared they would be apprehended."

Sowden's not impressed with the push to protect children's Charter rights.

"I'd like to find a parent whose child is dying on the street who will say locking them up is against their Charter rights."

Constable Toby Hinton, who has worked Vancouver's skid row for years, agrees. About 120 children work as prostitutes there at any given time.

"The entrenchment of individual rights in our Constitution is a fundamental aspect of what it means to be a Canadian. But we have to realize for the safety and protection of our youth we must have some type of mechanism to prevent the exploitation of a particularly vulnerable population — child prostitutes," he said.

"If that means holding them for a short time in order to implement a plan to get them off the street, let us do it. From my experience as a police officer, what we have is clearly not working," said Hinton.

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Created: March 31, 2001
Last modified: April 1, 2001
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