Thursday, September 25, 1997

Robert Matas
British Columbia Bureau

p. A5.

Efforts to curb child-sex trade in vain, report says

Exploited juveniles charged more often than those who hire them, according to study for Vancouver groups

VANCOUVER -- A 10-year-old law against buying sex from children and efforts by police to control the problem have failed dismally to stem the growing sex trade in children in Canada, a report commissioned several community groups has concluded.

In a damning indictment of federal and provincial politicians and police forces across the country, the report says that children exploited for sex are charged more often than those who hire them; that the children are at more risk of violence than the general population but receive less police protection; and that politicians seem more concerned about Third World children involved in the sex trade than those involved in Canada.

For more than a decade, government committees have met to debate issues related to child prostitution, said Kimberly Daum, who wrote the report, A Cast of Contradictions. "But these meetings have led to few, if any, meaningful results," she said.

Committees are dedicated to dealing with the issue and a law that carries a maximum five-year penalty for buying or offering to buy sex with children is on the books," so there is the illusion of interest and political will," she said.

"But there is no evidence of real action, progress and solutions at street level. In fact, government seems to seek ways out of dealing with actual problems," she said. "The Canadian government's track record on this issue remains one of incompetence, bias and neglect."

Ms. Daum attributed most of the problems to weak federal legislation, slack enforcement and inadequate community services.

Almost all adults who buy sex from children are never prosecuted, she said. "The law is in place, but it is rarely enforced. It has taken 10 years for the public to become mildly aware of that."

Armed with the scathing report, 20 agencies and activists in Vancouver's downtown East Side announced yesterday a new, privately funded program to help the children at risk.

Private investigators are to be hired to collect information about those who buy sex from children; local residents, merchants and school personnel are to be trained on surveillance and reporting of children who are being exploited.

Unlike the "shame the johns" campaign in Toronto and elsewhere, the program will not involve direct confrontation with those buying sex. The information wll be used to help police bring charges against the customers.

The group also intends to lobby Ottawa for changes in the federal legislation. John Turvey, executive director of the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society, said in an interview that the law should be changed so that those who buy sex from juveniles would be charged with sexual assault. Under the current law, those charged can escape conviction by arguing they did not know the child was a minor, but is charged with sexual assault, the age would be irrelevant.

B.C. Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh has proposed revisions that would make the law easier to enforce, rather than to treat it as assault. Federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan has not yet responded to a letter from Mr. Dosanjh outlining the proposed changes.

On a typical night, 350 to 525 prostitutes, including 40 juveniles, sell sex on downtown streets in Vancouver. In the report, Ms. Daum said Vancouver has one of the worst records in the country for failing to lay charges against those who pay children for sex.

Vancouver police charged eight men with buying sex from juveniles from 1988 to 1996. Only two were convicted and neither were sent to jail. An additional seven charges have been laid in Vancouver in the past year.

Ms. Daum said police are reluctant to arrest the men because juveniles almost always refuse to co-operate with prosecutors.

Meanwhile, Quebec laid 57 charges, with 16 convictions, under the provision in the Criminal Code dealing with buying sex from a juvenile, according to Statistics Canada figures for 1994, the most recent statistics that were available for the study.

A Toronto detective was quoted in Ms. Daum's study as saying the city's juvenile task force does not lay charges under that provision of the Criminal Code. Saskatchewan laid 15 charges, with one conviction, in 1994. Anedotal reports from Edmonton and Calgary police show they charged five or six men each year from 1988 to 1996.

Although those who pay children for sex rarely are charged, police hvae been arresting the children. From 1988 to 1994, 354 juveniles in Vancouver were charged with offering to sell sexual services, but from 1988 to 1996 only eight men were charged with buying sex from them.

Mr. Dosanjh said efforts by a new provincial prostitution unit have made a difference. Although local police detachments are responsible for enforcement, the $750,000 unit has provided assistance that led to 17 arrests in the past year across the province.

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Created: September 26, 1997
Last modified: September 26, 1997

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