Tuesday, July 8, 1997

Lindsay Kines

p. A1

Abbotsford waits for johns to be named

Forty-three men have been arrested in a prostitution sting, and police will name them.

Nobody denies Abbotsford had a prostitution problem long before police launched an undercover sting operation last month.

Merchants in the Meadowfair Mall and along Clearbrook Road had complained about condoms littering parking lots, about customers getting harassed by prostitutes, and about johns propositioning mall staff.

Brian Lee, who owns Lee's Fine Jewellery Ltd. on Clearbrook Road, said he asked a customer one day if he needed help, and the customer said, thanks, he'd been already offered assistance by two women outside the store.

"They asked me if I needed company for the afternoon," the man explained.

Now many in this conservative Fraser Valley city are waiting to hear the names of 43 men arrested in a sting operation aimed at johns. Police say they will identify the men on Friday.

But at the same time, Abbotsford's prostitution problems seem relatively tame compared to those in Vancouver, less than an hour away. Police estimate the number of prostitutes working Abbotsford's streets at six, and said the women only moved outdoors in the past year.

In fact, Lee said he never noticed any commotion outside his jewellery store until a female police undercover officer set up shop in a parking lot across the street.

Once that happened, men lined up to speak with the attractive, blonde officer, who was dressed in tight jeans, a tube top and black leather jacket, Lee said.

"She was getting all kinds of attention; she was having conversations left, right and centre."

The woman, a four-year police veteran, was so successful in luring potential tricks, her handlers had to shut down the operation a couple of times for her own safety.

"She was getting the most business because she was the most attractive of the lot," Lee said.

In all, police arrested 43 men, whose names they plan to release after the Crown has approved charges of communicating with a person for the purpose of obtaining the sexual services of a prostitute.

Abbotsford police Constable Paul Lalli said the operation also made a drug bust, arrested four women on prostitution charges and returned one man to jail for violating his parole -- he was serving time for beating up prostitutes.

p. A2.

Arrests of johns pleases staff in shopping mall

One of the prospective johns even had young children in the car with him, Lalli said.

The arrests pleased Jennifer Ottens, who manages the Value Village in Meadowfair Mall.

"We needed it," she said. "The customers are really happy, they're coming in and commenting on it."

Randal Crook, who works security at the mall, said any problems dropped dramatically after the arrests.

"Since the police crackdown, we basically have one lady who comes in here and it's like a game of tag." If Crook sees her, he shoos her off the lot; if not, she begins, as he says, "to ply her trade."

The woman, Crook says, appears to be in her 50s.

But if the problem itself has quieted, Abbotsford is still wrestling with the shock and embarrassment of battling big city problems.

Lalli said prostitution has been in Abbotsford for years. But until a year ago, it was limited to more discreet forms, such as escort agencies.

Now that it's out in the open, everyone is aflutter in this fast-growing city.

"This town likes gossip as much as anyone else, so everyone's waiting with a high level of interest to see the names," Lee said.

Others are more apprehensive. Lalli said police have received concerned calls from people worried about the impact on children of releasing the john's names.

Gord Kurenoff, editor of the Abbotsford News, expressed the same concern in his Saturday column. The paper, he said, still has not decided whether to publish the names of the accused.

"Can you imagine, as a wife of one of the 43 local men, going to work on Saturday -- in the Bible Belt nonetheless -- with everyone in your office or store knowing your husband was prepared to cheat on you with a whore?"

Mayor George Ferguson acknowledged that families may suffer humiliation.

"Apparently, it's been done in other places, he said. "I guess if you rob a bank, your name is in the paper. I know it probably will be somewhat difficult for other members of family, but I guess it's one of those things."

Ferguson said Abbotsford, with a population of about 110,000, is now the fifth largest city in the province, and it's experiencing all the problems that go along with rapid growth.

"A few years ago, you would hardly recognize a drug problem," he said. "Last year, we had five people murdered over drugs. So those are, unfortunately, some of things that happen with growth. It reflects the nature of our society."

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Created: July 8, 1997
Last modified: July 8, 1997

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