Sunday, January 25, 1998

Alison Appelbe

Prostitution too tough to control

Frustration at inaction led to vigilante justice in Mount Pleasant

CITY COUNCIL vows to do what it can about prostitution in neighbourhoods around Hastings and Victoria Drive -- which isn't a lot.

It will step up cleaning streets and lanes littered with condoms and neecdles and blighted with weeds. And police will be asked to do more ticketing of customers who stop their cars and trucks to talk to customers.

However, councillors repeatedly told residents and business people woh pleaded for action at a four-hour committee meeting Thursday that their powers are limited.

Prostitution is not illegal in Canada, although communicating in a public place to buy or sell sex is. Investigating and convicting johns is prohibitively expensive, council was told.

Courts tend to treat prostitution as a nuisance crime, and rarely impose more than a discharge and probation.

"I don't know what the hell to do about it," said Coun. George Puil. "I don't think the police do either."

Jim Close, who runs an 85-person high tech firm on Triumph Street near Semlin Drive, painted a grim picture of the neighbourhood.

He walks daily to work from his nearby home, along a lane lined with three-foot-high grass and a half-dozen abandoned shopping carts. At his office building, fortified with bars after innumerable break-ins, he picks up needles and condoms.

He said that his environmental testing firm was driven to ordering a custom-built dumpster to prevent drug addicts from stealing the small glass pipettes that it discards. Prostitutes and other drug users find them ideal for "cooking" cocaine.

He talked of traffic barriers that serve as a stage. "Prostitutes stand on them and pull their skirts up," he said adding: "Our neighbourhood is devastated. We need your help now, not later."

Mount Pleasant John Davis described how prostitution plagued that area between 1985 and 1990, and how the sex trade moved out only after a resident "beat the stuffing out of a pimp."

"All the political action and bylaws and zoning and police and social engineering couldn't accomplish what was done with a few punches," Davis said.

However, former police officer and veteran councillor Don Bellamy warned against vigilante justice.

Council also promised to look at the taxi industry's role in facilitating street prostitution, and to consider "bubble zones" around schools. "John schools" are recommended to discourage repeat offenders.

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Created: March 21, 1998
Last modified: March 21, 1998

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