Notes from a Roundtable
Meeting on Prostitution
On Thursday, February 27, 1997, at Kiwassa Neighbourhood House, Mrs. Anna Terrana, Member of Parliament for Vancouver East, held a Round-table Forum on the issue of Prostitution. The Meeting brought together Vancouver East residents, the Vancouver Police, Prostitutes Alternatives Counselling and Education (P.A.C.E.), the Downtown Eastside Crime Prevention Office, Downtown Youth Activities Society (D.E.Y.A.S.), and the Vancouver School Board, to discuss the issue of prostitution.
In her opening comments, Mrs. Terrana explained that at her Town Hall Meeting on Crime, Drugs and Prostitution, held in October, 1996 at the Raycam Community Centre, most of the discussion focused on the issue of prostitution. In response, Mrs. Terrana promised to hold this follow-up meeting.
Mrs. Terrana outlined some details of this community concern. The root cause of Vancouver's street prostitution, she said is the men who purchase, or the pimps who recruit and control, juvenile or adult sex trade workers.
Street prostitution is a controversial issue, Mrs. Terrana stated, as it has legal, social, health, and economic implications. The life of the street sex trade worker is frequently characterised by violence, substance abuse and disease.
Between 1991 and 1995, 63 known Vancouver prostitutes were murdered. Almost all were female (60); seven of them were juveniles aged 15 to 17. Most deaths were related to the sex trade; 50 of the prostitutes were thought to have been killed by clients, and 8 by pimps or in a drug-related incident.
Mrs. Terrana concluded her remarks by explaining that she organised the Forum so she could listen to local concerns on prostitution. She thanks residents and panelists for their willingness to participate in this Meeting. Mrs. Terrana then turned the floor over to the panelists.
Mr. John Turvey, representing D.E.Y.A.S., explained that many of the "john" who are purchasing the services of Vancouver's prostitutes are wanted on similar prostitution-related charges in other parts of the country. One of the many problems with this situation is that even if the police arrest these individuals, many of the warrants for their arrest in other provinces are non-returnable. Mr. Turvey continued by explaining that in Vancouver, there are prostitutes who under the age of 15, with some prostitutes as young as 11 years old. These young girls are exploited by their pimps and by the "Johns". Agencies such as D.E.Y.A.S., are working to educate both prostitutes and the public on the realities of prostitution and possible alternatives.
Constable Ken Doern, representing the Vancouver Police, read from a report that explained that the age of consent is relevant to the issue of prostitution. Constable Doern said this is because a person who is 14 years of age or older, while able to consent to sex with an adult, cannot consent to sex for consideration (money, food, etc.) Under the latter circumstance, the adult is considered to have committed an offense under section 212(4) of the Criminal Code.
Constable Doern explained that by raising the age of consent from 14 years to 16 years, this could assist in the prosecution of adults who buy sex from youth, as adults could then be charged with sexual assault and it would not be necessary to prove that there was a negotiation for money or other consideration. The Attorney General of BC has requested that the federal Minister of Justice raise the age of consent accordingly.
Leonard Cler-Cunningham, representing P.A.C.E., spoke about the laws governing prostitution. First, he explained that prostitution is legal in Canada. But though it is legal to sell sex it is illegal to buy it. Still, Mr. Cler-Cunningham referred to a police report that said police attitudes towards prostitutes are the number one barrier to helping prostitutes get off the streets.
He went on to suggest that the government was not addressing the issue of child prostitution properly. Mr. Cler-Cunningham said that children as young as 12 years old are still preyed upon by pimps and those who are buying sex from minors. He felt that the community should come forward and push to have the laws changed.
Debora Mearns represented the Downtown East Crime Prevention Office. She explained that her primary concern was children. She explained that there are children who are forced to satisfy the needs of those who buy sex from minors. She stated that these children do not need to be attacked by the community but rather, the community needs to reach-out to these children in an effort to help them off the streets. She explained that the Crime Prevention Office is a community based initiative that is working to create a safe environment for people to live in.
Noreen Colvin, a primary school teacher in Vancouver East (at Sir William Macdonald Primary School), spoke of her experience in an inner-city Vancouver primary school. She told of young girls and boys being propositioned on the school ground, of needles and condoms on the streets surrounding the school and even on the play-ground where the kids play. She and parents in the area are afraid for these children and she would like to see something done that would keep prostitution away from schools and residential areas.
Vancouver East's Views (Participant Speakers)
One participant began by reading a list of prostitutes who had been killed and he called upon the government to act on this issue before more prostitutes die unnecessarily. He suggested that the best way to deal with the reality of prostitution was to legalise it, and to introduce brothels or bawdy houses.
The next speaker spoke from experience as she explained that many prostitutes have low self-esteem and often very traumatic experiences that motivate them to do their work. Too often, she explained, the public is either not aware or does not want to be aware of the reasons why people are working as prostitutes.
This participant felt that the best solution would be to take these men, women and child prostitutes off the streets where they are abused and often killed, and place them into brothels. This participant felt that in brothels, prostitutes would be safe, and could receive the medical treatment and support counselling they need to change their lives. In addition to the affect legalisation of Prostitution would have on Vancouver's prostitutes, legalisation would also generate public revenue through taxes.
Another participant was concerned with the handing out of free condoms and needles, at the expense of Canadian taxpayers. He explained that these condoms and needles are turning up in people's yards and on school grounds. The community, according to this man, is scared for it's safety.
One participant said that she has stepped out of her front door in the morning to find prostitutes performing their services on her front lawn. Her children, she explained, have been propositioned by pimps and Johns.
Many participants complained about finding condoms and needles in Vancouver East residential neighbourhoods. These participants did not want condoms and needles handed-out freely to those who want them. One participant said that if condoms and needles are going to be handed-out, people should dispose of them properly. John Turvey explained that the needle exchange, operated by D.E.Y.A.S., requires that a least one needle must be returned in exchange for a new one. He reported that last year the Needle Exchange actually collected more needles than it handed-out.
Another participant explained that kids in Vancouver East are learning the sex trade from the school grounds. During recess and lunch breaks, Vancouver East kids are exposed to prostitutes working on street corners and Johns circling the block as they look to buy sex.
All the participants wanted action. Most felt that there had been enough public meetings and that the time has come to take the information gathered at these meetings and put it into action. One participant spoke of the quality of life. She stated that as long as this situation exists, Vancouver East residents will have a diminished quality of life.
Another participant suggested that the only way to deal with prostitution is to accept that it will always exist and legalise it. If prostitution was legal, the government could at least regulate it and collect taxes.
In conclusion, participants agreed that some kind of realistic action must be taken to deal with the issue of prostitution. Most felt that the best solution would be to legalise prostitution and collect taxes from the industry.
Mrs. Terrana promised to take the views expressed to her at the Meeting to Ottawa. She explained that notes representing the views expressed to her at the Meeting would be distributed to federal Justice Minister, the Hon. Allan Rock, and to all federal Liberal Cabinet Ministers, MPs and Senators, and to all participants at the Forum.
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