Friday, December 22, 2000

Rick Bell

Justice finally makes sense

Once in a while, believe it or not, it happens.

Justice finds its way into the justice system.

Yesterday was just such a day.

If someone deserves something special from Santa this Christmas, it is Justice John Rooke of the Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta.

Earlier this year, Judge Karen Jordan of the youth court ruled young prostitutes couldn't be taken off the street and put in a safe house for 72 hours for their own protection.

It violated their rights under the Charter of Rights.

Yes, there's the word. Rights. No matter they are kids. No matter they are used and abused. No matter. Their rights are being violated.

Leave them to the pimps who I'm sure just love the niceties of the Charter of Rights.

But Justice Rooke knew better.

He knew child prostitutes are victims of sexual abuse and in need of protection.

"There is no doubt about the validity of these premises," writes the learned judge.

Justice Rooke knew the liberty of underage prostitutes may be infringed by the law but the action is not unjust.

These are the judge's words: "While these are not young children that we are dealing with at bar, they are still children in the eyes of the law."

"Ultimately, because they are children, their right to liberty must give way to the overriding interest of protecting their general welfare as long as the procedures employed to do so are fair."

"The state has a legitimate interest in assisting these adolescent children."

"State action was undertaken to protect children from these parasites — pimps and johns — who abuse and exploit these children."

"The depiction of the background and lives of these adolescent children paints a bleak picture."

Justice Rooke found the particular case before the court a very compelling one.

"The facts of this case amply demonstrate the devastating conditions in which many of these young people find themselves."

The two teens "were allegedly found in a trick pad which consisted of a mattress on the floor of an apartment with condoms and drug paraphernalia strewn about. One can only imagine the horrors of being sexually exploited, especially in these conditions."

As you read the 26 pages of closely typed legal reasoning, one thing becomes clear. When Justice Rooke speaks, it is the voice of Albertans you hear.

"It is evident to me that one of the pressing and substantial needs of the legislation is to attempt to remove (at least temporarily) the child from the vulnerability of the abusive and exploitive malevolence that a pimp personifies."

Heather Forsyth, the member of the legislature for Calgary-Fish Creek who for years fought against youth prostitution, speaks with the same voice.

She'd been "sick to her stomach" and "mortified" when Judge Jordan's ruling came down.

Heather recalled the time a decade ago when she'd been a crisis worker and a mom came to her. The woman's daughter was on the street. Heather asked what the daughter was doing.

The mom replied: "She's prostituting."

Heather had only one response.

"But she's only 14."

Heather and the mom drove downtown and found the girl. Selling herself.

"If we grabbed her, it was kidnapping. In court we'd be told it was a lifestyle choice and we should butt out. Everyone's hands were tied," recalls Heather.

A law was finally put in place. Caring hands were finally untied, only to be bound once again by a youth court judge. It was not an unfamiliar scenario.

But, this time, reason did prevail. And yesterday, Heather wasn't sick to her stomach. Justice had found its way into the justice system.

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Created: December 22, 2000
Last modified: January 17, 2001
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