Wednesday, August 11, 1999

Peter O'Neil

p. A02.

Child prostitutes prompt B.C. move

QUEBEC — Lois Boone, B.C.'s minister responsible for children and families, is visiting Alberta to gather information on its new, unique-in-Canada child-prostitution-prevention legislation.

The Alberta law, which allows the authorities to apprehend child prostitutes for up to 72 hours, is intended to give parents and social workers time to persuade the child to quit life on the streets.

News of Boone's trip — she left for Alberta on Tuesday — was released by an official with Premier Glen Clark's entourage at the annual premiers' conference.

The disclosure followed a complaint from Alberta's Ralph Klein that B.C. apprehended a 14-year-old from Alberta on the weekend and then released her.

Clark responded favourably to Klein's request that premiers consider adopting the Alberta law in their home provinces, the B.C. official said. Klein will formally raise the matter today, the final day of the three-day conference.

Alberta's intergovernmental affairs minister, Shirley McClellan, said Monday that Klein made a last-minute decision to seek help from his colleagues after hearing about the case in B.C.

The law recognizes children involved in prostitution as victims of sexual abuse, something not previously done. It also increases maximum fines and jail terms for the pimps and customers of juvenile prostitutes. The highest fine under the Child Welfare Act in Alberta rose to $25,000 from $2,000 while the maximum jail term jumped to two years less a day from six months.

B.C. authorities told Alberta media their hands are tied. "We have the authority, as all provinces do, to apprehend or remove children who are in need of protection," said Ross Dawson, director of child protection in B.C.'s ministry of families and children. "The issue is, can you walk up and confine youths who don't break the law?"

Although the girl says she doesn't want to return to Calgary, "she's going to die" if she stays in Vancouver, her father predicts. "I am convinced of that. She has lost 20 to 30 pounds in the last three months. She's sick. She's not interested in anything."

A B.C. government-launched committee last year recommended a secure-care program, but it's still in the works.

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Last modified: June 7, 2001
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