Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Robert Benzie

Law aims to force child prostitutes off streets

Move incorporates ideas from Alberta, Ontario Liberals

Ontario's Conservative government hopes to get the province's estimated 1,200 child prostitutes off the streets with new legislation based on policies of the Alberta government and the opposition Liberals.

In the latest of a flurry of law-and-order announcements designed to show the Ontario government is tough on crime while sympathetic toward victims, Queen's Park yesterday introduced the Protecting Children from Sexual Exploitation Act. The measures, similar to those already in place in Alberta, will enable police and Children's Aid Society workers to put prostitutes under 18 in safe houses for up to 30 days, where counselling, medical and legal services would be available to them.

Officials could remove victims of sexual exploitation from dangerous situations with or without warrants, depending on where the illicit activity is suspected of taking place, said Jim Flaherty, Ontario's Attorney-General.

Those who procure and utilize the services of underage prostitutes will also be targeted. Mr. Flaherty said the legislation will permit the suspension of driver's licences of pimps and johns convicted of Criminal Code violations.

"It's horrifying that across Ontario children are forced to become prostitutes," said Mr. Flaherty.

"This bill [will] help these child victims begin a new life and protect them from the predators who exploit them."

The law is also aimed at helping children who might work in Internet pornography, massage parlours or telephone sex facilities.

Mr. Flaherty and John Baird, the Minister of Community and Social Services, were quick to praise the efforts of Rick Bartolucci, a Sudbury Liberal MPP who introduced three separate private member's bills that were appropriated and then combined for the new Act.

Mr. Bartolucci said he did not mind that the Conservatives were adapting his plans.

"Am I happy? Absolutely. We did these bills because we want to protect children, so I am glad that the government has used three Liberal initiatives to ensure that there is protection for children involved in prostitution," he said.

However, Mr. Bartolucci added he would also have liked to see provincial jail terms and large fines for pimps and johns.

Mike Harris, the Premier, said copying from the Liberals was not an indication that his government, which critics suggest is suffering second-term malaise, is bereft of its own ideas.

"Everybody's cribbed it … from Alberta," said Mr. Harris.

"I've never been hesitant to look for good ideas anywhere around the planet. In this case, there had been legislation in Alberta that we think deserves looking at and a number of Opposition members have taken a look and think it's a good idea, too," he said.

"It's good non-partisan politics working at its best on behalf of the people of Ontario."

Jeanette Lewis, executive director of the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies, said the move is a good beginning.

"We see this as an important first step in addressing the sexual exploitation and victimization of youth prostitutes," said Ms. Lewis.

Detective Steve Tracy, of the Toronto police juvenile task force, said he has seen girls and boys as young as 12 plying their trade in the city.

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Created: December 20, 2000
Last modified: January 21, 2001
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