Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Tories unveil prostitution law

The Ontario government's barrage of new victims' rights legislation continued Tuesday with introduction of a bill that would enable police to rescue and protect victims of child prostitution.

If passed, the legislation would allow police to remove a child under 18 from the streets, raiding massage parlours, X-rated entertainment facilities and even the Internet to do it, said Attorney General Jim Flaherty.

"In small and large communities across Ontario, children 13 to 18 years of age are forced to become and stay prostitutes," Flaherty told the legislature as he tabled the bill.

"Their stories are heart-wrenching. Many are runaways, however running to the streets comes with many hazards: predators such as pimps and johns, regular beatings and drugs."

Children would be placed in a safe house for five days, or as long as 30 days with a judge's permission, where they would be eligible for a range of treatment, such as medical and mental health services, drug and alcohol counselling and legal help.

The legislation would also give the province the power to suspend the driver's licenses of "pimps and johns."

"This bill, if passed, will give child care workers the additional tools the need to protect Ontario's youth and help them turn their lives around," said Social Services Minister John Baird.

Premier Mike Harris said a noble purpose will be served by the bill, which he expects will win support from members on both sides of the legislative chamber.

"A number of opposition members have taken a look and think it's a good idea too," Harris said. "It's good non-partisan politics working at its best on behalf of the people of Ontario."

Tuesday's legislation is borrowed largely from Alberta, where a similar law allows authorities to hold a child as long as 42 days if approved by the courts.

Jeanette Lewis, executive director of the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies, characterized the legislation as an "important first step."

Police and children's aid workers would need only a "reasonable belief" that a child is being sexually exploited in order to remove them to a safe house.

Some examples include prostitution, "sexually explicit" activity in an adult entertainment facility or massage parlour, or when a child is found in a bawdy house, acting as an escort or being used in the making of pornography.

Telephone and Internet sex lines would also be targeted by the legislation.

Such a broad application of potential circumstances "acknowledges the reality that many child victims of sexual exploitation are kept 'underground' to avoid detection by the justice system," according to a background document released Tuesday.

Aside from Alberta, British Columbia is the only other province with a similar law.

The latest bill marks yet another measure imposed in recent days on the Ontario justice system by a government fond of its reputation for being victim-friendly and tough on crime.

Late Monday, the legislature passed a law to protect victims of domestic violence by replacing restraining orders with tougher, more effective "intervention orders" to better protect battered and abused women from stalkers and other abusers. Another bill introduced Monday would allow victims of crime to attend and participate in provincial parole hearings in person while the offender is present.

It would also establish new grooming, appearance and hygiene standards for prisoners and allow corrections staff to monitor, intercept and block inmate communications when public safety and security are considered at risk.

A bill that outlaws automatic parole and forces inmates to attend work and treatment programs and submit to random drug tests passed third reading in the legislature Tuesday, making its passage into law a mere formality.

The province has also recently introduced legislation to seize ill-gotten gains from organized crime, block convicted felons from recounting their crimes in books or interviews for profit and make its Office of Victims of Crime a permanent advisory agency.

And they're not done yet: several measures promised in the 1999 election campaign are still pending, including legislation that would force criminals to pay for their crimes.

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Created: December 19, 2000
Last modified: January 21, 2001
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