Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Antonella Artuso
Queen's Park Bureau

Bill to protect child hookers

Judges could order 30-day stay in 'safe' house

Police will be able to sweep up child hookers and hold them in a "safe" place for up to 30 days under a new anti-exploitation bill brought forward by the Ontario government yesterday.

Attorney General Jim Flaherty also plans to amend the Highway Traffic Act to strip pimps and johns of their driver's licences for at least a year.

Flaherty said the legislation, introduced yesterday, would give an estimated 1,200 minor prostitutes a chance at a new life.

"The police have told us that children under the age of 16 are kept underground so that their exploiters can avoid detection from the law," Flaherty said.

"That is why the proposed legislation would reach beyond the streets to the places where these children are hidden."

The bill gives police powers to remove a young hooker to an established "safe" house. A judge would then assess the situation within 24 hours and could order the youth held for five days.

At the end of the five days, a judge could order the youth held for up to 30 days and possibly sent back to the parents if appropriate.

Flaherty said a 16- or 17-year-old would be legally free to go after the 30 days.

During their time in the safe house, the prostitutes would have access to medical, mental health and legal services, and drug and alcohol counselling.

Det. Steve Tracy said the legislation will give Toronto Police's juvenile task force a chance to assure young hookers they're safe and have alternatives.

He said 30 days could be the minimum time needed to help some of these youngsters.

"It's almost a deprogramming," Tracy said. "It can't be accomplished overnight and we will see if 30 days is long enough. But I'm optimistic."

Flaherty said the bill will go after drivers' licences to help curb demand for child prostitutes.

Anyone convicted as a pimp or john — regardless of the prostitute's age — would lose his licence for one year if the vehicle was involved in the crime. A second conviction would carry a two-year suspension.

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