Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Canadian Press

Children's advocates leery of funding promises

Ontario says it will sweep the province's streets of child prostitutes by allowing police to place them in "safe houses," but critics are skeptical since the promise was made once before.

Social workers say they wonder if the provincial government will ever deliver $15 million promised in last week's budget to address the problem of youth exploitation in the sex trade. Close to $8 million was earmarked the year before, and never spent.

"We are concerned that they won't follow through for a second time," said Gina Daya, acting director of Save the Children Canada.

"Time really is of the essence. If we wait another 12 months to get this off the ground, children will die."

After several meetings last year with officials at the Ontario government's Children's Secretariat, Daya says she understood that Save the Children Canada would receive part of, if not all of, the $8 million for programs to help child prostitutes.

"But it never even got to the planning stage," she said.

The government appeared to abandon the project after a cabinet shuffle in February. Government officials contacted this week could provide no explanation.

Cherry Kingsley, a former teenage prostitute who now directs a national program helping children in the sex trade, said she is frustrated with the province for stalling on helping exploited youth.

"They say publicly that they are committed, but their actions prove exactly the opposite."

Kingsley worked with Save the Children Canada to secure funding for her program, Out of the Shadows and Into the Light, but when the government's project was abandoned the money was never handed over.

Rick Bartolucci, an Ontario Liberal who represents the northern Ontario city of Sudbury, said the government's commitment is meaningless without legislation allowing police to detain child prostitutes in the so-called safe houses.

He said such a bill has been introduced four times. "If they were serious, they would have made it law by now," Bartolucci said.

Attorney General David Young said earlier this month he was prepared to reintroduce another "safe house" bill as soon as possible. Brendan Crawley, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General, said if passed the legislation would likely allow police to remove children being sexually exploited in massage parlours, X-rated facilities and on the Internet and place them in safe houses for five to 30 days.

During that time social workers would create individual action plans to help the children.

Similar legislation has been passed in Alberta and British Columbia, and police are already detaining children in the so-called safe houses.Kingsley said this is a short-term and ineffective solution. "I get really depressed that out of all the experts the best solution the government can come up with is locking kids up," she said. Save the Children has a different approach. It brings together young people, politicians and police in round table discussions and helps set up youth driven pilot projects in local towns and cities.

Daya said she can't say how many children are involved in prostitution in Ontario, but she said there is no question that the number is growing.

"More and more we are seeing kids coming to Toronto for help because there are no services in their communities," she said. "More and more communities are asking us to help them develop programs for these kids."

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Created: May 24, 2001
Last modified: May 24, 2001
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