Thursday, June 6, 1996

Alexandra Highcrest

Judy Sgro's fear of a pro city

It is time to scrap Metro's prostitution task force, or, at the very least, fire its chair, Metro Councillor Judy Sgro. The task force was supposed to bring interested parties together to work toward finding reasonable solutions to Metro's prostitution problems. Instead Sgro has turned the task force into a one-woman show to promote fear of Toronto's street prostitutes.

The task force is made up of Sgro, Metro Councillor Brian Ashton, a rep from the Metro Toronto Housing Authority, two advisors from the Police Services Board and two cops -- all like-minded people when it comes to prostitution. But make no mistake about it, Sgro is the bell ringer.

Less than a week after the shooting deaths of prostitutes Brenda Ludgate, Shawn Keegan and Deanna Wilkinson, Sgro opportunistically launched an all-out attack on prostitution in Toronto.

Sgro stated there may be as many as 100 HIV-positive prostitute working in the city. She claims to know 11 HIV-positive pros personally.

Her comments sent shock waves through Toronto's Board of Health and agencies that are combatting the disease on the street.

In fact, HIV infection rates in Metro are not climbing. The Board of Health's Works program sees 60-75 people a night and distributes 13,000-15,000 condoms each month to prostitutes and other street people. Program Director Shaun Hopkins explained that prostitutes are well aware of the risks but told eye, "Now people are fearful, hoping there won't be a negative backlash." The Board will be meeting to discuss what to do about the fallout from Sgro's blithering.

The issue came to a head on May 28, when Sgro's task force (she and Ashton are founding members) held a town hall meeting in the City of York. Sgro asked the packed house to take a compassionate approach to the issue, then she and defrocked Liberal MP John Nunziata criticized the courts and the justice system for being too soft on pimps, hookers and their customers. Their mantra was tough sentences and tougher laws, and York suburbanites just lapped it up.

Sgro introduced her compassionate response to prostitution - Off The Hook, a program designed to fast-track street prostitutes through Metro's social service bureaucracy. Off The Hook will be a useless referral service that points pros toward welfare (which many of them are already on), social housing (where they'll be put on a years-long waiting list) and health services (which they'll be suspicious of because of the renewal of the AIDS scare).

The program will offer day-long sessions during which Metro employees will teach prostitutes about safer sex and the dangers of working the stroll -- things prostitutes are experts on. Like so many touchy-feely programs designed to help hookers and generate good media, Off The Hook assumes prostitutes know nothing. This reveals that the program advocates know nothing about pros.

There were whores at the meeting. When prostitute and spokesperson for the Canadian Organization for the Rights of Prostitutes Valerie Scott called for the decriminalization of prostitution, which would enable pros to legally work indoors, out of sight of kids and their tight-assed parents, she was met with a resounding chorus of "Get a job!" and "Get out of our neighborhood!"

Kara Gillies, call-girl and staffer with Maggie's, a downtown drop-in and AIDS resource centre for hookers, got a similar response when she called for greater cooperation between prostitutes, residents' associations and the task force.

The mood can be summed up in one scene: As Gillies attempted to answer questions put to her by one resident Sgro told her to sit down and be quiet, saying to Gilles, "You're welcome to come as long as you keep your mouth shut."

The Metro prostitution task force has not curbed street prostitution in Toronto nor has it fostered cooperation between prostitutes and organizations concerned about street prostitution. John School has done nothing. Since February, 62 randy guys have graduated but cops working stings say busting customers is like shooting fish in a barrel because there are so many of them. Some deterrent.

Sgro isn't interested in real solutions to the issues surrounding prostitution, and she isn't listening to dissenting opinions. She isn't concerned about the possible danger she put prostitutes in with her outrageous statement about HIV infection. She's only interested in driving prostitutes into the open arms of jail or the not-so-open arms of our overworked social system. These are not solutions.

Time to get the hook and yank Sgro off-stage.

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Created: June 26, 1996
Last modified: January 27, 1998

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