Thursday, June 22, 2000

Kathy Tait
Children and Families Reporter

p. A06.

Target: Youth addiction and pimps

Premier Ujjal Dosanjh says he's not prepared to "stand by helplessly and watch children die"on B.C. streets as victims of drug addiction and sexual exploitation.

Dosanjh announced yesterday that his government will introduce a bill in the legislature next Monday to allow children and teens at high risk to be detained against their will.

The Secure Care bill is designed to help children and youth — mostly 12 to 16 year olds — who are in the "grip of an addiction or under the thumb of a pimp," said Dosanjh.

Currently, children can be detained against their will only if they break the law or are committed under the Mental Health Act.

Even parents often find they break the law if they try to seize their kids from the streets and hold them against their will.

Children's Minister Gretchen Brewin said she expects the new secure-care system to be fully operational within 10 months.

Facilities will be established across B.C., including special group homes, foster homes and larger facilities in high-population areas. One facility is likely to be a renovated building on the grounds of The Maples youth forensic services in Burnaby.

The project has been given $10 million in start-up funds, in addition to $9.5 million announced last year to triple the number of treatment beds for addicted youth.

Dosanjh said he expects "only a very few" youth, perhaps 20, will be in secure care at any one time, although he said it's hard to predict what the demand will be.

An independent secure-care board will be set up to decide whether a youth should be forced into care for a period of 30 days. The 30-day period may be extended in exceptional circumstances to a total of 90 days.

When a child is in immediate danger, the government's director of secure care can approve a youth for detention for up to 72 hours without board approval.

The announcement was hailed as "an important step to protecting high-risk youth" by Diane Sowden of the Children of the Streets Society. Her daughter was on the streets at 13, using crack cocaine and owned by a pimp. Authorities lacked the power to do anything.

The girl, now in her 20s, ended up leaving B.C. to get off drugs and out of the sex trade.

Recovering heroin addict Melanie Ward, 25, of Abbotsford, said that if secure care had been available when she was 14, she might not have wasted so many years of her life.

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Created: April 16, 2001
Last modified: April 16, 2001
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