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Hooker sweeps continue, as Ottawa Police shift gears

Press releases dry up, but police still courting attention

In a blatant change of tactics, the Ottawa police turned their ongoing campaign against street-level sex workers into a theatrical showdown starring a rookie undercover cop, journalists and two seasoned police officers as guides to the undercover operation.

Ottawa police sergeants Matthew Skof and Denis Hull invited journalists from the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Sun to accompany the undercover police on Tuesday, June 15, the first day of the two-day prostitution sweep that targeted the Centretown and Vanier areas.

The Ottawa police have, for the past two and half years, conducted systematic sweeps targeting street-level sex workers. According to the police, the sweeps are in response to community complaints and are an attempt to clean up neighbourhoods.

In 2009 the police posted regular press releases after each round of sweeps, but as of Monday, June 21, the police still had not issued a press statement.

Bryonie Baxter is the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa, an organization that offers a wide range of support and counselling services to women who are incarcerated.

“We usually know when there has been a sweep because we hear about it, as we have a worker inside [the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre, OCDC] who will let us know,” says Baxter. “But I think the public has a right to know that the sweeps are continuing and press releases should be issued.”

According to Baxter, the manager of community services for the Elizabeth Fry Society was able to contact prison authorities, and in an email confirmed that eight new women arrived at Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre between June 16 and 17.

All of the women were picked up as the result of the sweeps and all were charged with communication for the purposes of prostitution as well as additional charges such as mischief, obstruction and breach of conditions. Two of the women were sentenced to five days while the others were presumably diverted to a sex worker diversion program.

The last press release issued by the police department was posted on Friday, March 12 when four females and seven men were arrested. Since then there have been no notifications from the police on any prostitution sweeps — even though they are apparently continuing on a regular basis.

In the 2009 annual report from Ottawa Police Service, it was reported that 1,457 charges were laid (including trafficking, robbery, breach of probation, possession of stolen property and prostitution) against 300 persons for sex-work related offences.

Update: A press release was posted by Ottawa Police on the evening of Monday 21. A total of 24 arrests were made — 21 prostitutes and three johns. The three johns qualified for the John School, a pre-charge diversion program that uses a restorative justice approach to the effects of prostitution in a community. The remaining 21 were charged with prostitution, mischief and breach of condition charges.