Toronto
3 min

Sex trade bill forgets queers

Rescuing queer youth from sexual exploitation could be worse that what they're being rescued from

A bill that allows suspected underage sex trade workers to be arrested without a warrant might be trouble for queer street kids.



Bill 86, An Act To Rescue Children Trapped In The Misery Of Prostitution And Other Forms Of Sexual Exploitation, allows cops to apprehend people under 18 suspected of involvement with prostitution or pornography. They don’t need a warrant, but can bring kids back to their parents or guardians, or take them to a safe house where they can be held for three days – or up to 30 days with a judge’s approval.



The Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Rights In Ontario (CLGRO) is concerned about the impact of the legislation on homo youth.



“We feel that it is necessary that if children and teens have left the parental home because of the suffering caused by homophobia, they are not forced to return to that same damaging situation,” says CLGRO spokesperson Christine Donald.



Donald points to the fact that there is a disproportionate number of queer street kids, as many as 25 to 50 percent, she says.



“In our 1997 report, Systems Failure, the result of a four-year survey and research funded by Health Canada, we show that the shelters and services to which distressed LGB [lesbian, gay and bisexual] teens and children might turn are not well equipped to serve them. We showed that over 95 percent of all those who had experience with physical and mental health care professionals felt that they did not adequately deal with lesbian, gay and bisexual people or with issues relating to sexual orientation.”



In effect, the remedy for “rescuing” queer youth from sexual exploitation could be worse that what they’re being rescued from. Despite being disproportionately affected by the bill, no special considerations have been made for queer youth.



“I don’t have any specific information on that. I think our approach has been to look at exploited children generally regardless of sexual orientation,” says Brendan Crawley, spokesperson for Attorney-General David Young.



CLGRO also questions just how safe the “safe houses” mentioned in the bill are.



“They are very safe,” says Crawley. “The Ministry Of Community And Social Services will request proposals from service providers to develop residential services to support these youth. We’ll be working with them to ensure that the facilities are safe for the youth and staff.”



CLGRO wants anti-homophobia training for police, counsellors, health professionals and safe-facility staff. It also wants the safe houses to put procedures in place that guarantee accountability with respect to lesbian, gay and bisexual issues.



Peter Kormos, the house leader and justice critic for the New Democrats, also worries about how the bill could affect queer youth.



“It’s a very bad piece of legislation. The potential for abuse and targeting certain people based on the whim of a police officer is profound,” says Kormos. “The government does not want to address the real issues being faced by the young out there.



“This is another example of the province trying to override federal law and criminalize something – the act of prostitution, which, per se, is not illegal in Canada,” says Kormos. He has suggested in the legislature, though, that the New Democrats will probably not oppose the bill.



Kormos says it’s not constitutional for the law to permit the police to arrest someone – even someone under 18 – without any charges being laid.



“It is repugnant that someone can be jailed without being charged with anything. The jail time comes under the guise of protecting that person, yet only offers up the prospect of licence suspensions for johns.”



Crawley says the bill doesn’t turn kids into criminals.



“No, we’re not persecuting the kids. The whole idea of this is to help these kids. Basically, we have evidence that this kind of legislation does help, especially with the hardest to reach youth.”



* Bill 86 has been referred to the Ontario Legislative Assembly’s standing committee on justice and social policy. To make a presentation to the committee, contact the clerk, Tom Prins, at room 1405, Whitney Block, Queen’s Park, Toronto M7A 1A2; phone (416) 325-3509 or fax (416) 325-3505.



* For more info on Bill 86, check out the next story.