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Regulated sex industry would be safer:
Former Justice Minister John Crosbie

OTTAWA -- Former Conservative justice minister John Crosbie has come out in support of decriminalizing prostitution, saying it is the best way to deal with the growing violence and murder rates among the country's sex workers.

Crosbie, now 74, said a legal, regulated sex industry would be safer for both prostitutes and their clients by pulling it from the fringes of society and licensing it like any other for-fee service.

"The value of decriminalizing is a question of pragmatism. What is the best way to deal?" Crosbie said in an interview Tuesday. "Let's be sensible. Let's get a system where you have to be registered as a prostitute."

His comments came on Day 1 of a cross-country tour of Canada's seediest strolls as a group of MPs set out to examine whether prostitution laws should be updated or abolished altogether.

Members of the Commons subcommittee on solicitation laws met in Toronto with police and city departments, as well as sex-worker support services and prostitutes themselves. They will do the same in Montreal and Halifax later this week, then again in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver near the end of the month. Their report, expected as soon as June, will be the first to survey Canada's prostitution laws in 20 years.

The committee's mission is supported both by current Justice Minister Irwin Cotler and a recent Liberal party resolution, confirmed at the party convention, to examine and revise prostitution laws if they are harmful to sex trade workers.

While the exchange of sex for money is not illegal in Canada, selling it publicly is punishable with up to 18 months in jail.

NDP House leader and committee vice-chair Libby Davies argues that with increased police presence on the street enforcing this legislation, prostitutes are forced to operate in less-visible areas and put themselves at greater risk. She has called for a moratorium on the law, one of a few that applies to prostitutes and the people that hire them. The Vancouver East MP and longtime proponent of decriminalisation also criticizes the ban on bawdy houses or brothels.

"We heard from a lot of sex workers (Tuesday) who gave very powerful testimony and told us how the Criminal Code, as it is, is creating an enormous harm in their work environment," Davies said.

More than 60 prostitutes have disappeared in Vancouver, while almost a dozen murdered women have been found in rural areas around Edmonton. A controversial idea, decriminalizing prostitution was introduced in 1985 by the Fraser Report, a seminal study on prostitution and pornography. The report, released during Crosbie's tenure as justice minister (1984-86), recommended prostitution-related activities be decriminalised "as far as possible."

Decriminalizing prostitution, where all prostitution-related offences are withdrawn from the Criminal Code, is different from legalizing it. Here, the state agrees to play a role in licensing and regulating the sale of sex for profit.

Critics worry Montreal plan encourages red light district

MONTREAL - Business people in downtown Montreal say they have serious reservations about a pilot project for prostitutes scheduled to begin this summer.

It involves replacing the arrest and prosecution of prostitutes with mediation and social work. The ultimate aim is to help prostitutes get out of the business.

But people who live and work in the test area say the project will simply attract more of the criminal element.

Richard Fradette heads one of several economic development groups in downtown Montreal. He's afraid the pilot project will turn the area into a red light district.

"You'll be sure to have every prostitute from all around the city, first, and after that all around Canada and some from the U.S. will come here," he says.

Fradette predicts the project will also open the door to more drug dealing, loan sharking and other criminal activities.

City councillor Sammy Forcillo says he has already received 600 calls and 100 letters from people against the project. Forcillo says people are worried they'll start finding used condoms and needles littering neighbourhood streets.

Claire Thibotot is with one of the groups organizing the experiment. She's distressed by the opposition. Thibotot says people who think police will be turning a blind eye to everything prostitutes do, are wrong.

"It's not about that," she says. "It's about trying to find solutions to the problems street prostitutes are living and residents there are living." Public meetings about the project begin Tuesday.

Looking for refuge for child prostitutes

REGINA, SK - It's a shocking scenario, but true. Children, as young as 9 years old, have been turning tricks in Regina, selling their bodies to pedophiles.

Now, there could be help for them, if a Regina woman gets her way.

Christine Deiter is turning to the community for help. She has a motor home that's been used as a temporary refuge for about 30 'regulars'. But she says what's really needed is a network of 'safe homes', where the children can go to escape the life of prostitution.

She says child prostitution is a real problem in the city. "The youngest that we've been in contact with is 9. And then they just go up from here. The youngest male we've had contact with is 14.", she says.

Melinda Dubois has been a prostitute for 3 years. She agrees help is needed, but she's not sure it'll work for everyone. "Most of these girls, they're stubborn you know and they go I'm in trouble now and they'll change their minds and they'll just be back out there again. But I think it would be good for young girls."

Deiter's idea of a safe home would be similar to a foster home. The child would stay there up to 48 hours. During that time counsellors would visit, to work with the child and decide where to go next.

But Deiter says getting families to offer up their homes as safe houses is going to be hard sell. "I imagine they're worried about the risk of their children being in the house, the risk of their possessions, and maybe a pimp showing up in the night", she says.

Deiter's goal is to find 10 homes for the children.

Canadian laws regarding prostitution are almost identical to the laws in New Zealand. Anyone seeking justice for workers in the sex industry would do well to check out this site in: Australia

Canadian Commercial Sex information service Whores Heroines and Heroes

A visitor chastised us for "rejoicing" in Goohsen's conviction and observed the following:

In Gooshen's case, Judge Darla Hunter found that the testimony of Gooshen and the child witness were not credible... and convicted on the basis of the testimony of the police officers. Earth to Hunter, police officers want to get convictions and tailor their testimony to that end.

Because our police have a direct interest in getting convictions, their testimony should be considered no more credible than that of an accused.

This point is well taken, and this should be an appeal point for Goohsen. If this was a total set-up by the police and Goohsen is a victim of police entrapment, no stone -- including risk of further embarrassment --should be left unturned to make the details public. inJusticebusters is going by public reports which would indicate that there was some sexual involvement with the minor.

This case illustrates that most laws regarding vice, sex and drugs especially, are unfair because they can eventually be used against almost anyone. This is why we call for the decriminalisation of prostitution and drugs. We would not advocate legalization of sex with people who are legally children, just as we would not promote or encourage the sale and distribution of deadly drugs and poisons. However, decriminalisation would make it a lot more difficult for corrupt cops to set people up.

We express no joy whatsoever at Goohsen's personal tragedy and have accordingly removed the piece.

Sex-trade registry launched

VANCOUVER (CP) -- Prostitutes in Vancouver's poorest neighbourhood are being invited to record personal details on registries that would give police clues if the women are kidnapped or killed.

The move comes amid fears a serial killer is stalking the downtown eastside region of Vancouver. Twenty so-called street-involved women have disappeared since 1995, 11 of them in the last year alone.

Two agencies dealing with prostitutes recently launched the voluntary registries -- an idea blessed by police.

The Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society and a drop-in centre called Grandma's House say they may join their lists into one registry that would be unprecedented in Canada.

Their efforts are focused on a poverty-stricken area, which has been scarred by heroin, cocaine and a wave of HIV linked to the use of dirty needles by a legion of addicts who openly shoot up in the area's alleys.

DEYAS representative Judy McGuire says the registry was born of years of concern about violence against prostitutes.

But it has been focused by the recent disappearances, as well as reports that a man charged in the beating of one prostitute planned to turn another into a sex slave and eventually kill her.

"As much as anything, that may have been what jogged everybody into action to do something about it," says McGuire.

Vancouver police have ruled out the idea of a serial killer, but leaders in the community are not as easily dissuaded.

"There's no doubt in any of our minds down here that something like that has happened -- a john has come along and picked them up and killed them and hidden them somewhere," says Frank Gilbert, a spokesman for the Downtown Eastside Residents Association.

Had the women just died, their bodies would have been found on the street or in the hotels where they lived, he says.

Despite police doubts about a serial killer, officers are backing the registries.

The head of Vancouver's vice squad, who proposed the idea to McGuire, says the results will be helpful.

"It will probably be easier for the girls to share information with groups such as DEYAS or Grandma's Place," said Sgt Don Smith.

"They, in turn, will turn that information over to police in a quicker fashion."

The vice squad already has a similar -- though limited -- program. Officers informally request personal information of sex-trade workers and take photos.

At DEYAS, information forms for the Sex Trade Workers Identification Project ask for details such as times prostitutes work, details on previous "bad dates" and problems with stalkers.

"Who would be most likely to know if you are missing?" is another question in the four-page survey prostitutes are being asked to fill out.

Sex-trade workers are allowed to limit information they want shared with police.

Women are also being asked to occasionally report into DEYAS using a personal code to say they are OK. Silence would prompt a report to police.

"There's no easy way to know where (sex-trade workers) would be or who they are in contact with on a regular basis," says McGuire.

"This is an attempt to try and give the women somewhere they can register that information."

Smith says the completed forms will be helpful even if the registry isn't maintained to police bureaucratic standards.

"At least we're going to have a name, if not the real name, at least a street name, a photograph," he says.

The mother of one woman who vanished isn't certain a registry would have helped her daughter.

Angela Jardine, 27, went missing last November. She was last seen at a rally in a downtown eastside park.

In 1990, Jardine ran away from home in the Interior B.C. community of Castlegar. Jardine, who was mentally challenged, eventually became a prostitute. She resisted her parent's efforts to urge her to come home.

"(Angela's) intellect is only about 11. She probably would need help filling out a form," said Deborah Jardine.

"Someone would have to assist her, but I think it's a good idea."

Deborah Jardine thinks her daughter has fallen prey to "foul play," because she would otherwise have called some member of her family, or her caseworker.

Police have suggested Angela has been seen roaming the neighbourhood. Friends and associates are skeptical.

Const. Anne Drennan says police have no quick answers regarding the disappeared women, but there is also no evidence of a serial killer.

"We can't manufacture evidence of serial killers because families believe that is the case," she says.

Drennan says street-involved women are tough to track because of their lifestyles. One woman reported missing turned up a month ago in an Arizona psychiatric hospital.

"We're talking about women who find themselves victims of drug-addiction and prostitution. Anything is possible," says Drennan.

Reform of Laws: 'Working Girls' go Legit

Windsor licencing offers measure of safety for prostitutes and customers

WINDSOR, ON.- Some thought it repugnant to legitimize Windsor's rapidly expanding sex industry by licensing escorts. Others said it would drive them further underground, or result in city streets lined with prostitutes. But more than a year after the escort bylaw was passed, those involved say it's working. "It's been suprising,' says Windsor's city clerk Tom Lynd of co-operation from the escort industry. "It's been a lot easier than (licensing) hot dog vendors."

In 1996, Windsor City Council licensed the sex industry, requiring prostitutes working for escort agencies to obtain police clearance and buy municipal business licences . No one under age 18 can work in the industry, nor can those with certain criminal records. Equally important, says Lynd, is word of the bylaw spreads fast. "The word goes out in the industry, Windsor's tough and that you better have a good record," Lynd said. Only Calgary and Winnepeg have adopted similar bylaws. Windsor was Ontario's first community that attempted to regulate things that go bump and grind in the night. In its first year, the city licensed 10 owners, known as Personal Service Agents, and 76 escorts. The bylaw contributed more than $32,000 to city coffers.

"It has a stigma attached to it," Lynd admits. "Some people say 'You're basically legitimizing prostitution.' Sure we are, but the federal government under Pierre Elliot Trudeau went and decriminalised prostitution itself...If you've got it (escort agencies) and it's going to exist there's some value in controlling the industry." Lynd says the city is compiling a report to do the same for massage therapists to separate those providing health services from sexual ones. Chantal Gagnon, owner of the agency, Executive Services, says things have gotten better under the bylaw. It's removed minors from the business and brought the industry out in the open. "It's safer for the ladies and safer for the customer," Gagnon said, adding she believes there's less street prostitution. Gagnon's service was the first in the city to be licensed in May 1996. She has about 14 escorts working for her agency, and the service costs $130 an hour before midnight with an additional $10 charged in the wee hours of the morning. There's even a web page featuring the company's services and escorts.

What is the Difference between "Legalising" and "Decriminalising" Prostitution?

Although there is no official definition of legalised or decriminalised prostitution, most references use the term "legalisation" to refer to any system that specifically allows some prostitution. Many (or most) societies that allow legal prostitution do so by giving the state control over the lives and businesses of those who work as prostitutes. Legalisation often includes special taxes for prostitutes, restricting prostitutes to working in brothels or in certain zones, licenses, registration of prostitutes and government records of individual prostitutes, and health checks which have historically been used to control and stigmatise prostitutes....

Decriminalisation is usually used to refer to total decriminalisation, that is, the total repeal of laws against consensual adult sexual activity, in both commercial and non-commercial contexts. In decriminalised systems, prostitution businesses would be regulated through civil codes (including business and labour codes, standard zoning regulations, occupational health and safety codes, etc.) just as they are applied to any other businesses, so that prostitutes and clients could conduct business either in brothels or through private arrangements if they choose. Existing criminal laws targeting abuse, coercion, etc. would also be applied in cases of violence or exploitation if associated with prostitution.

If prostitution was decriminalised existing laws could then be modified and made less discriminatory, for example, prostitutes view safe sex as a health and safety issue, as the law stands now people in the industry are not allowed to advertise or promote safe sex because they can be prosecuted for it, the possesion of condoms, for instance, has been used in the past in New Zealand as police evidence to support charges of solicitation against a prostitute. Decriminalisation would also lead to less harrassment of prostitutes and brothel owners by the real criminals in our society- recently a man was prosecuted in the Hamilton High Court for rape, his method of operation was to approach independent sex-workers under the guise of a plainclothes policeman and not "arrest" them in return for sexual favours.

The following newspaper report by Sally Heath, examines the results of a study by the Centre for the Study of Sexually Transmissable Diseases at Latrobe University, Victoria, Australia, recommending decriminalisation of street prostitution to help reduce the power of clients to threaten, abuse and coerce the women

Youngest Prostitutes in Risky Sex: Study

Girls as young as 14 and state wards are engaging in high-risk prostitution, a study of Victoria's most vulnerable sex workers has found. They often work in the city and because many are homeless they take chances by using a client's car or hotel room. Of all sex workers interviewed for the study by Latrobe University's Centre for the Study of Sexually Transmissible Diseases, this group was least able to insist clients wear a condom.

The findings are contained in a report, When 'Gut Instinct' is not enough: Women at risk in sex work, by Ms Priscilla Pyett and Ms Deborah Warr. A community liaison officer with the centre, Ms Anne Mitchell, said: "They don't see themselves as working as prostitutes or making a career choice. They are too young for the dole and they seem to be just making money for now by opportunistic sex work."

The study looked at the health and safety needs of the most vulnerable sex workers. Apart from young women, it looked at those who were drug addicts, worked the streets, were homeless, or worked opportunistically (that is, for quick money, food, accommodation or drugs). Twenty-four women, aged 14 to 47, who had worked between three months and sixteen years, were interviewed. Half worked on the streets or opportunistically and the rest were in legal and illegal brothels or agencies.

The study found street workers experienced a frightening level of violence--all had been raped, bashed or robbed by a client. Even more disturbing was their fatalistic acceptance that it was part of the work. All the women had been coerced to have sex without a condom.

It is worthwhile to note at this stage that street prostitutes only make up a small percentage of sex workers in western countries (perhaps about 10% in N.Z.), just as sex workers, although intrinsic, are only one sector of a very broad-based industry (no pun intended).

To anticipate the effect that law reform will have on the N.Z. sex industry per se, one must first consider the consequences and implications that law changes will have on each sector within it. N.Z. sex industry people can earn income as the owners of properties, the owner of a business i.e. a massage parlour, escort service, rap parlour, peep show or retailer of adult sex toys/aids, as a manager and/or receptionist, as a sex worker for a business or independent sex worker (from a flat, apartment etc. or on the street), as a driver, a cleaner, even, so it has been rumoured, as an advertiser or consultant.

The Latrobe University report deals specifically with street workers in the Australian state of Victoria, it is of course unwise to base industry-wide law reform on research that only applies to a small percentage of the industry, keeping that in mind let us now investigate some of the universal aspects of sex work on city streets.