September 21, 2001
Attorney General David Young
Ministry of the Attorney General
720 Bay Street, 11th Floor
Toronto M5G 2K1
Dear Mr Young,
We are writing about Bill 86, 2001, the Rescuing Children from Sexual Exploitation Act, An Act to rescue children trapped in the misery of prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation and to amend the Highway Traffic Act sponsored by your government. The Act, as you know, makes it possible to remove from the streets children and teens suspected of prostitution or involvement in pornography – with or without a warrant – and either entrust them to their parent(s) or responsible adult(s) or take them to a “safe house” where they can be held for three days or with court approval for up to 30 days for counseling and healthcare, a safe facility being according to §2 any “premises designated by the minister.”
Although we were alarmed by the vagueness of §5 “It is not necessary in an application or warrant to describe the child by name or to specify the premises where the child is located” and also by the provision for removing a child/teen without a warrant, our main concern is with the fate of children and teens who are apprehended under this legislation.
Many street kids are lesbian, gay, or bisexual – we understand, in fact, a disproportionate number. We have seen studies claiming a range of 25% to 50%.
As you doubtless know, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth – both those who know they are gay and those who are thinking they might be – have a terrible time. Parents are in general not delighted to find they have lesbian, gay, or bisexual offspring. Schools are not equipped to make good the counseling vacuum left by parents. Studies estimate that LGB youth are at double or treble the risk of suicide attempts of other children or teens.
We understand that children and teens come to leave the parental home for a number of reasons. In the case of lesbian, gay, and bisexual children and teens homophobia on part of the parents is likely to have played a large role in their departure. Some children and teens are ridiculed when it is known they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual, some forced into negative counseling, some subject to parental violence, and some expelled from the home.
Therefore, we feel it essential that, if children/teens have left the parental home because of the suffering caused by homophobia, they are not forced to return to that same damaging situation.
In our 1997 report Systems Failure, the result of a 4-year survey and research funded by Health Canada, we show that the shelters and services to which distressed LGB teens and children might turn are not well equipped to serve them. We showed that over 95% of all those who had experience of physical and mental-healthcare professionals felt that they did not adequately deal with lesbian, gay and bisexual people or with issues relating to sexual orientation.
We are therefore concerned about the homophobia likely to be faced by a child or teen apprehended under this new Act to rescue children – at the hands of the police, counselors, and health professionals to whom the child/teen might be sent, and staff of the “safe facility” where the child/teen might be lodged – particularly if the facility is run by a religious-based organization, as many such are known to be hostile to a lesbian, gay, or bisexual orientation.
As you can see, for an apprehended child/teen to be faced with compounded homophobia at this point would be anything from distressing to fatal.
We therefore ask you to tell us what measures have been put in place to ensure the interests and well-being of children/teens are ensured by
1) training police, counselors, health professionals, and safe-facility staff in sexual orientation awareness and issues
2) insisting personnel take anti-homophobia training to qualify for this program
3) insisting prospective “safe facilities” demonstrate an understanding of these issues before they can be designated by the minister
4) treating in a dignified fashion those children and teens who they know they are or feel they might be lesbian, gay, or bisexual; respecting their choices and presenting their options to live as lesbian, gay or bisexual to them in an honest and open fashion.
5) guaranteeing, and setting up a procedure for, accountability in this area.
C M Donald