Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No sex-trade bust: Clunis

Police chief says workers need help

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Winnipeg police won't be rounding up sex-trade workers in any prostitution clampdown.

Chief Devon Clunis said sex-trade workers are victims who need help with the troubling circumstances that conspired to bring them to that position.

"It's incumbent upon us to work within the law to ensure we are protecting people. That's the best we can do," Clunis said Friday following his appearance at the Winnipeg Police Board meeting.

Clunis said the WPS will target and arrest johns and pimps, but they will do everything they can to alter the circumstances for the women caught up in the trade.

"From Day 1 on this job 27-plus years ago... I spent a significant amount of time talking to these young women who were involved in prostitution.

"Probably before becoming a police officer, I would have thought they were doing this voluntarily, but there was not a single one that I've dealt with in the 27 years of police work who were saying 'This is what I want to do for a living.'

"The vast majority have been sexually abused, are being held in this by someone else. For me, these are truly victims. So, what can we do as a society, as a police service, to help these victims get out of this lifestyle?

"To be arresting them is just to further victimize them."

Clunis made his comments after police officials briefed the police board on the prostitution situation in Winnipeg: Street prostitution is at "elevated" levels; there are four known body-rub parlours; and there are an unknown number of escorts working through the anonymity of the Internet and cellphones.

Clunis said the focus of the WPS is to make contact with sex-trade workers and provide them with any assistance they request to get out of the trade.

Police board chairman Coun. Scott Fielding said he wasn't 100 per cent supportive of a policy not to arrest sex-trade workers.

"It is a bit of a slippery slope," Fielding said, adding he's generally supportive of Clunis' approach but hoped the federal legislation would bring clarity to the issue.

Clunis said he wouldn't comment on the federal government's proposed anti-prostitution law, adding the WPS will wait to see the details once the new law is passed.

Board member Leslie Spillett said she objected to the WPS constantly referring to the sex trade as a lifestyle.

"A lifestyle is whether I want to vacation in Hawaii or Jamaica," Spillett, one of five citizen appointees to the board, said. "The majority of people are victims."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2014 A4

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