Canada Kicks Ass

Official red-light district in works?
Date: Thursday, September 26 2002
Topic: International News

Councillor pushes for designated sex trade zone in industrial area

Sarah O'Donnell, Civic Affairs Writer

The Edmonton Journal

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Sick of seeing prostitutes and their johns treat 118th Avenue as a sex sales room, Coun. Janice Melnychuk wants the city to create a "zone of tolerance" for sex trade workers.

Melnychuk's polite way of describing a red-light district is a place where prostitutes could ply their trade away from residential communities such as Alberta Avenue, Highlands and Montrose, which the Ward 3 councillor represents.

"We're constantly moving prostitutes, but we're not able to eradicate the issue from these communities," she said Wednesday. "Is it time for us to talk about a zone of tolerance that is industrial-based and takes away the negatives of prostitution from residential neighbourhoods?"

The idea met with strong, but mixed reaction along 118th Avenue.

Edmonton Police Const. Dan Jones is a beat cop who monitors the strip between 97th and 76th Streets. He opposes a tolerance zone. Allowing prostitution in one location is an easy fix, but fails to solve the underlying problems, he said.

"It's a problem that affects everybody in a community, and it should be made as uncomfortable as possible for girls to work, and johns, too," Jones said.

Others thought Melnychuk's idea had merit.

Staff at the Highlands public library welcomed news that a politician might address the Avenue's prostitution problem.

The library, like other area businesses, is plagued by prostitutes hanging around near the building.

Even at 3 p.m. Wednesday, a woman in a pink crop top and tight capri jeans loitered on the street corner near the library. Seconds after she jumped into a shiny, black pickup truck and drove away, a pair of children walked out of the library and stood in the same spot as they waited to cross the street.

"It impacts on our service," librarian Rita Noonan said. "Customers get propositioned in the back alley."

So do staff.

And then there's the case of a pimp who tried to turn the library into his headquarters so he could watch his girls out the window, said branch manager Howard Saunders.

The man was banned from all Edmonton libraries.

"A library is a place for families. We want our customers to be able to enjoy the library without any hassle on the sidewalk," Saunders said.

Paul Lepine, executive director of the Alberta Avenue Business Association, said a zone of tolerance might be the best way to solve a problem that's the No. 1 issue among the 255 businesses belonging to the organization.

"My mandate is to get rid of the prostitution on the avenue," he said. "Having said that, there are social and moral obligations that go with it. I know that if I push them out of my area I've just pushed them into another area."

When Alberta Avenue is winning the fight against prostitutes, their neighbour to the east, Beverly Heights, sees an influx, he said. And vice versa.

Yet whether people liked or loathed a tolerance zone, all had one question: Where would the city put it?

"The only problem is no area would want the zone," Lepine said. "So it's the old story of, 'Yeah that's great, but not in my neighbourhood.' "

Kourch Chan, program manager at Crossroads, an agency helping people in the sex trade or at risk of becoming involved in it, said many of the prostitutes are working where they live.

Red light districts are a bad idea, he said. "It doesn't address the situation of people trading sex because of poverty or because of basic needs."

Such districts fail to make prostitution safer for the women and men involved, he said, especially if they're in an isolated, industrial area.

Melnychuk said she wants to get people thinking about creative solutions to a problem that's plagued the city's older central and northeast neighbourhoods. And she plans to hold community meetings in October. "There isn't a magic answer," she said. But it's an issue she must address as the ward's councillor, despite the controversy. "Would people put up with this in Riverbend or Old Glenora?"

© Copyright 2002 Edmonton Journal

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