Ottawa police refuse request for moratorium on sweeps while they probe possible predator
Six community groups are seeking legal advice after Ottawa police Chief Vern White last week refused their request for a moratorium on prostitution sweeps.
“We asked Chief Vern White to prioritize women’s safety by putting the risk to the lives of sex workers over nuisance complaints during a time which he has identified poses heightened risk to sex workers,” said Bryonie Baxter, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa, in a press release. “We are effectively asking the police to take one operational tool out of their toolbox and we in turn offered to work with police and concerned citizens to effect longer-term solutions to their concerns.”
On Tuesday, Insp. Uday Jaswal told CBC News the police force can’t choose which laws to enforce and which laws to ignore. Jaswal said prostitution sweeps will continue and he added that police remain committed to discussing the issue.
In a meeting with police on Feb. 8, Baxter said the group argued that sweeps put sex workers at risk by forcing them into more remote areas away from circles of support.
Their request came two months after White issued a warning that police had discovered a pattern in unsolved assaults and homicides on sex workers in Ottawa.
“We believe the Ottawa police owe a duty of care to sex workers which extends beyond merely warning them about the existence of a predator,” Baxter said. “It also involves proactively working to eliminate practices which increase the risk of harm to this group of women.”
The six groups include the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, POWER (Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau Work, Educate, Resist), the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa (SASC), Families of Sisters in Spirit and the AIDS Committee of Ottawa.