Trying to make it on the outside

Strict bail conditions may actually make it harder to rehabilitate

  • Sage House, a resource centre for sex trade workers, is often inside the “no-walk” zone included as part of some bail conditions. – Janine Kropla

  • Anthony Kavanagh, president of the Manitoba Bar Association, believes bail should be specific to the individual.

When someone is arrested, the punishment is supposed to fit the crime. Between the police station and the courtroom are chances to remain free, but those chances have conditions that can make it difficult.

In particular, prostitutes, sex-trade workers and people accused of domestic abuse have a minefield of conditions to follow when out on bail and awaiting trial.

In Canada, people charged with a crime can be released on a bail bond and a promise to appear in court. Bail conditions are decided on a case-by-case basis. The alternative is to be held in prison until trial, which can be months or years after the charge is laid.

“For the most part, bail should be specific to the individual,” said Anthony Kavanagh, senior Crown attorney and president of the Manitoba Bar Association. “The Criminal Code says it must be reasonable.”

The definition of reasonable is up to the Crown prosecutor, defense council and the judge.

In the case of sex-trade workers, the bail conditions often include a no-walk zone, an area of the city they are not allowed to enter. This can be due to the risk of repeating their crime or for their personal safety from their pimps. If they are seen in the restricted area, they immediately go back to jail. This no-walk zone can be a single street or a large area, generally around Winnipeg’s downtown.

The problem is that the restricted zone might be where the accused lives, works or has family and friends they rely on for support. This can make rehabilitation – the ultimate goal of Canada’s justice system – difficult.

Sage House, a resource for street workers, is often included in the no-walk zone due to its location on Dufferin Street.

“I’ve seen a few clauses that are unreasonable,” said Kavanagh. “Justice is a loose term. It means different things to different people.”

If the accused and their defense make clear in court that they need to enter the no-walk zone, an exception can be made. Often, the accused are not aware they can ask for these exceptions.

“Unknown rights are not rights at all,” said Kavanagh.

Rehabilitation instead of punishment

Diversion programs are an alternative to jail. These programs offer support for people to get off the street and get clean of addictions.

A person can be recommended for one through the court or even through the police, without charges being laid. Often a diversion program is required as part of their bail.

The Salvation Army Corrections Department offers diversion programs for people on both sides of the sex trade, prostitutes and the people buying sex, or johns.

Director Dianna Bussey recommends their diversion programs as a means to get clean and stay out of prison.

She directs a program called the prostitution diversion program camp (PDP). The accused is sent out of the city to a camp for three days to receive information and counselling.

The main benefits are for the participants to take a break from the life that led them to jail in the first place, said Bussey.

“We measure success by the fact that the participants had a good time, got rest and didn’t use [drugs],” said Bussey. “We’re under no illusions that three days off the street will fix everything,” Bussey said.

She said their success rate is about one person per session getting off the street and out of the sex trade. It takes an average of five attempts to get off the street for good. People can attend the PDP as many times as needed.

Bussey also runs the prostitution offender program (POP), or “johns school.”

A person has to admit guilt and pay an $800 fine in order to attend the one-day information session. The fine goes towards paying for the PDP camp.

The info session aims to show the offenders that “prostitution hurts everybody,” said Bussey.

“The selling [of sex] is stigmatized, not so much the buying,” she said.

Zero tolerance for domestic abuse

For people accused of domestic abuse – violence against a spouse or family member – a zero-tolerance policy exists. If a call for domestic abuse is made to police, they are obligated to charge the accused. This happens even if the accusation is false or the situation is resolved by the time the police arrive.

Kavanagh said that if the police suspect a false claim they will note it but still have to lay a charge.

“The reason zero tolerance exists is to push the case into the justice system,” he said. “Our goal is to solve and prevent domestic abuse, not drive people apart.”

Once the charge is laid and the accused is released with a bail bond, their conditions can be strict. The accused can have no contact with the accuser, regardless of if they are married, live together or how many kids they have.

Just like with sex-trade workers, exceptions can be made to the conditions.

“I’ve lifted the no-contact order for specific times so they can visit their kids,” said Kavanagh. “The first step in domestic abuse is not jail, but to solve the problem.”

Lifting the order is not always a possibility.

“If there had to be contact with regards to children we would advocate a third-party contact,” said Tracy Booth, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society, which advocates for women in the justice system.

Another way Booth recommends working with a no-contact order is to use a family support centre or a church where a child can be dropped off to wait for the other parent to pick them up.

The goal is to decrease the risk to the children and family members involved in domestic violence cases.

Published in Volume 64, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 12, 2009)

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