Public has right to know about evils

As a parent, wouldn’t you like to know about the sexual predators prowling around for your children, as close as the alley behind your house? And wouldn’t you expect officials to alert the public on these issues for the sake of education and protection of the children?

As a parent, wouldn’t you like to know about the sexual predators prowling around for your children, as close as the alley behind your house? And wouldn’t you expect officials to alert the public on these issues for the sake of education and protection of the children?

Shockingly, the provincial government in Newfoundland and Labrador has concluded that what it has learned about sexual exploitation on their turf is none of the public’s business.

A government-funded study on the subject in that province, released in 2011, struck a nerve painful enough to impose censorship on that very important document. Apparently the province was not banking on the depth of an alarming problem when it issued the study. It also was not banking on the multiple recommendations contained in the report to address this dilemma.

In response, that government promptly buried its head in the sand, ignored the studies’ findings, and censored the 120-page report from public view. It argued the results were too sensitive and dangerous to be made public.

Most surprising was the response of that government’s Women’s Policy Office, which turned cold as stone in defending the report’s censorship.

That office justified censorship, saying the report’s entirety is covered by an exemption in access-to-information law dealing with disclosures “harmful to individual or public safety,” according to a CBC report.

So why was the study conducted if it wasn’t intended to be made public?

“It’s not enough to be compassionate. We must act,” the study rightfully concludes. Yet the provincial government, for puzzling and unjustified reasons, is sweeping the issue under the carpet and ignoring the report in its entirety.

The CBC obtained a copy of the censored report. It makes sweeping recommendations for protection of children, the sex trade, and suggestions to help sex workers exit the industry.

But apparently findings in the report, titled It’s Nobody’s Mandate and Everyone’s Responsibility: Sexual Exploitation and the Sex Trade in Newfoundland and Labrador, raised enough influential eyebrows to succeed in censorship.

The CBC reports that more than 100 key informants were interviewed for the report between December 2010 and April 2011.

Victims of sexual exploitation also contributed to the report.

Informants included, said the CBC, “representatives of youth-serving agencies, aboriginal organizations, shelters, women’s organizations, social workers, health-care providers, housing agencies, teachers, RCMP, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the Department of Justice.”

Among other things, the report asserts that “All governments must take responsibility” in this sexual exploitation crisis, which no doubt extends across Canada.

In 2011, Laura Winters, a PhD candidate researching sex work, obtained a copy of the report, hoping to use it at conferences.

Shortly after, she was told to return the copy and was then put under a gag order.

Winters was enraged, according to CBC. “I can’t see sitting on this report; it’s alarming,” she said.

“It calls for action, it calls for government action. You know, to really sit there and do nothing, you are re-victimizing the people who have had these experiences.”

She added “By keeping this (report) under wraps, the government is allowing it to happen in the province unchecked. … By not really doing anything real about this issue, the government is endangering people” by holding back the report. Winters says the first step would be to release the report.

Critics are puzzled over the reasons for censorship.

“I’m not sure whose safety they’re protecting, but it’s certainly not the public’s, and it’s certainly not the safety of the people involved here,” said Winters.

The Newfoundland government has committed a grave injustice against its citizens by denying them the right to know about the evils haunting their streets.

A responsible government has an obligation to educate its citizens on these issues of great concern. Sexual exploitation will not dissipate by pretending it’s not there.

An obtuse attitude merely fans the flames, gives the offenders wider pastures to roam, and robs Canadians of the right to the utmost protection under our laws.

Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.

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